The 91st Hambletonian—Classic Heats At The Meadowlands; Fillies Face Off In Contentious ‘Oaks’
Collecting 18 colts, the 91st edition of the Hambletonian will feature two eliminations, with the top five from each out of the first heat progressing to the $1-million final, scheduled as race 13 on the Saturday, Aug. 6 program at the Meadowlands. Alongside the marquee race for trotters this racing season is the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, which gathers 10 fillies after two eliminations were held on Saturday, July 30.
With the elimation-heat format of the Hambletonian, the final will be drawn during the race card, so follow @FrankCotolo, @RayCotolo, and @TwinSpires on Twitter for updates once the final field is drawn, as well as on the entire stakes-laden program
The Hambletonian Goliath this year is Southwind Frank, who competes in the second elimination. Winning the 2015 Dan Patch and O’Brien honors for Two-Year-Old Colt Trotter of the Year, he enters the Hambletonian not only as the winter-book favorite but also as the current favorite. However, his 17 rivals could put the champion trotter to his ultimate test. Each trotter entered has a shot to claim Hambletonian glory. Below is an analysis of every trotter’s chance in the contest(s).
Race 8 – Hambletonian No. 91, 1st Elimination – $70,000
The first of Jimmy Takter’s five starters, Bar Hopping is the only horse to beat Southwind Frank this season, besting him by a neck in an elimination for the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial. From the rail, his best shot will to be forwardly placed, since he frequently has to endure traffic issues when racing from behind.
The second of five Takter trainees, Lagerfeld has had sickness problems for most of his three-year-old season per a Takter interview done by the USTA. He displayed a glimpse of his ability in the $300,000 “Zweig,” riding the rail and staying flat to finish fifth. He’s a pocket-traveling wizard and from post 2 he can certainly draft behind the leader and sling to control in the final strides.
3—Make Or Miss
Winner of the Valley Victory last year, Make Or Miss struggles to maintain his stride. In a conditioned race he appeared to break because of fatigue but he could have broken because of anxiety, too. He has shown he’s sharp when he’s flat but he needs to stay strongly on stride to demonstrate his talent.
His best races have come when he suctions himself into the race and even then he struggles to win. He’ll likely be placed towards the top but he doesn’t demonstrate the late kick that’s vital to win a Hambletonian, let alone the elimination.
He made his first start off three-week’s rest in the $75,000 Zweig consolation on July 24, where he failed to go wire to wire and instead finished third. He’s not an on-the-lead type, rather he operates best chasing horses home. If he can use his speed to secure a top spot he’ll likely be shuffled into a striking position; whether or not he can strike from such a spot is tough to predict, but possible.
Qualifying in 1:54.1 on July 30, the Ake Svanstedt trainee will make his second start off a three-week layoff. He has demonstrated a level of speed he has not been able to replicate this season when he won a New Jersey Sires Stakes preliminary in 1:51.4. Likely, he’ll coast his way into the final, where he may be used as a system to topple Southwind Frank with his speed and just be let loose.
He pops into the Hambletonian after finishing fourth in the $75,000 Zweig consolation. He’s an odd entrant, as he has seemingly avoided the Grand Circuit, which could be a detriment. But if he can apply the turn of foot he displayed in the Zweig, he could be a finalist.
8—Iron Mine Bucky
From an outside post he needs to show gate speed based on his racing style. However, he doesn’t appear to have a ton of gate speed. He’s similar to Milligan’s School in the sense that he can suck himself into the competition if he’s positioned right but is different from Milligan’s School because he’s post reliant.
He destroyed a conditioned trotting field on July 29 at the Meadowlands. If he can transpose that speed and form into this affair he could be put into a striking spot just like Brooklyn Hill. Yet, his best racing may be done on and only on the front. He’s a threat here but he’ll be more dangerous from a better post.
Race 9 – Hambletonian No. 91, 2nd Elimination – $70,000
He’ll benefit from the rail draw, as he can put himself into a stalking position. But matched against Southwind Frank, Marion Marauder and Sutton he doesn’t demonstrate a strong-enough late kick to best them, but he can make the final.
2—The Royal Harry
He possesses a ton of speed, which he showed in the Empire Breeders Classic Final on June 19. Expect him to be sent to the top but he’ll need to have stamina in order to sustain a wire-to-wire trip. Otherwise, he may be chasing horses home.
Entering off a win in the $75,000 Zweig consolation he has shown the versatility needed in a Hambletonian contender. He can race from close to the pace or from off of it, which he did when he closed to finish second to Southwind Frank in the Stanley Dancer. It may be to his benefit to show speed, since The Royal Harry, Hollywood Highway, Dominion Beach and Waitlifter K all seem like they want to race on or close to the top. If he shows speed given the aforementioned trotters leave he can be shuffled into a striking spot.
