Test Drive

HorseTourneys adds Woodbine Mohawk Park, Meadowlands to online tournaments.

by Melissa Keith

An intriguing invitation went out to horseplayers last Saturday (Jan. 28), via email.

“Join tournaments today – harness racing comes to HorseTourneys,” read the release. “After a successful trial period, we’re officially expanding the HorseTourneys tournament schedule to include the standardbred harness racing programs at Woodbine and The Meadowlands. Keep an eye out for the ‘harness’ tag on select $12 and $55 tourneys running Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays at HorseTourneys.”

Tournaments are not common for North American standardbred racing, but they are popular with thoroughbred players. McKay Smith, president/founder of HorseTourneys, answered a few questions for this column about his company’s latest inclusion of harness tracks, including Woodbine Mohawk Park.

He said that the current (re)launch wasn’t the first time HorseTourneys has offered harness racing contests. Thoroughbred racing contests have been available from the start. The site later collaborated with the United States Trotting Association (USTA), introducing harness tournaments within the past decade, albeit in a different format from today.

“HorseTourneys has been operating domestically since 2010,” Smith said. “Several years ago, we worked with the USTA on a series of free events covering harness racing, but this past month is the first time that we’ve offered paid contests covering standardbreds. Paid contests have been up for a couple of weeks now.”

Woodbine Mohawk Park and The Meadowlands were the natural top-choice harness tracks to add to the contest menu. HorseTourneys is currently gauging players’ interest in paid harness racing contests, to help determine future offerings.

“At this point, we’re offering only Woodbine Mohawk [Park] and The Meadowlands, the reason being that they’re the two most popular circuits,” Smith said. “Depending on the response over the next few months or so, we’ll make the determination whether we want to move forward with securing more harness track content.”

Potential players shouldn’t find it challenging to join and participate in HorseTourneys’ contests.

“It’s really quite simple,” Smith said. “Instead of placing individual wagers through the pari-mutuel system, with tournaments, players are purchasing an entry fee, essentially a ‘ticket,’ to compete against other players. Players make a single horse selection for a group of races, typically 8 to15, depending on the event setup. Each selection is equivalent to a $2 win/place ‘mythical’ wager.

“Players earn points, expressed in dollar amounts, equivalent to the real-life win/place payouts of those horses. Scores are accrued on a leaderboard, and top finishers win either cash or other prizes (such as entries to other tournaments) based on the event parameters. There are some other formats available (such as survivor or exacta games), but the vast majority of events run on the $2 win/place format, which has been the industry standard for horse racing tournaments for decades.”

Smith confirmed that Canadians are able to take part in the contests. There are additional rules about age and residency requirements on the horsetourneys.com site.

When asked whether HorseTourneys was aiming to reach a new audience of horseplayers (i.e., the harness crowd), or show thoroughbred players that there are harness tracks worth playing, Smith said, “Definitely both. Through our efforts with the USTA years ago, we know that there’s a percentage of our existing user base that has interest in harness tournaments, and theoretically, a swath of players out there that we’ve yet to reach. And yes, there’s certainly a meaningful portion of our traditionally thoroughbred players that would appreciate the additional action. One of the things we like about harness content is the fact that so much of it runs during the evening and on weekdays, time periods when the thoroughbred schedule can be light.”

Woodbine Mohawk Park and The Meadowlands do not host the tournaments independently, but do benefit from inclusion among the contest tracks on offer.

“It’s also important to point out that tracks and horsemen earn revenue from HorseTourneys play the same as they would traditional pari-mutuel wagers,” Smith said.

HorseTourneys is a well-connected and professional operation that bills itself as “horse racing’s officially licensed tournaments site.”

The president/founder said that, “through a management operating agreement, HorseTourneys has been an official, licensed affiliate of Xpressbet since 2018.”

Xpressbet LLC is an advance-deposit wagering (ADW) brand of 1/ST (Stronach Group companies).

He confirmed that harness racing is here to stay on the tournament landscape, if the demand is there.

“We intend to offer tournaments from the Meadowlands and Woodbine [Mohawk Park] every day that they conduct live racing.

“This is intended to be permanent, assuming that we have at least reasonable participation. One of the reasons that we hadn’t offered harness tracks previously was because we felt that the costs of obtaining the program data necessary to do so might be prohibitive vis-a-vis what we forecasted the revenue might be. As long as we’re not underwater, we intend to continue offering harness tournaments.”

Eric Wing is communications director of HorseTourneys. On Wednesday (Feb. 1), he said the Mohawk and Meadowlands contests were already generating interest.

“The response so far has been promising. As awareness grows and more people give it a try, we expect that we will be able to offer a wider variety of games and price points.”

There is nothing intrinsic to thoroughbred racing that makes it more suited to online contests than standardbred racing.

“Harness fans should participate for the same reason that thoroughbred players have found HorseTourneys so engaging,” Wing said. “It’s easy to play, and it’s a different way to compete — and get rewarded — within the game that you already

Harness bettors who miss the days of packed OTBs may even find HorseTourneys a new outlet for showmanship after a rewarding result.

“One key appeal, I think, is that it is a really special, heady feeling to see one’s name atop a tourney leaderboard: even if you’re playing for small stakes,” Wing said. “There is definitely a strong ‘ego component’ to contest play that regular, pari-mutuel play just doesn’t provide. That’s a big part of the fun of it all.”

HorseTourneys is currently welcoming suggestions about harness racing tournaments, which may be emailed to support@horsetourneys.com.