Edited U S Harness Writers Assn. Release — The sport of harness racing is often cited for its failure to pursue consistent national television coverage through the past decades, but that all changed in 2023.
The initiative that began as a partnership between The Meadowlands and America’s Day at The Races produced by the NYRA (New York Racing Association) came to full fruition in 2023 with more than 70 hours of live harness racing broadcast on national television channel Fox Sports and their cable affiliates FS1 and FS2, delivering ratings showing more than 850,000 viewers.
Made possible by funding from the U.S. Trotting Association, the Hambletonian Society, the Little Brown Jug Society, and the host tracks of Harrah’s Hoosier Park, Eldorado Gaming at Scioto Downs and The Meadowlands, many of harness racing’s classic events were expertly showcased to a totally new audience in the broadcasts overseen by executive producer Eric Donovan, Senior Director of TV Broadcast Operations at NYRA.
Hosts Jessica Otten and Gabe Prewitt were the ringmasters for the harness racing broadcasts, bringing their proficient commentary, analysis and betting insight to an entirely new TV audience, with programming that either shared airtime with enormously popular thoroughbred signals like Saratoga and Churchill Downs or were stand-alone showcases, like the three-hour programming block for the Breeders Crown at Harrah’s Hoosier Park.
America’s Day at the Races hosts included Acacia Clement, Greg Wolf, Laffit Pincay, Richard Migliore, and Paul Verderosa, who all took a turn from the studio with the harness racing broadcasts, with Clement in particular showing a professional and rapid grasp of the sport with an understanding of both the differences and similarities in the two breeds.
The Hambletonian at the Meadowlands was featured on FOX Sports, the first time since 2011 that the trotting classic returned to one of the “Big Four” networks. Many of the top events throughout North America were aired live on the Fox affiliates: the Meadowlands Pace, Little Brown Jug, Ohio Super Night, Caesars Trotting Classic, the NJ Sire Stakes finals, and the sport’s year-end championships, the Breeders Crown.
Most importantly, the viewership of the broadcasts was measurable, meaning hundreds of thousands of viewers were exposed to harness racing in a positive light, and the crossover audience increased throughout the season. If the 98th Hambletonian segments from Whitney Day at Saratoga are included, viewership was measured at over 2.7 million viewers for the entire series. Subtracting the majority thoroughbred broadcast segments of the Whitney day coverage, the viewership for the harness racing broadcasts in 2023 was 894,000.
“The importance of network television coverage can never be undervalued. The extensive coverage provided by Fox Sports/NYRA filled an important gap that has been missing for a long time. The coverage was outstanding, bringing harness racing to a new audience is very important and the cooperation among various harness racing entities was particularly rewarding. It is my pleasure and privilege to present them with the USHWA President’s Award,” commented USHWA President Barry Lefkowitz in making the announcement.
The quality of this broadcasting was recently honored with USHWA’s Sam McKee Broadcasting Award, for the October 28 FOX2 coverage of the Breeders Crown, which featured a story on Harness Horse of the Year odds-on favorite Confederate.
Fox Sports will be recognized with this award at the upcoming Dan Patch Awards ceremony, presented by Caesars Entertainment, on Sunday, February 25 at the Rosen Centre in Orlando, Florida.