To win the Hambletonian, a horse must be first in two of the mile heats, which are raced roughly an hour apart. If different horses win the first two heats, all horses come back for a third heat. If still another horse wins this heat, only the three heat winners come back for a fourth and final mile. Harness horses are bred and trained for stamina as well as speed; a three-heat afternoon will not faze them. Many have registered their fastest time in the final mile of a best-two-out-of-three race.
Post position for the first heat is drawn by lot; after that, it is determined by the order of finish in the previous heat, the winner getting No. 1, and so on.
Owners must make the first eligibility payment (of $10) for the Hambletonian by the May 1 following the horse's first birthday, which, for all horses, is January 1 of the year after foaling. Two more payments must be made by January 1 of each of the two succeeding years, and there is an added starting fee 48 hours before the race. This year's starting fee is $1,000; the total prerace payment for each of the starters will be $1,460. The track will put up an additional $32,000 or 45% of the accumulated post-time purse, whichever amount is greater. Thus, with 15 starters, the 1957 Hambletonian purse will total $104,000—after some minor deductions, 60% to the winner, 25% to second, 10% to third and 5% to fourth.