Harness Preview: Hambletonian Day 2014

Profile Picture: Molly Jo Rosen

Molly Jo Rosen

August 2nd, 2014

by Ted Black
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As is the case for thoroughbred fans on the first Saturday in May each year, the first Saturday in August is a genuinely special time for standardbred enthusiasts as the Meadowlands in New Jersey hosts the annual $1 million Hambletonian for three-year-old colt trotters, the most prestigious and most coveted race the sport has to offer.

Saturday afternoon's card at the Meadowlands - the track begins live racing at noon instead of the usual evening post - features not only the best sophomore colt trotters in the sport in the Hambo, but also includes a bevy of other lucrative, graded stakes including the accompanying Hambletonian Oaks for three-year-old filly trotters, the U.S. Pacing Championship for older pacers and the John Cashman Memorial for aged trotters on one of the sport's greatest days of racing.

At first glance the opening race on the card, the $52,000 Ima Lula final for four-year-old trotting mares, may look like a weak supporting event. But the race features last year's harness racing horse of the year and Hambletonian Oaks champion, Bee A Magician (Brian Sears), who is still looking to regain last season's form. Bee A Magician won all 17 of her starts last year en route to being named horse of the year, but thus far she has won only once in six tries in 2014 and was the beaten favorite behind Classic Martine (Tim Tetrick) in the Ima Lula elim last week. Both mares will vie for the winner's share of the final this afternoon in the opener.

Midway through the card things really start to heat up when the track presents the Grade I, $257,700 U.S. Pacing Championship final for free-for-all pacers. Trainer Ron Burke appears to be holding four aces in this event with the uncoupled quartet of Foiled Again, Bettor's Edge, Sweet Lou and Clear Vision.

While Foiled Again arrives with the loftiest career credentials with 80 wins and over $6.3 million in his bankroll from 211 lifetime starts, Sweet Lou (Ron Pierce) is certainly the best pacer in his barn - or anyone else's barn for that matter - right now. The five-year-old Yankee Cruiser stallion has reeled off seven straight wins, the last four in sub-1:48 fashion, and should be the odds-on favorite again this afternoon having already prevailed in the $460,000 William R. Haughton final at the Meadowlands and the $500,000 Ben Franklin final at Pocono Downs during his torrid skein

Looking to end Sweet Lou's current reign at the head of the older pacing ranks are the other three pacers from the Burke barn. Foiled Again certainly needs no new introductions, but he has not been as sharp lately as he was earlier in the season in the George Morton Levy series at Yonkers. Bettor's Edge, who sports a solid 6-4-2 slate and over $400,000 banked this season from 18 starts, has been second to Sweet Lou in their last two meetings and cannot be overlooked, while Clear Vision (Brett Miller) is fresh off a gritty win in the $150,000 Battle of Lake Erie at Northfield Park.

Canadian invader State Treasurer has won his last three starts in the Preferred ranks at Mohawk and was a good fourth in the Haughton final here last month. The five-year-old Real Desire stallion trained by Ian Moore has won seven of 10 starts and over $215,000 this year and merits respect. Two-time defending pacer of the year, Captaintreacherous (Tetrick) has yet to win against open ranks this season for trainer Tony Alagna, but he raced well when second to Sweet Lou in the prep for this event last weekend and will look to work out a trip amid the Burke quartet.

One race later in the Grade I, $350,000 Merrie Annabelle final for two-year-old filly trotters, much of the attention will rightly be focused on another Burke trainee and budding star, Mission Brief. After making an early break in her career debut, Mission Brief (Yannick Gingras) has simply been phenomenal since then, winning her last three starts by a combined 28 lengths while recording identical 1:53.3 clockings in each of her last two victories. She is already being tabbed as the future book favorite for next year's Hambletonian Oaks.

But those looking for an upset could use the other Burke trainee in this event, Gatka Hanover. A Muscle Massive filly, Gatka Hanover (Matt Kakaley) won her first three starts before finishing second in her MA elim last weekend as the 3-5 choice. Lock Down Lindy (Scott Zeron) rallied to upset Gatka Hanover last weekend and has the potential to topple both Burke trainees here for Alagna at a decent price, especially if Mission Brief hovers around 1-5 at post time.

Then one race later in the Grade I, $355,000 Peter Haughton Memorial final for two-year-old colt trotters, a genuinely wide open affair for the freshmen, Centurion ATM (Ake Svanstedt) emerged as the horse to beat following his impressive, three-length score in 1:54.2 last weekend in the prep for this event. The Maryland-bred son of SJ's Caviar had finished second in each of his first two starts against Pennsylvania Sire Stakes company before rallying first over to score in his Big M debut last week.

