EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Hambletonian Day on Aug. 4 served as the grand finale of the Meadowlands racing meet.
Trainer Rick Zeron, an admitted crier, had reason to well up after the 93rd Hambletonian. Not only had the veteran horseman won the trotting classic in his first try. His son Scott was in the sulky to make it a family affair, and the high point of a 43-year-old career.
“This is a dream come true,” said Rick Zeron. “That’s my specialty, trotters. I live and breathe to train a trotter, especially a filly. It’s more satisfying for me to train a filly to get where I am today, to win what I did today, than with a colt. It’s a bigger challenge.”
“I’ve said it to a few people close to me,” said Scott Zeron. “She’s the best horse I ever drove. Everything is so fluid and effortless. The mile (in the elimination) just got away from me. I was mad at myself. That’s not how I wanted to head into the final. If she was a champion, she would bounce back and she did.”
The time was 1:50 4/5 for the mile.
It was the second Hambletonian victory for Scott Zeron. He was at the lines when Marion Marauder won in 2016.
The Hambletonian kicks off the Triple Crown for trotters. The series continues with the Yonkers Trot on Sept. 1and Kentucky Futurity on Oct. 7.
A total of 18,252 came out for the on-track Hambletonian experience, despite bad weather early in the day.
“I’d like to thank our fans, owners, drivers, trainers, grooms and employees for supporting what is not only our biggest day here at the Meadowlands, but harness racing’s biggest day,” said Jason Settlemoir, the track’s chief operating officer and general manager.
While the Hambletonian was the headliner, the undercard attracted the top horses in the nation.
Before Atlanta beat the boys in the Hambletonian final, Driver Yannick Gingras and trainer Jimmy Takter combined to win a fifth straight Hambletonian Oaks for 3-year-old trotting fillies with Manchego in 1:50. It was a length back to Phaetosive, while Plunge Blue Chip finished third.
Eliminations for the Oaks were held a week earlier. In the Hambletonian, eliminations are held the same day.
Manchego, daughter of Muscle Hill sprinted directly to the lead, and after hitting the quarter in :27.2, was permitted to rate the second panel, trotting to the half in :55.4.
Pocket-sitting 9-2 third choice Plunge Blue Chip and driver Ake Svanstedt were unwilling to let Manchego march around the track at a pedestrian clip and popped out of the pocket to engage the leader at the five-eighths.
After making their way around the far turn, the sprint was on.
Manchego had the edge at the head of the stretch. Plunge Blue Chip was in hot pursuit, along with even-money favorite Phaetosive, who won the week before in her elimination in impressive fashion.
But after trotting her final quarter in :26.3, there would be no catching Manchego, who lowered her previous lifetime-best by one-and-one-fifth seconds.
The daughter of Muscle Hill, who paid $4.40 as the 6-5 second choice, upped her lifetime record to 17 wins in 19 starts, good for earnings of $1,236,170 for her owners Black Horse Racing, John Fielding and Herb Liverman.
Takter extended his record for Hambo Oaks wins to eight.
Cane Pace: Stay Hungry Sets New Stakes record
Stay Hungry, driven by Doug McNair, charged down the stretch to win the 64th edition of $281,000 Cane Pace by 1 1-2 lengths over 60-1 long shot Grand Teton in stakes record-tying fashion of 1:47 3/5 to take the first leg of Pacing’s Triple Crown for 3-year-olds, contested as the seventh race.
Trained by Tony Alagna, Stay Hungry, who finished third to Courtly Choice in the Meadowlands Pace, overtook Grand Teton for his third win of the season, ninth of his career and setting a new stakes record and career mark.
Stay Hungry tied the stakes record set by Dealt A Winner, driven by David Miller and trained by Mark Silva, in 2015.
The O’Brien Award-winner Stay Hungry rewarded his backers by paying $9.40, $5.00 and $3.40. Grand Teton paid $40.20 and $15.60 while Babes Dig Me, with Brett Miller in the sulky, finished third, paying $9.40.
“He has high, high speed. So if put you him in the right spot and there’s lots of fractions he’s gonna pay something and be real close,” said McNair.
