New Jersey racetracks are on a roll.
Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands (as well as Freehold Raceway) have been greenlighted by Gov. Phil Murphy to take live bets starting July 2.
The racetracks can take bets in person at their sportsbooks and lounges as long as they follow gathering limits, Murphy said.
And just like Atlantic City casinos, the racetracks can operate at 25% capacity.
Here’s more from Monmouth’s Twitter account:
MONMOUTH PARK TO RE-OPEN TO FANS ON
THURSDAY, JULY 2; LIVE RACING SET TO RESUME ON FRIDAY, JULY 3 pic.twitter.com/BuToQHFn1B
— Monmouth Park (@MonmouthPark) June 23, 2020
The timing could not be better for Monmouth, which opens its delayed live-racing season on July 3. By the time the Haskell Invitational dawns on July 18, the attendance capacity may be increased.
It’s also welcome news for the Meadowlands, a harness racing institution that runs Friday and Saturday nights.
The track conducted a nearly unheard-of 18-race card last Saturday and cleared a $4 million all-source handle, according to track officials. The Meadowlands exceeded a $7.5 million handle for the weekend.
That’s WITHOUT spectators. Imagine what might happen now.
The COVID-19 crossover
For both tracks, Murphy’s announcement means allowing several thousand spectators on the properties under social distancing protocols.
The measure ensures jobs for employees at those facilities, along with revenue from food, beverage and handle.
There’s a silver lining in the pandemic cloud, too.
Since March, even more bettors have become familiar — and comfortable — with online wagering. They’re betting on tracks throughout the country from inside New Jersey.
That will carry forward into betting on their apps at live events.
If track patrons see long lines in front of a teller or automated machine, they can turn their phone into a handheld bookie and avoid getting shut out.
NJ sportsbooks open at racetracks, too
Speaking of which, both racetracks feature large sportsbooks on the property. FanDuel Sportsbook at the Meadowlands is consistently the breadwinner of the NJ betting industry.
And the Monmouth Park Sportsbook by William Hill was the first retail book to open, in 2018.
The return of fans means those retail sportsbooks will be open as well. Of course, social distancing and limited capacity rules will be in place. And additional details are forthcoming.
Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of Darby Development LLC, operator of Monmouth, said in a press release:
“We know our fans are as eager to return to Monmouth Park as we are to have them back.”
Monmouth Park’s million-dollar move
Monmouth Park hits the racing spotlight for New Jersey bettors as its live season approaches.
The track made additional news last week by announcing a $1 million bonus for any horse that sweeps its July 18 Haskell Invitational Stakes, the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby and the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The $1 million Haskell will be contested for the 53rd time. The $3 million Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled from its traditional first Saturday in May slot due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The $7 million Breeders’ Cup Classic was originally scheduled for the fall, and its Nov. 7 date at Keeneland remains intact.
In 2015, American Pharoah swept the three races en route to his Horse of the Year title.
Linking the Haskell with those events is a smart move for Monmouth Park.
Unlike in past years, the Haskell’s positioning within the major-race structure is uncertain.
The Haskell Invitational normally lures the nation’s top horses with its high purse and ideal placement between the Belmont Stakes and the fall racing season.
But the Belmont ran two weeks later than normal in 2020. Its Saturday winner, Tiz the Law, will be entered in a later race, the Aug. 8 Travers at Saratoga, instead of the Haskell.
That’s why Monmouth made a shrewd move by dangling a bonus throughout the Haskell, Kentucky Derby and Breeders Cup races. The track will likely draw at least a couple of additional top horses to its signature race.
New Jersey’s role in historic bonus concept
The 1985 Haskell involved a horse that shook up the horse-racing industry, forcing it to employ a Triple Crown bonus.
The horse didn’t even win the Haskell, but he was the Horse of the Year. His name? Spend a Buck.
Here’s what happened. In 1985, the new Garden State Park announced a four-race bonus worth $2 million.
Any horse winning the Cherry Hill Mile and Garden State Stakes in April, the Kentucky Derby in early May and then the Jersey Derby on Memorial Day would gain the lucrative prize.
It was utterly improbable to capture four significant races in seven weeks. This was considered a nice publicity stunt, garnering attention for the new track.
But then Spend a Buck won the first three legs of the challenge. After he won the Kentucky Derby, Spend a Buck’s handlers did what racing officials considered unthinkable. They skipped the Preakness in favor of the Jersey Derby.
The racing world was aghast.
Spend a Buck’s handlers were called every name under the sun. A Kentucky Derby winner had snubbed the Preakness in an age when the Triple Crown WAS racing. (There had only been one Breeders’ Cup then).
Spend a Buck gets a race named after him at Monmouth
Spend a Buck went on to win the Jersey Derby, collected the Garden State bonus and became an Eclipse Award winner in 1985. His handlers had made the correct call.
When did his run of luck end? At Monmouth Park, in the Haskell.
Spend a Buck finished second to Skip Trial and was never a prominent horse again. But he remained important at Monmouth, which named a stakes race for him.
The racing world ultimately launched a bonus for horses with the most points over the three Triple Crown races. That was designed to ensure that owners entered the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
In 1987, another New Jersey racing official — Atlantic City Race Course owner Bob Levy — won that bonus with his horse Bet Twice.
Meadowlands going great guns
The Big M, one of the nation’s premier harness-racing facilities, continues to maximize its compact race schedule.
Its seven-figure handle and big fields indicate the backlog of available horses.
And the Meadowlands supplied a whopping first-race payday Saturday.
Ideal Son, at nearly 40-1, shocked the field. The Mighty Marner, Power Dreaming N and Run One Over N completed the first-four order of finish.
The $1 superfecta paid $23,224.50. The $2 exacta was $992, and the $1 trifecta was $4,245.
There is no way to believe that one could have logically nailed that superfecta. But a good betting nugget going forward is to note the conditions.
This was a small-claiming-level purse of $3,500, a 12-horse field and a tepid favorite, according to the track handicappers.
Combine those factors, and you at least know the underlying conditions leading to a big payout. Then, maybe, you get lucky.
The Big M returns Friday and Saturday at 7:15 p.m.