Trainer Jimmy Takter will send out the top three choices in the Hambo later on the card, but he will look to get an early start on next year's race with a trio of colts in the Haughton. Canepa Hanover (Takter), Uncle Lasse (Ron Pierce) and Special Action (Dave Palone) all merit respect here, but it was Uncle Lasse who raced the best of that group last weekend in hi Haughton prep. He captured a PASS event at Pocono Downs in his career debut on July 4 by four lengths in 1:57.

Four races later in the 11th, the Grade I, $300,000 John Cashman, Jr. Memorial for free-for-all trotters, much of the focus will be on Sebastian K (Svanstedt) the Swedish import who has emerged as the best trotter on the continent courtesy of six wins in seven starts, including a remarkable 1:49 score in an Invitational at Pocono Downs. Sebastian K rebounded from a narrow setback in the slop at Mohawk to win his elim last weekend in 1:51 as the 1-9 choice and will be the odds-on favorite again from the rail.

But this group is looking to turn the tables on him again. Archangel (Gingras) won the other Cashman elim in 1:50 for Burke and may be rounding back into form. Mister Herbie (John Campbell) was a good second to Sebastian K last week and has been second four times in five tries. Intimidate (Ron Pierce) posted a 47-1 upset over Sebastian K in the $560,000 Maple Leaf Trot two starts back and is still in good form following a second-place finish behind Archangel last week, while multi-millionaire Market Share (Tetrick) looks to regain a little of his lost lustre.

Up next in the Grade I, $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks for three-year-old filly trotters, the two best horses in this event will not start alongside one another but instead one in front of the other.

Designed To Be (Brian Sears) drew the rail for trainer Julie Miller and will look to atone for last week's second-place finish in the Oaks prep as the 4-5 favorite against Shake It Cerry (Pierce) who will start immediately behind her in post 11. Designed To Be has won twice in four starts this year, including a 1:51.3 score at Pocono Downs, while Shake It Cerry is the defending two-year-old trotting filly champ for Takter and has already won six of seven starts this year.

While they are the two best fillies in the Oaks, they are not certain to finish one-two. Take The Money (Palone) has won seven of 11 starts for Miller, including a 1:52.4 tally at Pocono Downs. Heaven's Door (Svanstedt) was a sharp second to Shake It Cerry last week after winning her two prior starts over this track handily, while Cooler Schooner (David Miller) is looking to regain her decent freshman form.

One race later it's the Grade I, $1 million Hambletonian for three-year-old colt trotters, a prestigious, coveted event that was supposed to be decided in heats. But the Takter trio of Nuncio (John Campbell), Trixton (Takter) and Father Patrick (Gingras) likely scared off most of the competition so the latest renewal of the Hambo is simply one dash for the cash.

Father Patrick, last year's champion two-year-old colt trotter, has done nothing wrong this season, winning all six of his starts including the $300,000 Stanley Dancer here and the $500,000 Earl Beal Memorial at Pocono Downs. The Cantab Hall colt has won 16 of 17 lifetime starts and over $1.25 million, but he drew post position 10 for this event and has three talented stablemates to his inside and another colt, Don Dorado (Tetrick) as a trailer.

Nuncio has won five of seven starts this year and has never been worse than second in 17 career starts for Takter, with earnings just over $800,000. He has typically done his best racing from off the pace, but in his last two starts the Andover Hall colt has displayed plenty of early speed. He led throughout to capture a Reynolds split here on July 19 and was second to Father Patrick in the Stanley Dancer. He might finally emerge from his stablemate's shadows this afternoon.

Completing the talented Takter trio is Trixton, who the trainer will pilot from post seven. Trixton has won six of eight starts this year and 10 of 16 lifetime tries and he also captured a Reynolds split last out in handy fashion. Prior to that he was third behind Father Patrick and Nuncio in the Dancer, but has earlier tallied in the $250,000 Goodtimes at Mohawk. He will certainly be a major player in the Hambo.

Several horses who have raced well in recent weeks are looking for the upset. Resolve (Corey Callahan) draws the rail following a good second-place finish behind Nuncio.  Datsyuk (Charlie Norris) owns a 3-3-1 slate from seven starts this year after being unraced at age two. Royal Ice (Pierce) notched his first career score in 1:51.3 last out, while Harper Blue Chip (Sears) has won his last two against Canadian-bred company at Mohawk.

One race later a stellar group of 10 pacing mares will go postward in the $175,000 Lady Liberty final and any number of them could prevail. Rocklamation (Gingras), Drop The Ball (Callahan), Anndrovette (Tetrick), Somwherovrarainbow (Sears) and Shelliscape (Campbell) all sport sub-1:49 marks and have been among the best distaffers in the sport for several years. Anndrovette finally draws well and could be the value play from post five in this wide-open affair for pacing mares.