This was McNair’s first career Cane Pace win for McNair and the second for Alagna, who won in 2013 with Captaintreacherous.
Stay Hungry races for the ownership of Bradley Grant of Milton, Ontario and Irwin Samelman of Las Vegas, Nev.
Subsequent legs of the Triple Crown include Messenger Stakes at Yonkers Raceway in Yonkers, New York on Sept. 1 and The Little Brown Jug at the Delaware County Fair in Delaware, Ohio on Sept. 20.
The Ice Dutchess Freezes Out Foes In Doherty
The Ice Dutchess won Saturday’s $357,450 James Doherty Memorial for 2-year-old filly trotters, besting Beautiful Sin by a neck in 1:53 4/5 at the Meadowlands.
Hanna Dreamgirl was third by three-quarters of a length.
The Ice Dutchess and Beautiful Sin both are from the stable of trainer Jimmy Takter, who has won the Doherty Memorial three years in a row and six of the last nine editions.
Johnny Takter, Jimmy’s brother, drove The Ice Dutchess and put the filly in front on the backstretch after Hanovers Best left quickly from post nine and set the tempo of :28 to the first quarter. The Ice Dutchess yielded the lead to Beautiful Sin at the half, reached in :56.4, and followed the leader through three-quarters in 1:25.4.
After turning for home, Johnny Takter and The Ice Dutchess found room inside and trotted to her second win in three starts. Her loss was by a nose the Doherty eliminations a week earlier.
The Ice Dutchess is a daughter of Muscle Hill out of The Ice Queen and a full sister to stakes-winner Ice Attraction. She was purchased for $320,000 at last fall’s Standardbred Horse Sale and is owned by John Floren’s Coyote Wynd Farms. She pushed her earnings to $189,790.
The Ice Dutchess paid $12.80, $4.80 and $3.40 Beautiful Sin paid $2.60 and $2.20. Hanna Dreamgirl paid $3.40.
Don’t Let’em Cruises To Peter Haughton Memorial Win
Don’t Let’em, driven by Yannick Gingras, led wire-to-wire to win by 3 1/4 lengths, setting a stakes and track record of 1:51 4/5 in the 38th edition of $422,350 Peter Haughton Memorial Final for two-year-old trotting colts and geldings.
By winning the Peter Haughton, Don’t Let’em is the early favorite for the 2019 Hambletonian as the race has always served as a preview to harness racing’s biggest trotting race.
Wallner previously held the track record of 1:53, set on Oct. 29, 2016.
At odds of 3-1, Don’t Let’em took the lead at the quarter in 27.1 and never looked back. Don’t Let’em paid $8.00, $4.20, and $3.20.
The 11-1 Green Manalishi S ($12.20, $9.80), driven by David Miller, finished second and Mass Fortune K finished third ($27.00) by 6 ¼ lengths.
“It doesn’t surprise anyone from the farm or any of the ownership. He is a very, very talented horse,” said General Manager Art Zubrod of Brittany Farms, the co-owner and breeder of the Muscle Hill colt who is also owned by Christina Takter, John Fielding and Herb Liverman. The winning trainer is Jimmy Takter.
It was Gingras’ second win of the day and his fourth Haughton win, having won with You Know You Do (1:54.2) in 2017, Southwind Frank (1:53.4) in 2015 and Father Patrick (1:54.1) in 2013.
Shady Daisy Won By Youaremycandygirl
Youaremycandygirl and driver Yannick Gingras went wire-to-wire to win the $96,600 Shady Daisy Pace for three-year-old pacing fillies in a stakes and track record time of 1:48 2/5 by a nose in the second race on Saturday afternoon at the Meadowlands.
Youraremycandygirl was first to the lead in :26.2, with Kissin In The Sand (Scott Zeron) and Believe In Me ( David Miller) behind her. That trio led the field to the :54 half. By the five eighths mile marker, Alexa’s Power (Tim Tetrick) was off the rail from fifth and moved to the outside of Youaremycandygirl by the 1:21 2/5 three quarters.
