Meadowlands hosts Hambletonian Day on Saturday

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Ted Black

August 3rd, 2016

While thoroughbred racing fans have already witnessed the top three-year-old colts compete in the annual Triple Crown series, harness racing enthusiasts will get to experience the start of the Triple Crown for both trotters and pacers this Saturday afternoon when The Meadowlands hosts the Grade I, $1 million Hambletonian for three-year-old colt trotters, the Grade I, $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks for three-year-old filly trotters and the Grade I, $300,000 Cane Pace for three-year-old colt pacers.

The Hambletonian, Hambo Oaks and Cane Pace are part of a stellar card that gets under way promptly at noon on Saturday and should keep fans on their toes through all 16 races. The eliminations for the Hambletonian Oaks were contested last weekend over a sloppy track, but the elims and the final for the Hambo will both be contested on Saturday afternoon, one of the sport's rare heat races. There's a very good chance that onlookers will have seen the 2016 horse of the year compete at some point during this card.

Saturday's third race in the $188,000 Fresh Yankee, a one-mile and one-eighth event for trotting mares. Named in honor of the 1970 harness horse of the year and the inspiration behind Yankeeland Farms in Frederick, Maryland, the Fresh Yankee features the early favorite to capture divisional honors. Hannelore Hanover has already won 10 of 11 starts this year for trainer Ron Burke, including multiple wins over male rivals. She looms the 3-5 favorite in this event, but do not entirely count out Jewels In Hock (John Campbell) and Shake It Cerry.

One race later on the card, a solid field of freshman trotting colts - already with their eyes on returning for the  main event one year from now - will contest the $300,000 Peter Haughton Memorial. Rubio arrives undefeated in four starts, but King Of The Hill, What The Hill and Victor Gio It all pose serious upset possibilities.

One race later the freshman filly trotters will have their chance to shine - again with one eye on the grand prize one year from now - when they contest the $300,000 Jim Doherty Memorial final. Arianna G has won all three of her starts and Chezaetter has won three of four outings. Thats All Moni, a daughter of the great Moni Maker, has won twice in three starts while Siarna Hanover has won twice in four outings. Any one of the quartet could prevail in this spot.

Then one race later on the card the sport's top older male trotters will clash in the $275,000 John Cashman Memorial. Elitlopp runner-up Resolve (Ake Svandstedt), who did not appear to handle the Yonkers half-mile oval well, looms the favorite against reigning division champion JL Cruze (Campbell). A winner five times in 10 starts this year, JL Cruze was overhauled in the lane by Hannelore Hanover last week in the Open, so the connections of the 'Denton Destroyer' were perhaps pleased to see that one drop in against the mares.

But the Cashman is hardly a match race. Flanagan Memory has won four of seven starts and has been prone to post upset tallies in major events, while Obrigado has won four of nine starts and banked over $370,000 this year for trainer Paul Kelley. He was also overtaken in the lane last week by Hannelore Hanover, so his connections doubtless do not mind her absence.

Then one race later the focus is on the three-year-old colt pacers in the $320,000 Cane Pace at one-mile and an eighth, the first leg of the Triple Crown for this group. Meadowlands Pace winner Control The Moment (Brian Sears) has won three of seven starts and over $525,000 this year, while Check Six (Gingras) arrives off a second-place finish to Racing Hill in the $400,000 Adios last weekend at The Meadows near Pittsburgh. Control The Moment defeated Racing Hill in the Meadowlands Pace, while Check Six was no match for that one in the Adios.

But perhaps one of the more intriguing entries of the day is Pure Country, the sport's top three-year-old filly pacer who tries the boys for the first time in the Cane. This Jimmy Takter trainee has already won six of nine starts and banked nearly $600,000 this year, including victories in the Fan Hanover at Mohawk Raceway and the James Lynch Memorial at Pocono Downs. Pure Country has every right to face the boys, but post 11 in the second tier could prove difficult to overcome.

Then up next in consecutive races are the two, $70,000 eliminations for the Hambletonian, the sport's premier event for trotters and arguably its most coveted event for either gait.

In the opening split, Bar Hopping (Tim Tetrick), Milligan's School (Andy Miller) and Lagerfeld (Gingras) will be looking to earn a spot in the final and save something for the main event an hour later. The second split, however, features Southwind Frank (Gingras), who has already won five of six starts and banked over $400,000 for Burke and will be looking to finally give his driver that elusive first Hambo score.

Southwind Frank arrives off a sharp score in the Reynolds Memorial last weekend over a sloppy Big M surface, brushing from well off the early tempo to take command before the half and then holding sway in the lane in an ideal tightener. But both Marion Marauder, a winner of four of five starts this year and Love Matters, who sports a solid 2-2-2 slate from nine outings, will be looking to play the spoiler role in both the elim and the final.

