Meadowlands offers Hambletonian Day card

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Ted Black

August 6th, 2015

While thoroughbred racing fans always point to four dates on the calendar that comprise the Triple Crown in the spring and the Breeders Cup in the fall, standardbred racing fans have an equal number of days that highlight the year and one of them occurs this Saturday when the Meadowlands Race Track in New Jersey hosts the Grade I, $1 million Hambletonian on a 16-race card filled with lucrative stakes.

This year's Hambletonian Day will give racing fans an early glimpse into the chase for the numerous divisional honors and horse of the year. While thoroughbred racing has essentially already crowned its champion three-year-old and horse of the year in Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, an easy winner in his return last Sunday afternoon in the Grade I, $1.75 million Haskell at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, harness racing fans will likely have to wait until after the numerous Breeders Crown races are decided this fall before knowing which horses will garner division crowns and which one will be horse of the year.

This year's Hambo, which will be televised live on the CBS Sports Network, will be a throwback to days of old in a sense since the eliminations and final will be held within an hour of each other. The eliminations for the Hambletonian Oaks for three-year-old filly trotters were contested one week earlier and the final will not include the top sophomore filly in the land in Mission Brief, who is trying the boys in the Hambo, or elim winner Spirit To Win, who died, tragically, two days after her elim tally.

The first of two, $100,000 Hambo eliminations is slated as the eighth race on the card with a full field of 10 vying for five spots in the $1 million final. Trainer Jimmy Takter has three of the best trotters in the elim, as was the case in last year's Hambo which was conducted without heats or elims, and eerily enough his best trainee, Pinkman, drew post 10 on the outside as was the case last summer with Father Patrick, who broke stride at the outset of the Hambo.

This Takter trio of The Bank, Canepa Hanover and Pinkman has raced well all spring and summer. Pinkman has won six of seven starts and earned over $620,000 and enhanced his reputation and bankroll with a sharp score in the Zweig at Vernon Downs two weeks ago. Canepa Hanover was second in that event, while The Bank was second to stablemate French Laundry after winning the Stanley Dancer Memorial in Mid-July.

Those seriously vying for a spot in the final include Habitat (Brian Sears), who boasts a 4-2-0 slate from nine starts this year but was thumped in the Zweig last out, Fashion Creditor (David Miller) who won a conditioned event here after finishing third in the Zweig, Jacksons Minion (Tom Jackson) who is riding a three-race win streak, and Centurion ATM (Ake Svandstedt) who won the Peter Haughton over this oval one year ago on Hambo day but is winless in four tries this season.

Then one race later in the ninth, the second Hambo elim, all eyes will be on Mission Brief (Gingras) the ultra-talented sophomore filly who will tackle the boys for the first time in her career for trainer Ron Burke. Mission Brief has won three of four starts this year and 12 of 17 in her career and she has often posted faster clockings than the boys on the same day, as was the case in the filly version of the Zweig which she won in 1:51.4 on the same day Pinkman prevailed in the boys' division in 1:52.

Mission Brief has only tasted defeat once in races in which she did not go off stride, but four times in her career she has made costly breaks. Saturday she will have her first chance to face the boys on the sport's biggest stage and she is seeking to become the first filly trotter to capture the Hambo since Continentalvictory in 1996, although, technically, she will not have to to do twice.

Those looking to upend the talented sophomore filly trotter include another Takter tandem, French Laundry (Brett Miller) and Uncle Lasse (Johnny Takter), Cruzado Dela Noche (David Miller), Wings Of Royalty (Tim Tetrick), Southwind Mozart (Ake Svandstedt) and Muscle Diamond.

There are two marquee events between the Hambo elims and the Hambo final.

In the 11th race, the $320,000 Cane Pace for three-year-old pacing colts, Wiggle It Jiggleit (Montrell Teague) will seek to continue his winning ways during another Cinderella season for trainer George Teague, Jr. Wiggle It Jiggleit has won 14 of 15 starts this year for his owner-trainer, including a recent 1:47.4 score in the $750,000 Meadowlands Pace. The Mr Wiggles gelding is only $35,000 shy of the $1 million plateau in his career and he is currently the top-rated horse of any age or either gait in the nation.

