Meadowlands Hambo Day card was first rate

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Ted Black

August 12th, 2015

One week after more than 60,000 fans filled Monmouth Park to witness Triple Crown winner American Pharoah trounce his foes in the Grade I, $1.75 million Haskell Invitational, standardbred fans flocked to the Meadowlands in northern New Jersey for a stakes-filled card featuring the Grade I, $1 million Hambletonian for three-year-old colt trotters.

In a move to help rekindle some of harness racing's grand tradition of highlighting the breed's durability and stamina, the Hambletonian has since been reconverted to a one-day event, with both the eliminations and the final about an hour apart. At one time a horse had to win twice on the same day in order to be declared Hambo champ, but eventually the race offered elims one week before the final. This year the elims and final were held on the same day, but a horse does not have to win twice in order to take the top prize.

In the first, $100,000 Hambo elim, Pinkman (Yannick Gingras) overcame post 10 - something Father Patrick could not do last summer - when he gained command early, yielded to uncoupled stablemate The Bank (Johnny Takter), sat a loose pocket behind that one to the top of the lane and then edged past that one to score in 1;51.2. The Bank, Donatomite, Habitat and Jacksons Minion all advanced to the final as well.

Then in the second Hambo elim the spotlight was clearly on Mission Brief (Gingras), the lone filly amongst a group of boys. Sent out as the 4-5 choice, Mission Brief certainly did not disappoint as she brushed to command before the half and then drew clear in the lane to a three-length score in 1;51.3, with longshot Aldebaran Eagle, French Laundry, Uncle Lasse and Wings of Royalty all making the final.

The two elims also left Gingras with a difficult decision since he won both of them with Pinkman and Mission Brief and would obviously have to choose one over the other for the final. Gingras has won hundreds of races for both trainers, Jimmy Takter and Ron Burke, so his choice would not entirely evolve simply around trainer loyalty. He opted for the filly and the public made Mission Brief the 3-5 choice while Brian Sears picked up the drive behind Pinkman, who was made the 9-5 second choice.

When the gate folded in the $1 million Hambletonian final, The Bank and Uncle Lasse - two other Takter trainees - left to occupy the top two spots and they left Gingras in a quandry. If he brushed with Mission Brief from fourth, the Takter tandem would undoubtedly park the filly. When Pinkman - the strongest part of the uncoupled Takter trio- brushed from third to take command and neither of his stablemates were about to leave him parked out.

Pinkman brushed to command before reaching the half in 55.2, with Mission Brief angling out first over from fourth. Pinkman led the field through the far turn and by three-quarters in 1:23.2 with Mission Brief looming up alongside him briefly then appeared to give way turning for home. But Mission Brief found her best stride in the lane and closed the gap appreciably, but Pinkman held her at bay for a half-length score in 1;51.

A three-year-old Explosive Matter gelding trained by Takter, Pinkman has now won eight of nine starts this year and earned nearly $1.2 million along the way. Last year's champion two-year-old colt trotter has certainly not missed a beat this season at age three and his Hambo score vaulted him to the top spot in the USTA National Top 10 poll released on Tuesday afternoon. he has won 14 of 17 career starts and banked almost $1.75 million in that span.

But even in defeat Mission Brief deserved plenty of applause. The only filly to tackle the boys in the Hambo crushed them in her elim and then raced bravely first over from an impossible spot in the final. In most races Gingras would have likely sent her on a brush bid to the top, but knowing the Takter trio occupied the top three spots before the quarter perhaps changed his tactical approach. She has won four of six starts and been second in each of her two defeats this year and has earned $500,000 and plenty of admiration from onlookers.

One race before the Hambo final it was the three-year-old filly trotters on display in the Grade I, $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks. Wild Honey (Gingras) another talented Takter trainee lived up to her role as the even-money favorite when she gained command before the half and then drew clear from Rules Of The Road and Bright Baby Blues to score in 1:52.2. she now owns a 3-3-0 slate and $400,000 bankroll from seven starts this year and can claim billing as the second-best three-year-old filly trotter behind Mission Brief.

Then one race earlier in the $320,000 Cane Pace, first leg of pacing's triple crown, Wiggle It Jiggleit (Montrell Teague) was sent out as the 2-5 favorite and left to garner the early advantage. But he opted not to yield to In The Arsenal (Sears) before the half and they dueled by the midway mark in 52 flat. The fast early tempo took its toll on both as Wiggle It Jiggleit faded to fourth and 26-1 longshot Dealt A Winner (David Miller) rallied to score by three lengths in 1:47.3 for his first win in eight starts this season for trainer Mark Silva.

Trotters were on display virtually from the outset. Broadway Donna (David Miller) kept her unbeaten record in tact when she brushed to command past the half and then just outlasted the late, inside bid of Kathy Parker (Johnny Takter) for a nose victory in the $390,000 Jim Doherty Memorial for two-year-old filly trotters. Broadway Donna has won all six of her starts and banked over $285,000 for trainer Jim Campbell and owner-breeder Fashion Farms and looks to have the early advantage for divisional honors among this group.

One race later in the $250,000 Lady Liberty for pacing fillies and mares contested at the extended distance of one mile and one-eighth, Anndrovette (Tim Tetrick) successfully defended her title in this event when she rallied from midpack to score for trainer Jeff Bamond, Jr. A six-year-old Riverboat King mare, Anndrovette now sports a 3-2-5 slate and $320,000 bankroll from 13 starts this year and she boasts a commendable 44-20-24 slate and career earnings of over $3.4 million from 123 lifetime outings.

But one race later it was older pacing boys who took center stage in the $215,000 U.S. Pacing Championship final. After near misses in his two previous starts, State Treasurer regained his winning ways in style when he posted an emphatic, three-length score in 1:47 for trainer Ian Moore. A six-year-old Real Desire stallion out of a Western Ideal mare, State Treasurer notched his fifth win in 11 starts this year and ascended to the head of the class among older pacing males. It was his 26th win from 82 career outings, with lifetime earnings now over $1.35 million.

It seems quite likely that many of the pacers in the U.S. Pacing Championship will eventually get an invitation to compete in the $200,000 Robert Quillen Memorial at Harrington Raceway in Delaware on Sep. 19. Mach It So, Doo Wop Hanover, Dancin Yankee and defending Quillen champion Foiled Again, a solid third in the US Pacing Championship on Saturday, will be among those invited to the Quillen.

Toward the middle of the card, Bee A Magician (Brian Sears) looked to maintain her winning ways in the $180,000 Fresh Yankee for trotting fillies and mares, a race named in honor of the durable trotting distaffer who was the first Maryland-bred to ever garner harness horse of the year honors. Bee A Magician led through much of the nine-furlong affair, but she was eventually overhauled by European invader D'One, who must have felt like the one-mile and one-eighth affair was a sprint.

Then one race later it was the freshmen trotting colts who had their chance to shine and one of them clearly emerged at the head of the class. Southwind Frank (Yannick Gingras) gained command before the half and then drew clear in the final quarter-mile for his fourth win in five starts while capturing the $350,000 Peter Haughton Memorial. Southwind Frank won his elim handily the week before and was better in the final when prevailing in 1:53.4 for trainer Ron Burke.