Here is a fitting Kentucky Derby exacta box: Churchill Downs and the Meadowlands Racetrack (also known the “Big M.”)
That’s not simply because New Jersey bettors can wager on the May 7 Derby at the Meadowlands.
It’s because these tracks are epic jewels in different horse-racing realms.
Just as Churchill hosts the richest event of the thoroughbred horse-racing Triple Crown, “The Big M” holds the signature event in the harness racing Triple Crown, the $1 million Hambletonian on Aug. 6.
Just as Churchill is thoroughbred horse racing’s most revered cathedral, the Meadowlands Racetrack is a harness-racing monument. It is the premier harness-racing facility and its “Hambo” is the only $1 million race in North America.
That will change when Yonkers hosts the $1 million MGM International Trot Oct. 15 in New York, but the Big M is far and away the Big Bopper in the harness-racing world.
Meadowlands Racetrack starts early on Derby Day
Racetrack doors open at 9 am with first Churchill Downs post at 10:30am. Live harness racing kicks off at 6:20 p.m. and the Kentucky Derby post time is set for 6:57 p.m.
The Meadowlands also offers horse-racing simulcasting, restaurants throughout the facility and wagering at its FanDuel Sportsbook operations.
The 5,300-square-foot book offers massive screens, 50-plus self-service betting terminals, and all the sports action every day.
FanDuel Sportsbook hours of operation:
- Mon.– Fri.: 10 a.m.–1 a.m.
- Sat.: 8 a.m.–1 a.m.
- Sun.: 8 a.m.–12 a.m.
- Monday-Friday: 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
- Saturday-Sunday: 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
For the NJ mobile horse betting, wagers can be placed via 4NJBETS, powered by TVG, from anywhere in the state.
Meadowlands Racetrack cards are loaded
The Big M offers stakes purses estimated to be $20 million throughout its season.
The mile oval facility is in the midst of racing 31 consecutive weeks on a Friday-Saturday basis until Hambletonian Day.
Post time for every race card is 6:20 p.m. with the exception of the Hambo program, when the first race starts at noon.
There will also be three Thursday evening cards during the Winter-Spring-Championship Meeting with racing on June 30, July 7 and Aug. 4.
After the Meadowlands Racetrack takes a three-week hiatus, racing will then return for eight nights in September, with live action on Sept. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 and 17. There will also be two Thursday night cards, on Sept. 1 and 8.
The track will then go dark for six weeks before returning in November, when all four weekends will have live racing.
The final nine days of racing unfold during December, with live action every Friday and Saturday (except for Dec. 23 and 24) plus one Thursday program, on Dec. 1.
New to the schedule is the $2 million New Jersey Classic Series, for Jersey-sired 2- and 3–year-olds in the elimination (if necessary) and final format in September;
In total, there are 42 weeks of racing, 36 of which will have two programs, and six that will have three.
Meadowlands also has some thoroughbred racing
It’s called Monmouth Park at the Meadowlands and occurs every fall.
It’s a package of nine thoroughbred-racing racing dates stretching from Sept. 23-Oct. 22, all on weekends.
This is a good quality of racing, providing a fall extension to the 2022 Monmouth season, which ends Sept. 18. It also fills a gap in the Meadowlands schedule.
The synergy between The Big M in East Rutherford and Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J. is no accident. Both facilities are overseen by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. The partnership creates a unique blend of harness and thoroughbred horse-racing action
Monmouth Park does not have lights and the Meadowlands does, so the evening post times are convenient.
Reasons why bettors love the ‘Big M’
It’s a one-mile track. Race distances are standard. They are often less complex to handicap from a time perspective. There are not sprinters stretching into distance races, for example. That makes it easier for bettors to come up with a selection.
Meadowlands also offers a two-turn race, one of the newer dynamics in harness racing. Older tracks require two four turns via two times around a half-mile oval, thus making turns an enormously part of the event.
The Meadowlands has its share of high-profile days.
There are always three premier dates worth circling on its calendar. The 2022 version includes July 16 (Meadowlands Pace), Aug. 6 (Hambletonian) and Nov. 26 (Fall Final Four/TVG Finals Night).
The $1 million Hambletonian and $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks are featured on the most anticipated stakes laden program of every racing season, the $3.5 million Hambletonian Day.
What is the ‘Hambo?’
It is the signature event of harness racing’s Trotters Triple Crown series and has been held at the Big M since 1981. The Hambo is preceded by qualifiers, presenting a buildup to the big day.
The payday for the Hambo towers above its Triple Crown participants.
The others include the $300,000 Yonkers Trot at Yonkers Raceway in New York. It returns to action on July 1 after being sidelined by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 and has a $300,000 purse.
The Kentucky Futurity, held at the Red Mile in Lexington, Ky. is the third leg of the Triple Crown. It unfolds Oct. 9. It carries a purse of approximately $500,000.
By the way, there have been nine Triple Crown champions. The last was Marion Marauder in 2016.
Harness racing offers some contrasts to thoroughbred horse racing
Harness racing uses a sulky, or race bike, which is a lightweight cart attached to the horse. The sulky has two wheels and a seat in which the driver sits to steer the horse.
And while thoroughbreds are allowed to gallop, harness horses are not. They perform either as trotters, in which the legs move in diagonal pairs, or as pacers, when legs move laterally (right front and right hind together, then left front and left hind).
This complex element occasionally prompts horses to either go off-stride or break, basically eliminating them from the contest. If a horse breaks stride, the driver has to rein it in, get it back to pacing or trotting, and not gain ground doing it.
That is perhaps the most difficult handicapping variable in harness racing because there’s no way to predict when that may happen.
It doesn’t happen often. Just, seemingly, when you load up on a bet.