The greatest day in harness racing is finally here! In a year unlike any other, it is such a relief to find a day that is so familiar – Hambletonian Day. While I won’t be on site for the race for the first time in five years, I’ll still be watching and betting from home with a nice bottle of whiskey.
Anyway, this Hambletonian card has 16 races – including 14 stakes – headlined by the 95th edition the Hambletonian, harness racing’s most famous race. One of the best races on tap may be the Sam McKee Memorial Free For All Pace – featuring Breeders’ Crown winners Dancin Lou and American History and the Graduate winner Hurrikane Hanover – which is a wide open championship pacing affair. Also we will see three phenomenal mares, Manchego, Atlanta, and Shartin N in their respective races, including Atlanta once again taking on the boys in the stacked John Cashman Memorial.
With that, let’s get to talking about the races:
Race 1 – N/W $20,000 L5 Pace
The opening race of the day is a nice group of ten going in this non-winners of 20k. Lots of open and preferred handicap horses drop into this spot to start our day off. I do think (5) Angers Bayama is a tough one to beat coming out of his back to back wins at the Meadowlands; Andrew McCarthy stays in the bike aboard a hot horse who truly has been getting better with each go. He is really taking to the big mile track and should be the one here going gate to wire. I’d also look at (4) Shamwow underneath for some value.
Race 2 – Shady Daisy Pace
Now we move into the stakes part of the card, although only five 3yo fillies go in this pacing affair. But no wonder it is short – trying to contend with the Breeders’ Crown and Mistletoe Shalee champ (3) Reflect With Me is no easy task. She has been on a tear since coming back this season and is getting better as the season gets longer. A definite single in this spot.
Race 3 – Dr. John R. Steele Memorial Trot
Our next race brings us to another fabulous female with Breeders’ Crown champion Manchego. We saw the fastest trotting mare ever brush off a similar field last year in the Allerage Farms Mare Trot at the Red Mile enroute to the world record time – and should be doing much the same. (5) Manchego is a freak on the front end, as she proved in the Spirit of Massachusetts last week, winning in world record time. She won this race in a 1:50 over Hannelore Hanover last year and looks to do the same once again. I’ve very much liked what (4) Felicityshagwell S has shown since coming to the US and is still improving. She has been finishing well in her last few and should be able to grab some pieces late.
Race 4 – Continentalvictory Trot
Named for the 1996 Hambletonian winner, this trot for 3yo fillies comes up with former Hambo Oaks hopefuls. The PA invader (6) Dip Me Hanover is who I lean towards here. She ended up facing some very salty PASS races in her last few, but has some great back form against similar that puts her in a good spot here. Another PA invader to watch is (7) Sweet Shirley Mae who comes in off two in the money efforts and looks to get back to a full mile track.
Race 5 – Muscle Hill Trot
Named for the 2009 Hambletonian winner, this Hambletonian prelude features a trotter that I really liked coming out of the NJSS action earlier this year in (9) Jula Trix Treasure. He just didn’t move all that well late against the company in the Tompkins-Geers and Hambo Elim last two out, but does get a lighter test in this start. The other two for me are (6) Beads and (8) Chestnut Hill coming out of Hambletonian eliminations. Beads finished up well in the Stanley Dancer Memorial behind Ready For Moni two back and should get a favorable trip here while Chestnut Hill has a lot of back form to look at as he tries to get back to his winning ways for Nifty Norman.
Race 6 – Jim Doherty Memorial Trot
Something I love about Hambletonian Day is getting to see the future stars of the sport shine in the 2yo stakes affairs. Hypnotic AM captured this race last year with Brian Sears enroute to a Breeders’ Crown third and a start in the Hambletonian Oaks later today. (5) Darlene Hanover pushed through late in the elimination last week and looks to be the one to beat here. She finally broke her maiden last out but was showing a lot of late closing kick in all her starts prior. She will get challenged by the talented (10) Altar, who won the NJSS division earlier this year, but was DQ’ed from 3rd last out in the elimination, ending her two race win streak. Meanwhile (4) Material Girl is knocking on the door and isn’t a trotter to leave off any ticket. And if you are looking for a price, watch out for the very expensive 2yo (9) Ineffable with Brian Sears – he saved a lot in the tank last start and should come out guns blazing.
Race 7 – Sam McKee Memorial Pace
The former US Pacing Championship that has since been renamed for the legendary announcer and all-around fantastic guy Sam McKee, who we lost much too soon, has come up as tough as usual. Multiple high level stakes winners come into this major pacing event ready to take home the ultimate prize. While most will lean on the Breeders’ Crown champ Dancin Lou, I head to (3) Hurrikane Emperor to take down this field again. He is in a similar form cycle as he had in his win in the Graduate last month against similar company and has had two good tuneups in the NJ Maturity legs. He shows his A+ game against top class company and absolutely thrives at the Meadowlands.
Race 8 – Peter Haughton Memorial Trot
Future Hambletonian hopefuls head to the track in this featured 2yo event. This is a pretty wide open affair and you could go in any direction here. I am sticking with (5) Locatelli who comes in off skipping over the eliminations. One of the fresh faces here, this 2yo just came up short closing late in the NJSS division but showed a lot of promise with his good closing kick. He was drawn on the far outside that day which got him shuffled back and out of place early. While Yannick chooses off for (4) Type A, who comes in out of PASS action and is a huge threat, I like Dexter Dunn in this spot trying to get Locatelli towards the front early – major threat here.
