Major team sports in the U.S. seem on the verge of returning, but what was a gambler to do on Saturday?
For many in New Jersey and beyond, the answer was to check out the horse racing at the Haskell thoroughbred event at Monmouth Park or the Meadowlands Pace harness racing card at that East Rutherford track.
Both cards blew away expectations.
Huge handle, limited live crowds
For the Haskell — the biggest event of the year at Monmouth Park — handle was an all-time best $20,479,392.
That topped the previous record set five years earlier, when 61,000 watched Triple Crown winner American Pharoah — whose owner Ahmed Zayat hails from Bergen County — add the Haskell to his list of triumphs.
The Meadowlands Pace — the premier evening event in North American harness racing — a few hours later produced a handle of $5,051,261. That was the most wagered on that card since 2008, and easily ranks as the top harness racing handle of 2020.
What makes both handles so remarkable is that due to COVID-19 restrictions regarding social distancing, only a limited number of fans could attend.
At Monmouth Park, 3,546 fans were on hand. That stands in contrast to the tens of thousands of fans who typically show up annually as much for the pageantry and opportunity to show off