Turning for home, the leader was challenged on the outside by Kissin In the Sand, who came off the rail from second when Alexa’s Power was nearing the lead in third on the outside. Kissin in The Sand and Zeron surged on the outside to get alongside Youaremycandygirl, but could not catch her and finished second by a nose. Alexa’s Power was third outside of her.
“My filly was loaded with pace and Scotty (Zeron on Kissin In the Sand) was driving on his, so I felt confident,” said Gingras. “But she just refused quit, so she gave me a good battle. With my filly, everything that could have gone wrong early in the year, went wrong health wise. But now it seems like she’s healthy and last week at The Meadows (winning the Adioo Volo) she was really, really good, and she was great today.”
The winner returned $5.40 $2.40 $2.10. With second place finisher Kissin In the Sand ($2.10 $2.10), the exacta was $9.40 and with third place finisher Alexa’s Power (2.80, the trifecta was worth $26.60).
It was the fourth win in eight starts this year for Youaremycandygirl, who is owned by W.J. Donovan of Delray Beach, Fla. and trained by Ron Burke.
Vincennes Trot Goes To Muscle Diamond
Muscle Diamond got a second-over trip behind Gural Hanover around the final turn before surging to the lead in the stretch to win the $30,000 Vincennes open trot by a neck over Satin Dancer in 1:51 over track labeled sloppy because of morning rain at the Meadowlands.
Lagerfeld was third.
Muscle Diamond, who raced without shoes, was fifth through the first half of the race before making his move with driver Andy McCarthy following a battle up front between Gural Hanover and favorite Obrigado.
“There were some nice horses in there,” winning trainer Brett Bittle said. “I’ve never pulled his front shoes off, and I was worried about the track today doing it. I’ve pulled his back shoes off quite often and it’s seemed to agree with him. I know he won today but it didn’t look like it really agreed with him. I didn’t think he was gaited that great, but he got it done.”
Muscle Diamond is a 6-year-old stallion owned by Charles Keller III, Charles Keller IV, Dan Bittle and Brett Bittle. The son of Muscle Hill-Windylane Hanover has won 14 of 46 races and $720,099 in his career.
Obrigado, a former Dan Patch Award-winner, finished fourth. Pinkman, the 2015 Hambletonian winner, was fifth.
Muscle Diamond paid $6.00, $3.80 and $2.80. Satin Dancer returned $13.80 and $6.60. Lagerfeld paid $3.40.
Cashman Memorial Won By Marion Marauder
The 2016 Hambletonian winner Marion Marauder returned to the scene of his greatest victory to win the $286,650 John Cashman Memorial for open trotters.
He is the first Hambletonian winner to take the Cashman, formerly known as the Nat Ray Trot, since Mack Lobell, who won the Hambletonian in 1987 and the Cashman in 1988. He trotted the 1 1/8 mile distance in 2:06 with a mile time of 1:51.4, matching his Hambletonian clocking.
I Know My Chip (Victory Kirby) got to the 26.1 first quarter at the head of the dozen horse pack, soon overtaken by Marion Marauder, who then led the field to the 54.2 half. The 2017 Horse of the Year and the sole mare in the race, Hannelore Hanover, was three-wide and moving to the lead, going three wide, and held it to the 1:23.2 three quarters.
As the field turned to go home, Will Take Charge (Tim Tetrick) came off the rail to challenge Hannelore and while those two were battling it out in deep stretch, Marion Marauder ranged up on the outside to win by a neck over Will Take Charge in 2:06. Hannelore Hanover was third by a half-length.
“He just has the will to win,” said winning driver Scott Zeron. “It’s just a matter of me getting him into the race, which has been difficult some places. But when he’s within reaching distance, doesn’t he always seem to get up?
“The trip couldn’t have worked out any better,” Zeron added. “He needed that whole quarter to get to the front. When he did, (In Secret) was at my wheel and I noticed that Yannick had made that three-wide move, which was even better. To follow him through the back half of the race was great. It was good for my horse not to have to cut the entire mile and an eighth. I couldn’t be any happier with the way it went.”
Marion Marauder returned $10.40 $4.60 $3.00, the exacta with Will Take Charge ($5.20 $3.20) was $41.60 and the 8-1-12 trifecta with Hannelore Hanover ($2.10) was $140.00.
