Another all-star summer of horse racing is getting underway at Garden State racetracks.
This weekend kicks off an excellent campaign both for thoroughbred racing at Monmouth Park in Oceanport and the Meadowlands harness racing complex in East Rutherford.
The best of both racing groups will grace the Garden State.
Here’s a look at each.
Monmouth Park horse racing includes Hot Rod Charlie’s return
Many racing fans know that the $1 million Haskell Stakes, one of the racing industry’s premier showcases, unfurls July 23 at Monmouth Park.
What fans and NJ horse bettors may not know is that the track also unfurls its first-ever Haskell preview day and an encore appearance from a 2021 Haskell star on Saturday. First post is 12:15 p.m.
The $150,000 Salvator Mile features 2021 Haskell graduate Hot Rod Charlie, while the $150,000 TVG.com Pegasus Stakes is the official prep race for the 2022 Haskell. The Pegasus will likely send a couple of its top horses to the big race.
Bettors like watching the prep races and following the contenders (as they would, say, in Saratoga, handicapping the Jim Dandy before some of those horses wind up in the Travers).
On Haskell day, Pegasus winners will likely join some horses who ran in the recently-completed Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont Stakes. (One name often mentioned is Cyberknife, who ran 18h in the Derby but won a follow-up race).
That’s the formula Hot Rod Charlie followed last year and he attracted a large Monmouth Park spotlight.
Hot Rod Charlie had became a sentimental choice of racing fans after finishing third in the Kentucky Derby and second in a memorable Belmont shootout with Essential Quality. The two went at it with the stage all to themselves in the homestretch.
Bettors felt comfortable backing Hot Rod Charlie in the Haskell because of the grit he’d showcased in the other races.
He didn’t disappoint them…initially. Hot Rod Charlie did cross the line first but was disqualified because he clipped heels with Midnight Bourbon in the homestretch.
The fact that his connections would bring him back one year later to the scene of his disqualification reveals goodwill between the owners of Hot Rod Charlie and Monmouth Park.
New Jersey bettors followed his post Haskell route and some traveled up to Parx in Pennsylvania. to watch Hot Rod Charlie later capture the Pennsylvania Derby last fall.
Hot Rod Charlie comes in off strong outing, layoff
He enters the Salvator from a nice second-place finish in the $12 million World Cup in Dubai, March 26.
According to a Monmouth Park press release, trainer Doug O’Neil said Hot Rod Charlie is “doing really, really well.”
“He’s trained with a lot of energy and stamina. It just seems like he is ready to get back to the races.
“We were looking at the calendar around the country and the Salvator Mile just seemed to fit perfectly with him being ready right now,” O’Neil said.
O’Neill also noted that the 2021 Haskell produced a great effort by Hot Rot Charlie.
This year’s Haskell Stakes will feature a card with four other graded stakes races, including the Grade 1 United Nations.
Watch for more Haskell news to develop over the next month as trainers of the nation’s top horses debate where to enter them.
Hambo highlights Meadowlands horse racing calendar
“The Big M,” home to the crème de la crème of the harness racing world, has a blockbuster schedule.
First up is the normal weekend lineup.
The Meadowlands Racetrack features 13 races every Friday and Saturday night, starting at 6:20 p.m.
Because the track only runs on weekends, it packs both a loaded card and a sense of exclusivity with its programs. That’s how big fields and multiple betting entries can be maintained.
And then come the July Jewels.
The Meadowlands Pace qualifiers occur on July 9. This will be conducted in heats and the top horses in them reach the big race one week later.
The Meadowlands Pace on July 16 represents a giant night of racing at the track. Several companion races and the $700,000 main event comprise a high-caliber program.
On July 30, it’s qualifying night for the Hambo.
Bettors get to see a set of heats to determine what will likely be the 10-horse finale for the $1 million Hambletonian on Saturday, Aug. 6. If there are two heats, for example, the top five in each will advance. If there are three, it would most likely be three from each and then the best time after that
Either way, bettors can get a look to see how top runners perform one week and then then project their success the following week. The Hambletonian will occur on the same track and distance as the qualifiers, thus the assessments are straightforward.
A series of supporting races bring the Hambletonian card above $3 million in purses, prompting the Meadowlands to consider it Harness racing’s greatest night.
The Hambletonian also is the prized jewel of harness racing’s trotting Triple Crown.
It is joined by the $300,000 Yonkers Trot Friday, July 1 at Yonkers Raceway in New York.
And the Kentucky Futurity is worth $500,000 and happens Oct. 9 at the Red Mile in Lexington.
There have been nine Triple Crown champions. The last was Marion Marauder in 2016.
The Cane Pace on the Hambletonian undercard is part of another Triple Crown circuit, the pacing series.
To win the pacing Triple Crown, a 3-year-old must score victories in the Messenger Stakes July 1 at Yonkers, the Cane Pace at the Meadowlands and the Little Brown Jug Sept. 22 in Ohio.
There have been 10 Triple Crown winners on the pacing circuit. The last was No Pan Intended in 2003.
Belmont Stakes, Oceanport connection
There’s another way to bring Belmont Stakes fervor to Monmouth Park this year.
Live near the Oceanport track and have a piece of the winner. Literally.
That’s what Jeff and Kathy Heiss, two amongst a dozen of owners for Belmont winner Mo Donegal did. They live in the shadow of Monmouth Park and are amongst dozens of owners.
As minority owners, they don’t have much say about what the horse does next. But they do represent something horse racing needs more of: opportunities for people to gain a small interest in a horse for a moderate fee.