Hambletonian highlights stellar card at Meadowlands on Saturday afternoon

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Ted Black

August 4th, 2017

This coming Saturday afternoon the Meadowlands Race Track in northern New Jersey will take center stage among serious and novice harness racing fans alike when the famed one-mile oval hosts the latest edition of the Grade I, $1 million Hambletonian for three-year-old colt trotters, the centerpiece of a stellar card that includes several other Grade I affairs.

Saturday's second race is the latest edition of the $114,000 Shady Daisy Stakes for three-year-old filly pacers and much of the attention will be on two sharp ladies. Blazin Britches (David Miller) has won three straight starts, including last week's Adioo Volo on the Adios Pace undercard at the Meadows, and seven of eight starts overall this year for trainer Brian Brown. Her main foe is the classy Idyllic Beach (Yannick Gingras), who sports two wins in six starts this year but owns a solid 10-6-2 slate and $760,000 bankroll from 20 career outings and looms a major player here from post six.

One race later in the $175,000 TVG Free-For-All for older mare trotters, much of the attention will be on reigning division champion Hannelore Hanover (Gingras), who has won four of six starts this year and saw her four-race win streak come to an end when she settled for second as the 4-5 favorite in the $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts last weekend won by 60-1 upsetter J L Cruze. Hannelore Hanover owns a superb 30-12-2 slate and $1.65 million banked from 47 lifetime outings for trainer Ron Burke and she rates the odds-on choice in a race where Emoticon Hanover (Daniel Dube) is her main threat.

Then one race later in the Grade I, $360,000 Peter Haughton Memorial final for two-year-old colt trotters, You Know You Do (Gingras) and Samo Different Day (Jimmy Takter) represent the two best from trainer Jimmy Takter's barn right now. Samo Different Day won his elim last week at 21-1 in 1:54.2, while You Know You Do notched his second win in three outings by stopping the timer in 1:56.1. Trainer Julie Miller will send out the main threat to the Takter team in Met's Hall (Andy Miller), a very talented Maryland-bred freshman who settled for second as the 2-5 choice in his elim last weekend following a first over bid.

Then one race later in the Grade I, $350,000 Jim Doherty Memorial final for two-year-old filly trotters, much of the focus will be on Phaetosive (Trond Smedshammer) who romped home seven lengths clear in 1:53.1 in her elim last week, benefiting from fast fractions up front. But Takter trainee Manchego (Gingras) arrives undefeated in all four of her career outings to date and she has been the odds-on choice in each of them, although she may relinquish the favorite's role in this affair.

Then one race later in the $300,000 TVG Free-For-All for aged trotters contested at one-mile and one-eighth, J L Cruze (Andrew McCarthy) will be seeking to prove that his 60-1 shocker in the $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts Trot last week was no genuine surprise for trainer Eric Ell and well-traveled owner Kenny Wood. But he meets a number of proven commodities again in Resolve (Ake Svandstedt), Marion Marauder (Scott Zeron), Crazy Wow (Gingras), Flanagan Memory (Sears), Musical Rhythm (Tim Tetrick) and Obrigado (Mark MacDonald) who drew post 12 in the second tier.

Then one race later it will be the three-year-old colt pacers on display in the Grade I, $330,000 Cane Pace at one-mile and one eighth, much of the focus will be on two sophomores - Huntsville (Tetrick) and Downbytheseaside (Sears). Huntsville, last year's champion two-year-old colt pacer, owns a solid 6-3-0 slate and $725,000 banked from nine starts this year including a narrow win in the Meadowlands Pace and close setbacks to Fear The Dragon in the Max Hempt Memorial and North America Cup finals. Downbytheseaside has won five of eight starts this year and earned just over $500,000 and owns a commendable 13-4-3 slate and $1.1 million banked from 21 lifetime outings for Brown.

Then one race later in the first of two $100,000 eliminations for the Hambletonian for sophomore trotting colts, one of the few remaining heat races for a sport that once prided itself on the stamina and durability of the animals, International Moni (Zeron) and Long Tom (Tetrick) will vie for the favorite's role. International Moni, whose dam, Moni Maker, was a two-time horse of the year, has won all three of his starts this year, while Long Tom has won four of five. Tetrick picked up this drive belatedly when Walner, the obvious favorite for the Hambo, was withdrawn last week with a minor injury.

Then one race later in the second $100,000 Hambo elim, What The Hill (David Miller) will look to protect inside position with his speed, while Devious Man (Andy Miller) will seek to reach contention despite post nine. Devious Man owns the most lucrative score of this group thus far for trainer Julie Miller when the Maryland-bred colt won the $500,000 Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial at Pocono Downs and arrives with four wins in six starts this year and a solid 11-3-1 slate and $750,000 banked from 18 lifetime outings.

Both Enterprise, fourth as the 3-5 choice in the Good Times Final at Mohawk, and Seven And Seven, who rallied belatedly to get third in the Good Times, both should earn a spot in the $1 million Hambo final later on the card.

Then two races later it will be the older pacers on display in the Grade I, $225,000 TVG Free-For-All, dubbed the Sam McKee Memorial in honor of the late track announcer. Among the logical contenders in this one-mile and one-eighth affair are Mach It So (David Miller), who owns a 3-3-3 slate and $400,000 banked from 14 starts this year, including his second victory in the Grade I William R. Haughton Memorial final. Mel Mara (Corey Callahan) has won four of seven starts this year, including a 1:49.1 prep last weekend, while Boston Red Rocks, Wakizashi Hanover and Rockeyed Optimist all merit respect.

Then one race later in the Grade I, $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks for three-year-old filly trotters, much of the focus will be on Ariana G (Gingras), who has won five of six starts this year and owns 14 victories in 17 career outings for Takter. Ariana G suffered her lone defeat when third behind male rivals Devious Man and Long Tom in the Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial but she rallied second over to win her elim in 1:51.3 last week to solidify her role as the odds-on choice for the final.

But those looking to topple Ariana G in the Oaks final can look toward Magic Presto (Sears), who won her elim in 1:52.1 and owns four wins in seven starts this year and an 8-4-2 slate from 16 career tries. Both Feed Your Head and Overdraft Volo have raced well in numerous stakes this spring and summer and both could play a genuine spoiler role if Ariana G fails to deliver.

Then one race later the top five colts from each of the first two Hambo elims will convene for the Grade I, $1 million Hambletonian final, arguably the most coveted event in harness racing. With Walner sidelined for the main event, look for either Long Tom, International Moni or Devious Man to prevail. Devious Man is looking to become the fifth Maryland-bred in the last 20 years to capture the Hambo, following in the hoof prints of Muscles Yankee, Muscle Hill, Yankee Paco and Vivid Photo.

Then two races later in the $200,000 Lady Liberty Stakes for older pacing mares, a race that lost considerable luster when track owner Jeff Gural barred likely favorite and reigning division champion and Maryland-bred harness horse of the year Lady Shadow from participating, Nike Franco N (Tetrick) looms the odds-on choice for trainer Jo Ann Looney-King. Nike Franco N actually upset Lady Shadow in the Golden Girls over the strip and gets the nods in a group that includes Pure Country, Penpal, Blue Moon Stride and Shesjustadelight N.