Then two races later in the 11th, the $225,000 U.S. Pacing Championship, the sport's best older pacers will clash in a race that could produce the fastest race mile of all-time.

Always B Miki (David Miller), a winner of six of eight starts and over $560,000 this year for Takter, is the division leader and an early contender for horse of the year. He has already captured the $500,000 Ben Franklin at Pocono Downs, recording back-to-back 1:47 scores over the Pennsylvania five-eighths mile oval. But 1:47 may not be fast enough to guarantee a victory in this spot, especially on a warm, sunny day in New Jersey.

Reigning horse of the year, Wiggle It Jiggleit (Montrell Teague) sports a solid 10-3-2 slate and $800,000 bankroll from 15 starts already this year after winning 22 of 26 outings and over $2 million last season at age three. Wiggle It Jiggleit has raced well on four different sized ovals this season, but he has yet to solve the puzzle posed by Always B Miki. He certainly has the tactical speed to be involved in the mile early and will have to be on his best game to stay with 'Miki' in the lane.

Looking to split the top pair are several talented aged pacers. Freaky Feet Pete (Trace Tetrick) sports a 5-2-1 slate and $325,000 bankroll from nine starts this year, including runner-up efforts in the Ben Franklin behind 'Miki' and in front of 'Wiggle' and then was second to 'Wiggle' in the Graduate final over this oval. He owns a wicked brush move and is capable of finishing the mile strongly. Shamballa raced well over this oval last out when second to 'Miki', while All Bets Off has been Burke's best older pacer all season.

Then one race later it's the Grade I, $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks final for three-year-old filly trotters. Elim winners Celebrity Eventsy (Campbell) and Side Bet Hanover (Corey Callahan) posted upset tallies last weekend, but neither will be favored this week. Caprice Hill (Tim Tetrick) was second at 2-5 after cutting fast fractions over the sloppy surface last week, while All The Time and Broadway Donna both raced well in defeat as virtual co-favorites in their split.

This race offers one of the best betting opportunities of the card. Celebrity Eventsy and Side Bet Hanover - a 38-1 upsetter last week - will draw much more attention than they merit, while All The Time, Broadway Donna and Caprice Hill will certainly float up in price. In fact, Caprice Hill could offer the best value considering that she will likely jump from 2-5 last week to 5-1 this weekend and she has enough speed to be involved throughout the mile.

Then one race after that comes the Hambo final, although onlookers should really pay close attention to the elims. Horses that finish well in the elims tend to race better in the second heat and of course the post position draw - based on the order of finish of the elims - is going to play a major factor in the outcome. Southwind Frank looms the one to beat in both his elim and the final, but if he wins the elim at a short price he will likely be shorter in the final. If he gets upset in the elim, he actually could be an overlay in the final.

Then in the 14th race, the $35,000 Open for older pacers looks like  a minor stakes. Bit Of A Legend N, the hero of the George Morton Levy Memorial Series at Yonkers in the spring, has won nine of 15 starts and banked almost $540,000 for trainer Peter Tritton and looms the one to beat if he can transfer his form from the half-mile ovals to the big track.

Both Rockeyed Optimist (Tim Tetrick) and Mel Mara (Callahan), however, have already proven themselves on the bigger ovals. Rockeyed Optimist has won 11 of 16 starts and banked almost $270,000 this year for trainer Steve Elliott and has been among the best older pacers in the land all season. Mel Mara sports a 4-3-1 slate and stellar 1:47 mark over the strip for trainer Dylan Davis and owns a win over Always B Miki. Sunfire Blue Chip, Doctor Butch and Rockin Ron have all raced well this year.

Then in the penultimate race on the card, the best older pacing mares will have their chance to shine in the $235,000 Lady Liberty, another event at one-mile and an eighth. Lady Shadow, a winner five times in 11 starts this year with seasonal earnings of over $315,000, won here impressively last month in a faster clocking than the one Always B Miki posted at the same distance that evening and rates the division leader right now and the early favorite to capture Maryland-bred harness horse of the year honors. But she will have to overcome post 12 in order to prevail in this spot, a tall task at a short price.

But several other mares are looking to upset her at generous prices. Devil Child, last year's Maryland-bred horse of the year selection, Katie Said, Venus Delight, Sassa Hanover and Anndrovette all pose upset chances. Both Venus Delight and Anndrovette have already earned division honors in the past and both Jeff Bamond, Jr. trainees have always performed well in major stakes.