He may be the definition of versatility needed in a Hambltonian contender. He has won from extremely off the pace, off a helmet and from on the lead. Most likely he’ll try to track Southwind Frank but ultimately he doesn’t have to track him. He can race from anywhere
Both the elimination and the final will revolve around him. If he leaves the gate some trotters may revoke their leave attempt or better yet fire themselves to challenge the champ. He may try to sweep to victory in the elimination by riding cover but the best scenario would be if he goes to the lead and someone pressures him, as he has shown in the past he can fight off challengers but if they dig in hard enough, he will give way.
He will likely go to the lead. On most occasions when he leaves he is either shuffled out of contention or put into the perfect spot to pounce on the leader but he doesn’t have enough to take down the leader. He could be dragged into the final if he’s given the right trip.
He has been a sharp trotter all season but gait issues have also plagued him. His best racing is done towards the top, so expect him to leave to get forwardly placed. He hasn’t raced since his sharp on-the-lead fourth-place finish in the Stanley Dancer but the rest should be beneficial
Finishing third to Bar Hopping in the $300,000 Zweig, he closed off a rail trip, which may have improved his closing ability. When tracking cover he can close into the mix like he did when finishing third in the Stanley Dancer to Southwind Frank. Still, he’ll have to show a stronger late kick to get by the main three.
His one and only strategy may be to leave the gate and see what happens to help him. He has tried to race from stalking spots most of this season but that’s not where his best racing has been done. He doesn’t have the stamina to out-sprint Southwind Frank and gang in the stretch, which puts him at a disposition since he’ll have to expel a large amount of energy to get the lead from post 9.
Race 12 – Hambletonian Oaks No. 45, Final – $500,000
Considering the sloppy track these fillies competed over in the elimination, it appears some fillies who may not have qualified otherwise meet up in the Hambletonian Oaks final. Along with early favorite All The Time possibly being put into a bad spot, Broadway Donna’s breaking issue being displayed on the big stage and Side Bet Hanover showing a love of riding the rail and sweeping by her rivals, truly anything goes in this edition of the race.
She tired after setting the pace in her elimination, coming a head short of holding off Side Bet Hanover. However, she got the luck of the draw regardless and starts from the rail. With her speed, the prerogative should be to blast out early, ration out her speed if possible and sprint home.
Neighboring the definite speed of the race, she draws into a beautiful spot. Winning her elimination by sitting the pocket to Broadway Donna she is in the prime spot to put in the exact effort needed to win the final.
There were a couple of times she hanged in her stretch bid but she still finished third in her elimination. She doesn’t appear to be of the same class as these but when she finally gets in gear she can at least hit the board and usually at a big price. She would also benefit from sitting a rail trip instead of traveling overland.
4—Side Bet Hanover
She certainly benefits from sitting a rail trip versus traveling overland, since she won her last two races off the same trip. Either her ability off those trips in the eliminations is uncannily similar or she is a massive threat off an easy trip. But her conservative racing style could put her into trouble since a live-cover flow’ll likely get her boxed.
Storming down the center of the track to finish fifth in the elimination she’ll likely be played heavily because of her strong late kick, as well as the listing of Brian Sears to drive. If her stable mate Wildflower presses a hot pace she could come flying through the stretch and to victory.
6—All The Time
When she gets a trip she’s tough to beat. When she doesn’t get a trip she’s easy to beat. In the elimination she came first over against Broadway Donna but hanged because she used her energy going first over. From post 6 it’s hard to predict whether or not she will initiate the cover flow or just be a part of it. Her odds should reflect that uncertainty, too. This should be the first time this season she doesn’t go off the favorite and that may or may not be value.
Her best shot will be to leave, since she will most likely not out-sprint the inside two to the top but could instead get a spot where she could track, ideally, All The Time from second over. With the right trip, she could win but she’ll need to stay flat and she seems to have an easier time managing her gait from off the pace versus on it.
She has a ton of speed. Even though her elimination effort seems minimal she lost all momentum in the stretch because she couldn’t find any room. She’ll likely be sent to get a position towards the front but she’ll be dangerous if, off a rail trip, she can find room
She was sucked along in her elimination and was in the right spot to trot home and finish fourth. From post 9 she either shows a ton of speed and tries to catalyze the pace or she somehow finds a way to organize an off-the-pace effort, the latter of which would lower her chances of winning. Had she drawn better, she would be more of a factor.
Coming from second over in the elimination she hanged in her stretch bid and finished fourth. From her post she’s likely going to park the mile, which already puts her in a bad spot. Yet, she still has the ability to hit the board, but may take enough money where it’s more worth it to bet against her.