Recent grim statistics indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t quite over in the U.S., but the 96th running of The Hambletonian — harness racing’s biggest day — will soldier on this Saturday at the Meadowlands Racetrack with full capacity permitted.
As usual for Hambo Day, doors will open at 10 a.m., with first post at noon. Admission price this year is $5, and that includes a Hambletonian hat for adults and racing-themed sunglasses for kids. Tickets can be purchased online in advance (with a $1.25 surcharge per ticket), while Second Contact will provide live music from noon until 5 p.m. Moreover, the annual carnival rides, games, pony rides, food trucks, and even the Hambo Hat Contest are back.
It’s all a big change from Hambo Day 2020, when only 2,400 spectators were permitted and spread out across various sections of the track — with all tickets required to be purchased in advance. Those attendees had to undergo temperature checks, fill out a health questionnaire, and wear masks.
This year, per state guidelines, a mask is not required for vaccinated visitors, but is highly recommended for any unvaccinated visitors. Many vaccinated sports bettors likely will choose to wear masks anyway, especially inside the track’s grandstand.
Hats, treats, and a weather report
Hat Contest entrants, most of whom will wear elaborate creations atop their heads, should sign up between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Clubhouse Lobby. Judging will take place in the Winner’s Circle after Race 4. First prize is $500, second gets $250, third collects $100, and fourth place is awarded $50. There also will be a $100 prize to the “fanciest” hat.
Food trucks will run the gamut of treats, with the bawdily named Magic Mike’s Smoked Meats and Eat My Balls joined by Angry Archie’s, The Empenada Truck, Carnival Concessions, DAW Concessions, and Clydes Homemade Italian Ice & Ice Cream.
Yankees fans visiting the track should be reminded that Lyndhurst Pastry Shop, which features an Italian Ice named after new first baseman Anthony Rizzo, is only five minutes from the track. Rizzo, a native Floridian, spent his summers as a youth in his parent’s hometown of Lyndhurst, and the shop has an “Anthony Rizzo” flavor in his honor that is a blend of chocolate and vanilla.
As for the weather, it is expected to be partly cloudy with a chance of an occasional sprinkle and a high of 86 degrees.
Tables for four on the Promenade Deck are already sold out, as are Cafe tables and Lounge seats. But the Backyard BBQ Grill and Bar are open for drinks and dining. Tables and seating are first-come, first-serve, and no reservation is needed.
Captain Corey is the 3-1 morning line favorite in the $1 million Hambletonian for 3-year-old trotters, followed closely by Delayed Hanover at 7-2, Sonofamistery at 4-1, and Reallyfast at 5-1. In the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks for trotting fillies, horseplayers will have their choice between late-blooming favorite Bella Bellini at 3-1 odds, Lady Chaos at 7-2 ,and Awesome Trix at 9-2.
Both the Hambletonian and the Oaks will air nationally on CBS Sports Network from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET. Each race has been held at the Meadowlands since 1981.
Photo: Michael Karas/NorthJersey.com