Hoosier Park kicks off 30th harness meet tonight

The Anderson, IN oval hopes to continue its strong momentum with a pair of 14-race cards on opening weekend.

by James Platz

Tonight (March 24), Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino will raise the curtain on its 2023 meet. Offering 160 days spanning late March through early December, the Anderson, IN track is conducting its 30th season of harness racing. Rick Moore was on hand when Hoosier Park first opened Sep. 1, 1994. As an employee of Churchill Downs, he was there to assist with launching the state’s first pari-mutuel track. Now serving as vice president and general manager of racing, Moore remembers that first race meeting well.

“I still remember what we were racing for,” said Moore, who joined the management team 10 days into that first season. “We had $27,000 a night for purse money. I think I’m pretty close when I say that. We were carding six races a night and we were simulcasting five others from Balmoral and Maywood. I think it was a combination of the two.

“Look where we are now. Racing for close to $110,000 of our money a night and throw in breed development money and we’re at around $150,000 a night. I think we distributed around $35 million last year between our money and breed development money. Just think about that. I know it’s 30 years, but still, we’ve come a long way.”

Over three decades, Hoosier Park and the Indiana product have grown and emerged as serious players in harness racing. Indiana-sired horses have made great strides, competing in the lucrative sires stakes program and outside the state and on the Grand Circuit. The track, meanwhile, has assembled an impressive open stakes program that attracts the sport’s top horses annually.

“It wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for everybody rowing in the same direction,” Moore said. “It’s the racing commission, it’s the Indiana Standardbred Association, Harrah’s Hoosier Park, it’s the breeders, everybody involved.

“If everyone doesn’t have the same focus, it doesn’t work. But we do. We’re all in this together. We all want to make harness racing in Indiana the very best there is. It’s something for all of us to be really proud of, where we are today.”

Hoosier Park will play host to the Breeders Crown for a third time later this fall. And while planning is ongoing, Moore’s focus is kicking off the 2023 meet with good momentum. It will help that the pair of opening weekend cards were well-supported by horsepeople at the entry box.

Tonight’s (March 24) program features 14 races, with 121 horses slated to race and seven of the contests attracting nine starters or more. Saturday’s (March 25) card includes 124 starters, with 10 of the 14 races offering nine or more starters. More than half of the horses entered each night have charted lines this season.

“Fourteen on Friday and Saturday night this year,” Moore said. “Almost everyone that entered got in. I say this every year, but nobody believes it more than me: I really believe in momentum. I don’t care what business you’re in, it’s all about momentum. I think getting off to a start where we have 14 strong races on both nights, strong entries, good response from horsemen from many different parts of the country, I think it bodes well for the rest of the meet.”

Last year, the Hoosier Park product generated $117 million in all-sources handle, a nice increase over the $111 million produced in 2021. Moore said the success of 2022 is not attributable to just one item, but several. Australia, for instance, wagered nearly $12 million on the Hoosier Park signal last season. Horse of the Year Bulldog Hanover also competed in Indiana, generating additional interest and wagering on the signal. Another factor is the track’s schedule — racing later into the year — and post times.

“We’re making sure we’re not overlapping other tracks to the extent that you can,” Moore said. “We try to maximize where we place our races. Our three biggest nights, Dan Patch, Caesar’s Trotting Classic and Hoosier Champions Night, were all record handle nights last year. It’s going to be tough going up against those numbers this year, but it’s our intention to beat that.”

This season, racing will begin each night at 6:15 p.m. except for Saturday programs. Beginning April 8, post time each Saturday night will move to 7 p.m.

Moore believes another factor in the track’s success is instant guarantees that are attractive to bettors.

“We probably do more guaranteed pools than anybody,” he said. “When we have a carryover in the Pick-4, Pick-5, Hoosier High-5, we are quick to guarantee that the next pool, and I think that has resulted in quite a bit of increased handle as well. We are big believers in it. We think that is what the gambler is really looking for. They love that carryover money. They like to go after it.”

Hoosier Park and parent Caesar’s Entertainment have completed some facility upgrades leading into the start of live racing, with others still in process. Moore said that $2 million was invested in replacing roofs on 14 barns. Beginning Sunday, the track will begin upgrading the infield video board.

“This infield board has served us well, but it’s 12 years old, and technology changes constantly,” Moore said. “You’re going to see a spectacular new video board.”

Money is also allocated to improve the apron area. Moore said that while plans are not final, the emphasis is on updating the apron so that is more enticing and family friendly.

“We’re just trying to make this the best place for people to come to race and for people to come to watch racing,” Moore said. “We’ve got 160 days of top-notch racing. Nearly nine full months. I don’t know of a better state bred program, and a very competitive one.”