Last year, owners of Standardbred horses had the opportunity to race for $29 million in stakes money distributed by the Hambletonian Society.
Of all the different types of harness races, added money events (generally referred to as stakes) bear the richest purses and attract the best horses.
Purses for stakes are comprised of payments put up by horse owners and breeders as well as money added by a sponsor; the latter funds provided by a sponsor are often referred to as the Added Money. The race sponsor can be the owner of the race, usually the association conducting the race meeting, a state-bred organization or hosting racetracks where another sponsor, such as the Hambletonian Society, owns the races. The payments by the horse owner, referred to as “staking,” may consist of one or more fees for nomination, sustaining or declaration. A declaration fee is sometimes called an entry fee or a starting fee, whether the horse starts or not.
Stakes racing also represents the highest rate of return for an owner, but because the owner has a significant investment (or stake) in the race, it is important to consider all facets of staking before proceeding. There are various stake race opportunities for the standard 12 divisions of age, gender and gait for harness horses, with the most money offered to three-year-old trotters and pacers.
After the nomination, stakes races require periodic sustaining payments, usually one annually in the case of a stakes, or monthly or bi-monthly in an early-closer, until the time of the race. At that time, a fee is required to declare (or enter) to start in the race. All Hambletonian Society sustaining payments are due on the 15th of the month and must be postmarked by midnight the following day in accordance with U.S. Trotting Association rules. Starting fees are due at the time of declaration, but not payable until immediately before the race.
Staking payments are usually non-refundable, so it is important to look at the total investment needed to race a horse before you begin staking it. If a payment is missed, your horse becomes ineligible and may not have a chance to get back into the race. Some races allow a supplement if you miss a payment or change your mind about a race, but that is a very expensive option. Supplemental nominations can be due months ahead of the race. Supplemental declarations are due just days ahead of the race; in some cases a supplemental may also incur further fees, (like the starting fee) or race for only part of the purse amount. This is one of the reasons it is important to check the “conditions” of a race carefully.
The term “stake” also specifically refers to a type of added money event, as defined by the U.S. Trotting Association and the various state/provincial racing commission, which closes (i.e. requires a nomination, or initial payment) in a year prior to the race.
There are also early-closing and late-closing races, which close with nominations in the year of the race. Early-Closers have closing dates which require nominations to be made at least six weeks preceding the race, usually February 15.
Late-Closers require nomination less than six weeks before the race. The Hambletonian Society services both stakes and early closers (E/Cs); it does not handle any late-closers. For purposes of these conditions and as they affect the horse owner, all may be generally referred to as stakes.
Included in the U.S.T.A Stakes Guide and on this website, in addition to the conditions of the races, are a number of tables that provide a 2019 schedule of races and payment dates by age and gait. It is the Society’s intention that by providing these stats and other facts (such as the winning horse and time of last year’s race) it will help owners and their trainers make an informed selection in their staking.