Looking to upend Wiggle It Jiggleit are eight solid sophomores, nearly all of which have tried the reigning champ on at least one occasion.

Dude's The Man (Corey Callahan) arrives off a sharp, 1:48.4 score in the $400,000 at the Adios last weekend at the Meadows near Pittsburgh and he was a good second behind 'Wiggle' in the Meadowlands Pace. Artspeak (Scott Zeron) was last year's champion two-year-old colt pacer, but he has been a shadow of himself this season having won just three times in nine starts. Yankee Bounty (Gingras) was a solid second behind Dude's The Man in the Adios last weekend and this Burke trainee has finished second five times in 11 winless starts this year and may be the best horse in the land not to have visited the winner's circle once this year. In The Arsenal (Sears) has won five times in nine starts this year and banked over $360,000, but has not fared well in finals featuring the favorite.

Then in the 12th, the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks for three-year-old filly trotters, the absence of Mission Brief and elim winner, Spirit To Win, who died on Monday, has left this Grade I affair very wide open.

Lock Down Lindy (Tetrick) won her elim in 1:51.4 and draws the rail and looms as the favorite in this group, but contenders include Wild Honey (Gingras), Livininthefastlane (Andy Miller), Bright Baby Blue (David Miller) and Smokinmombo, each of which raced well in defeat in their respective Oaks elims last weekend.

In the second race on the card, the $400,000 Jim Doherty Memorial for two-year-old filly trotters, Broadway Donna (David Miller) looks like the first standout of the day. A Donato Hanover filly trained by Jim Campbell for owner-breeder Fashion Farms, Broadway Donna has won all five of her lifetime starts by a combined 23 lengths and has never been more than 2-5 at post time. She won her elim handily in 1:53.3 and should make quick work of this group that includes elim winners Womans Will (Andy Miller) and Kathy Parker (Johnny Takter) who scored in 1:55.3 and 1:56.1, respectively, last week.

Then one race later on the card the older pacing mares will have their moment in the spotlight in the $250,000 Lady Liberty Final at one-mile and one-eighth. This group includes the usual suspects of this division including Rocklamation, Anndrovette, Table Talk, Sandbetweenurtoes, Color's A Virgin and Venus Delight.

Then one race later it will be the older pacing boys on display in the $215,000 US Pacing Championship. Once again the group includes the best in the land, including William Haughton winner Mach It So, Graduate final hero Doo Wop Hanover, Dancin Yankee, Wake Up Peter, State Treasurer, JK Endofanera and Foiled Again, the sport's all-time richest pacer with over $7 million banked thanks to an 84-57-34 slate from 233 lifetime outings for trainer Ron Burke.

Then one race later it will be the older trotters on hand for the $300,000 John Cashman Memorial final, like the Lady Liberty contested at a mile and one-eighth. This overflow field of 12 includes Intimidate, Obrigado, Market Share, Melady's Monet, Natural Herbie, Wind Of The North and Master Of Law. Comprised of depth, talent and class the field has combined earnings of over $11 million.

Then one race later the trotting fillies and mares will take center stage in the $180,000 Fresh Yankee at a mile and an eighth. Named in honor of the first Maryland-bred to ever garner harness horse of the year honors and a cinch for the inaugural class of Maryland-bred Hall of Fame horses, the Fresh Yankee is headed by Bee A Magician, the 2013 harness horse of the year who has since rebounded from a subpar 2014 campaign to win eight of nine starts this year and over $430,000. She boasts 39 wins in 56 career outings and will face familiar foe Classic Martine and Shake It Cerry, last year's champion three-year-old filly trotter.

Then one race later the freshman trotting colts will look to get early recognition as future Hambo prospects when they go postward in the $350,000 Peter Haughton Memorial, fittingly contested one race before the first of two Hambo elims. Last week's elim winners, Southwind Frank and Milligan's School both posted identical clockings of 1:54.1 and will vie for favoritism from posts two and four, respectively.