Hambletonian, Meadowlands extend deal, new race format

CRANBURY, N.J. (AP) — The Hambletonian Society and the Meadowlands Racetrack have signed a two-year contract extension to keep trotting’s biggest event at the northern New Jersey facility through 2023.

The society also announced Thursday that the extension will cover the $600,000 Hambletonian Oaks and the $400,000 Hambletonian Maturity.

The deal will change the race format starting in 2020. The race for 3-year-olds will have its elimination heats the week before the final. The top 10 finishers advance to a one-race final.

“The flexibility in the conditions allows the Society to always act in the best interest of the race, the sport, our host track partners and most importantly the health and welfare of the horse,” said John Campbell, president and chief executive of the Hambletonian Society.

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This year’s race is scheduled for Aug. 3. The Hambletonian is the first leg of the trotting Triple Crown.

The Meadowland has been the venue for the Hambletonian since the society relocated the race from the DuQuoin State Fair in Illinois in 1981.

There have been many race formats for the event. The most recent change came in 2011 when Jeff Gural, the chief executive of Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment, leased the track from the state. Same-day heats were restored. The top five finishers in two heats each advanced to a final, with the winner capturing the Hambletonian. That will be the format used this year.

Prior to 1991, entrants had to win two heats to be declared the Hambletonian winner. From 1991-1996, the same-day heat format was still used, but the winner of the final heat was declared the Hambletonian winner. In 1997, the eliminations moved to the week before the event so the Meadowlands could create a weeklong Hambletonian Festival, including Breeders Crown Open races.

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