Harness Racing Today
Harness racing is primarily centered in the Northeast and Midwest. Virtually
every major population center in these areas boasts one or more major tracks. Several smaller communities also support harness
tracks. The sport is also popular in Florida, California, and throughout Canada.
Not surprisingly, the sport's premier track, the Meadowlands, is located within
15 minutes of New York City. The modern plant plays host to the Hambletonian, the sport's premier race, each August.
Before 1940, however, there was no Standardbred racing at metropolitan ovals, because there was no pari-mutuel racing until Roosevelt Raceway opened in that year. Harness racing was
supported primarily by a strong interest in Standardbreds in agricultural communities. The sport's stars traveled from county
fairground to county fairground, while masses of people cheered for their favorites.
Today, county fairs are very supportive of harness racing with well over 300
fairs featuring the sport in their programs, with horsemen racing for the love of the sport more than purse money or glory.
The sport's premier event for pacers, the Little Brown Jug, is held at the Delaware, Ohio County Fairgrounds.
Both three-year-old trotters and pacers vie for their own Triple Crown. Pacers race in the Cane Pace (Yonkers Raceway), The Messenger Stakes (Ladbroke at the Meadows), and the Little Brown Jug (Delaware,
Ohio). The trotter square off in the Hambletonian (the Meadowlands), the Yonkers Trot (Yonkers Raceway), and the Kentucky
Futurity (Lexington's Red Mile).
The Hambletonian purse is $1.2 million. Two other races, both for three-year-old
pacers, are contested for $1 million pots each year: the Meadowlands Pace, the Meadowlands' signature pacing event, and the North America Cup, raced at Woodbine, located near Toronto. In each event,
the winning owner receives half of the purse, with the balance going to the next four finishers.
The top horses follow a barnstorming trail unique to harness racing. Known as
the Grand Circuit, the "Roarin' Grand" moves from track to track every week during the summer, insuring horsemen of a chance
to race their prize charges for lucrative purses. The newest addition to the top echelon of harness racing events is the Breeders'
Crown. This series of races pits the top horses in the various divisions, with over $4 million in purses and bragging rights
as divisional championships are on the line.