The $3 million mark for wagers on a single night of harness racing proved elusive in 2020 at the Meadowlands Racetrack, with only 11 nights in the year-round schedule climbing to that figure — and just once in January.
But 2021 — that’s a different story.
Saturday’s mark of $3.4 million was the fourth straight over $3 million this month. following Saturday figures of $4.6 million on the holiday weekend of Jan. 2, $3.6 million on Jan. 9, and $3.5 million on Jan. 16.
The Jan. 2 figure is the highest in the past 12 months aside from the usual mammoth numbers from Meadowlands Pace Night and Hambletonian Day.
A further breakdown: The first three Saturdays of 2020 produced $7.7 million in handle, good for $183,523 wagered per race. But for that same period in 2021 — in spite of, or perhaps because of, the COVID-19 pandemic — a total of $11.7 million was bet, for an average per race of $259,388.
“That’s an increase of almost $4 million when compared to our first three Saturdays of the year before,” said Meadowlands Racetrack General Manager Jason Settlemoir. “The average handle per race has increased over $65,000 and the pools are the largest we have seen on overnight racing in over a decade.”
Pick-5 is first pick
Five of the Meadowlands’ most popular wagers have thrived, with the 20-cent Pick-5 leading the way by averaging $205,437 in those three weeks. Rounding out the top five were the 50-cent Pick-4 ($99,858), Exacta ($74,125), Win-Place-Show ($63,370), and Trifecta ($53,730) bets.
“What an encouraging start for New Jersey racing when you see the size of our pools increase this much going up against the NFL playoffs on Saturday nights,” Settlemoir said of the mid-January cards.
“We are certainly getting some new eyes on our product with our low take-outs and low minimum wagers, especially now that we are offering free programs every night on our website. Low take-outs equal greater payoffs, and that creates longer play.
“We try to create an exciting wagering format for the horse players and offering value for the customer is very important to us at The Meadowlands. It has been a major part of the equation to our early success in 2021.”
Fridays don’t quite draw the action that Saturday cards do, but the $2.8 million just wagered on that night marked the third straight Friday reaching at least that level. So while the Meadowlands only races two nights a week, total handle has been clearly $6 million on one weekend after another.
The early bird gets the betting boost
The betting boosts have come after the Meadowlands tweaked its first post time, with 6 p.m. debuting as the new “kickoff” on Dec. 26.
“We’ve been considering going earlier for some time,” Settlemoir said at the time. “COVID has people staying in, and their habits are changing. Now is the time to see if handle moves — and at the same time allow for our customers and horsemen to get home earlier during the winter months.”
Last week, Meadowlands track officials announced they will welcome four popular Grand Circuit stakes for older horses that previously took place at Tioga & Vernon Downs, two Upstate New York harness racing tracks also owned by Meadowlands operator Jeff Gural.
The Roll With Joe Open Pace, the Crawford Farms Open Trot, the Artiscape Open Mare Pace, and the Joie De Vie Open Mare Trot all will be raced at The Meadowlands on Saturday, July 3. Each race will feature an estimated purse of $175,000.