Sunday, August 4, 2013

Horsing Around In The Garden State

PREVIOUSLY IN STEVE'S BLOG: (OK, coming up on two months ago)

(sound of tires screeching)

OK, long story short. I went to the Belmont Stakes coming up on two months ago,thought I'd get an interview with NBC's Michelle Beadle, saw an exciting feature, made a nice piece of change off the undercard,  went home happy.

While the Hambletonian, where I went yesterday, isn't the iconic sports event the VISA Triple Crown Challenge (the Belmont, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes) is, it still is the biggest date on the harness  racing calendar.The Hambo, as it's known to afficionados, has moved from state to state unlike the aforementioned thoroughbred races, which rank among the best-attended events in all of sports  and, having spent long periods of time in their respective cities, have become part of each city's local identity.The Hambo began in Syracuse, NY in 1926 before moving to Lexington, KY in 1927, Goshen, NY in 1930, Yonkers, NY during WWII, Duquoin,IL in  1957, and Meadowlands  Racetrack in 1981, where it has been held ever since. This Hambo was the last at the current iteration of "The Big M," as  a new track with that name, located directly across from the current location, will open on November 20. The Hambletonian is the first event in the United States Trotting Triple Crown, open to three-year-old standardbreds,and, like the Breeders' Crown, sponsored by the Hambletonian Society, an organization dedicated to standardbred racing.

Unlike the Triple Crown  races,  which are main events,  the Hambo is run in three heats and a final, along with what is now the John W. Cashman Memorial Tournament (named for a prominent racing executive who also happened to be the father of Yankees  General Manager Brian Cashman) and the Hambletonian Oaks, a race for fillies. (How's  this for a coinkydink? One  of the horses was named A Perfect Yankee!)

Like the Triple Crown, the Hambo has oodles of events for the whole family, but wheras the Belmont's family fun events were located in the backyard, the Hambo's events are usually hosted in the paddock. While the Belmont hosts talent like Broadway belter Linda Eder, the Hambo tends to lean towards acts like New Jersey's #1 party band, and I'm not talking about Bon Jovi or the E Street Band but,uh, the NERDS. (This is not to belittle them, they are a GREAT band, believe me!)While the Belmont is frequented by media titans such as Don Imus, Yankee play-by-play man Michael Kay,CNN Sports veteran and racing enthusiast Nick Charles, and syndicated radio host Dan Patrick,the media star of this year's Hambo was a certain Mr. Monkey Boy. (Actually, his real name is Joe Pardavilla, but his bosses, WPLJ radio's Scott Shannon and Todd Pettengill, created a story that he was a monkey boy featured in the pages of the National Enquirer who  they found on the side of road, shaved, and gave a shower.) Monk and I go WAAAAAAAAAAY back, and he teases me about my collection of station tchotchkes, but I know he means no ill intent, unlike a lot of others in the business. Both races give the guys a chance to talk to some cuties in racing silks, (Sorry if I sound like a sexist, but those ladies don't exactly look like Phyllis Diller!)but while the Belmont's cuties are usually promoting some racing newspaper or cable channel, the Hambo's ladies were real jocks and the mud and dust on their outfits and helmets certainly gave it away,.

As for national exposure, the Triple Crown has been on all three of the traditional networks (including ESPN on ABC), while, this year, the Hambo was broadcast by CBS Sports Network, formerly CBS College Sports, formerly College Sports Television (CSTV). The things some people will do to get out of college!



BTW, Bee A Magician won the Hambletonian Oaks. Guess you can say she made the other horses disappear!

I won in each of the heats, but there was ONE TEENY TINY PROBLEM, actually two. I had to wait for the second New Jersey Transit bus out from the Port Authority Bus Terminal and had to wait 45 minutes for the bus coming home, but it was still quick out and quick coming back and I didn't wait as long to come home as I usually do from Belmont.

SOOOOOOO, which race IS better? Truth to tell, it's hard to say, as each stands on its own merits, (OH, there IS one more difference, the security checks didn't take forever!) but as far as final races at New Jersey racetracks go, this year's Hambo DEFINITELY finished first!

See you during the work week!

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