The popular Hambletonian Monte (racing under saddle), a late-closing series for trotters, will feature a $25,000 final on Hambletonian Eve, Fri., Aug. 1, at the Meadowlands. The inaugural Hambletonian Monte final was won by 2008 Hambletonian winning driver Ray Schnittker, who rode Flex The Muscle to victory in the $32,800 final.
Monte racing, a hybrid of harness and Thoroughbred racing, is a popular pari-mutuel sport in Europe, especially in France where many top trotters and drivers compete in both top-tier sulky and saddle races. It's also a rising trend in North America, as last year saw nine tracks host events worth more than $90,000 in purse money put up by industry sponsors. A celebrity appearance by star Thoroughbred jockey Chantal Sutherland aboard DW NY's Yank resulted in a new under saddle world record at The Meadows.
The Hambletonian under saddle event has shown rapid growth under the direction of Helene Gregory, who won a U.S. Harness Writers Presidents Award for her efforts to bring the discipline to prominence.
The organization Monte America put together the series for trotters comprising two legs worth $10,000 on July 18 and July 25 respectively and a $25,000 final showcased on the eve of harness racing's richest and most prestigious day – a night dedicated to females, fun and fashion at the New Meadowlands Racetrack.
There will be RUS qualifiers and practical tests for RUS licenses held at Gaitway Farms in Manalapan, N.J., on three consecutive Mondays--June 9, 16 and 23.
"The Racing Under Saddle program has proved to be an interesting twist for harness racing,” said Gregory. "The support from trainers, owners and most of all racetracks has been incredible. The Meadowlands has taken the lead with Jeff Gural personally having a big impact with his support and sponsorship. The RUS riders bring a whole new stream of fans, as families, friends and barn mates come along to cheer on these new races.”
Hambletonian Monte sponsors for 2014 include Allerage Farms, Valley High Stable, Back On Track, Arden Homestead Stable, Ron Burke Stable, Paul Kelley Stable, White Birch Farm, Winners Circle Blueberries and 2013 Hambletonian winning trainer George Ducharme. Sponsorships are still available by contacting Gregory at email@example.com for more information.
There are currently more than 60 licensed RUS riders in North America. Jennifer Connor who competed on the circuit last year sees the event as a real positive for harness racing.
"I like that Monte has opened a door for more women to participate competitively in harness racing and I think that it has the ability to attract fans from other equestrian disciplines. I also believe it helps these horses have a life after racing, as they are going to be trained to also race under saddle,” said Connor.
A $200 nomination fee is due June 15 for those wishing to compete. Conditions, nomination blanks and more information can be found on the Monte America website http://www.monteamerica.com/ or on the Hambletonian Society website http://www.hambletonian.org/resources/RUSSeries20143.pdf. (Hambletonian Society)