Race 9 – Hambletonian Oaks Trot
The first of our featured races of the day, the Hambletonian Oaks could go in just about any direction. (11) Panem gets the second tier draw here, although should be fine as the one she tracks should be trying for the lead early. She has been coming up just short in her last two (Reynolds and Del Miller) but has been showing a really quick turn of foot down the lane late and looks to show that here. She won’t have Ramona Hill to deal with which will be a huge plus for her. I do think that (7) Sorella and (2) Next Level Stuff could get the win here as well, as both have been in great form as of late, but their might be a bit too much jostling up front for me to be confident in either.
Race 10 – John Cashman Memorial Trot
Hambletonian winners Atlanta and Marion Marauder face off once again. Last time they squared off on the same track was at Scioto Downs last year in the Muscle Hill, with Atlanta getting the best of the field. Will we see that again today? I think so. (2) Atlanta is an absolute freak, especially when she gets an inside draw at the Big M. However, she never had to face someone like (7) Gimpanzee, who has been dominant thus far on the season, sweeping his three legs of the Graduate and winning the Hambletonian Maturity. It should be a good duel down the lane between these two champions. My upsetter here would have to be (6) Lindy The Great, who can truly toy with the best of them when he is hot; he can come from the clouds late and should be a threat if there is enough speed on the front end. (btw, don’t count out Jimmy Takter on Hambletonian Day – he finds a way back into the card he dominated for so many years as he drives Don’t Let’em)
Race 11 – Hambletonian
Finally time for the big one – the Hambletonian. The tremendous filly Ramona Hill showed she fits against the boys in her miraculous win from tough trip last week in the elim. Meanwhile, Stanley Dancer winners Ready For Moni and Back Of The Neck draw to the inside and try to take home the top prize. Not to be undone, Breeders’ Crown champion Amigo Volo got back to his winning ways when heading over to PA but wants to get a win here on the biggest of stages, something his sire Father Patrick was unable to do. And it wouldn’t be right without talking about the Ron Burke/Brian Sears entry in Sister Sledge, the other filly in the race, who showed her stuff two back in the Tompkins-Geers; she trotted real well to a solid fourth in the elim last out and looks primed to go. I have really liked (2) Back Of The Neck since the trainer switch from Marcus Melander to Ake Svanstedt. Scotty Z is in the bike and has been getting the most out of this son of Ready Cash; he looked to have put away the field last out in the elim only to find Ramona Hill surging late in style. That wasn’t his 100% and he should have a lot left in the tank for this one. His pace figures put him in really good position here and drawing to the inside should help him hit the front on what should be a speed favoring surface after the rain dries up from Friday night.
Race 12 – Vincennes Trot
An invitational preferred trot, this one is a staple of the Hambletonian undercard (or post card in this case). The ageless Jl Cruze ends up here against a good field of former stakes performers. For me, (1) Muscle M Up is the one to watch. He went up to Plainridge a few back to content against Manchego and Atlanta in the Spirit of Massachusetts, but didn’t get anything going there. Back to the Meadowlands he went and he just needed a race to cool down. He has been going against much tougher company but gets a spot and a draw that should favor him to get the lead and carry it away. Additionally, (2) Mission Accepted with Yannick Gingras in the bike is a dangerous one at a slight price. This is a much easier spot than what he has seen at the Big M and should like the trip he looks to get.
Race 13 – Cane Pace
The first leg of the Pacing Triple Crown brings us a future star of the sport, (6) Tall Dark Stranger. Go back and watch his Meadowlands Pace win and try to tell me that didn’t give you chills. He fought the whole way down the lane against Papi Rob Hanover and wouldn’t give an inch. He had a tune-up effort in the Tompkins-Geers last week to prep him for this start. I love him here and already think he is on to a magical season. A price in this somewhat short field may be (8) Chief Mate – who has been knocking on the door as of late and came up just short in the Adios last out.
Race 14 – Sam McKee Memorial Consolation
Lot’s of excellent pacers tried to get into the Sam McKee but will have to do with the consolation. This race is where I come with two of my biggest prices of the day: (4) Filibuster Hanover and (5) Donttellmeagain. While both are a bit past their prime, they had no chance against the top pacers last out. Yet, against similar company to what they find here, they have excelled as of late. I give them a huge leg up in this field, even at a price. Speed figures put them in a very well verse spot here.
Race 15 – Lady Liberty Pace
The Horse of the Year, Breeders’ Crown Champ, and two-time winner of the Lady Liberty looks to make it three in a row here. (5) Shartin N is by far the best pacing mare in training (if not the best pacer in training) and it isn’t even close. She had a rare defeat two back in the Dorothy Haughton (formerly known as the Golden Girls) but that isn’t anything to worry about. Let’s see if she can do it again.
Race 16 – N/W $10,000 L5 Pace
One last race to close out a tremendous day of harness racing and a very nice sixteen race card. For me, my close out of the day lies in the outside horse, (10) Lets Roll and Corey Callahan. Getting back to the Meadowlands should do this horse well, and the slight drop of class might be exactly what he needs to get back to his winning ways. Hoping to finish the day with a nice price.