The winner is owned by Ontario residents Marion Wellwood and Devin Keeling and is trained by Paula Wellwood.
Western Joe Wins Mckee Memorial
Western Joe angled off the pylons in the stretch and fanned four- wide around a group of horses, including even-money favorite McWicked, to win the $260,100 Sam McKee Memorial for older pacers at the Meadowlands. The time for the race, contested at 1-1/8 miles, was 2:02.
McWicked, the even-money favorite, finished second and Filibuster Hanover was third.
Filibuster Hanover led the field to the opening quarter in :26.1 before All Bets Off got to the front and reached the half in :54.4. Miso Fast challenged All Bets Off as they reached three-quarters in 1:21, with McWicked on the move three wide on the final turn. The field hit the mile in 1:48.2.
Western Joe was second behind Filibuster Hanover around the first turn and remained inside, shuffling between fifth and sixth place, before the stretch.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” winning driver Scott Zeron said. “He’s the type of horse that can always leave for position and just stay in. I don’t think re-moving would have been the right option. At that time, sitting third on the rail with the kind of speed we were going up the backside and around the last turn was perfect. He runs out a little bit, so when I was able to feed him racetrack to the outside, I knew he was going to get up.”
Western Joe, a 4-year-old stallion trained by Chris Choate, is a son of Western Ideal out of Ante Fay. He has won nine of 22 races this year and 18 of 51 in his career. His lifetime earnings are $462,655 for breeder/owner Anthony Ruggeri and Richard Tosies.
Sent off at 5-2, Western Joe paid $7.60, $3.00, and $2.80. McWicked paid $2.80 and $2.60. Filibuster Hanover paid $5.40.
The McKee Memorial, formerly the U.S. Pacing Championship, honors the late Meadowlands Racetrack announcer and Communicators Hall of Fame member Sam McKee, who passed away in 2017.
Trainer Ron Burke, who is on his way to leading all harness racing trainers in both wins and purses for the 10th consecutive year, added to his list of record-setting accomplishments when he surpassed $200 million in career purses.
Burke became the first trainer and fourth person to reach $200 million when Filibuster Hanover finished third in the Sam McKee Memorial.
Shartin N Scores In Lady Liberty
Shartin N won the $197,400 Lady Liberty for pacing mares, taking the lead on the backstretch and holding off Pure Country and Blue Moon Stride in 2:04.1 in the 1-1/8 miles race at the Meadowlands. The margin of victory was a half-length.
Caviart Ally was the early leader, hitting the first quarter in :26.4, followed by Apple Bottom Jeans, Call Me Queen Be, Shartin N. Call Me Queen Be took a brief lead, but was overtaken by Shartin N by the time the group reached the half in :54.3.
Shartin N controlled the fractions from there, getting to three-quarters in 1:22 and the mile in 1:50. Pure Country was third over at three-quarters and made a late rally, but was unable to get to the front.
“We kind of got messed up leaving out of there,” winning driver Tim Tetrick said. “My mare has made a break or two off the gate, so I was trying to be a little careful. I got lucky to get out there. She’s done nothing but be great, and she did it again today. She doesn’t always win by a lot, but she gets it done.”
Shartin N is a 5-year-old daughter of TinTin In America out of Bagdarin. She has won 13 of 17 races this year and 20 of 30 lifetime for earnings of $764,857. She is owned by Richard Poilluci and Jo Ann Looney-King.
Sent off as the 3-5 favorite, Shartin N paid $3.20, $2.20, $2.10. Pure Country paid $3.40 and $2.60. Blue Moon Stride paid $6.20.
Long Shot Proves Tough As Steele
Dream Together (Bob McClure) was the winner by a neck of the $154,800 Dr. John Steele Memorial Trot for older mares on Aug. 4 at The Meadowlands. The four year-old mare is trained by Luc Blais and owned by Determination Stable of Montreal.
Ariana G (Yannick Gingras) was first to the lead at the :27 first quarter and held that lead through the :55 half and the 1:23.3 three quarters. When the field hit the top of the stretch, Ariana G was still on the lead, but Dream Together was on the move from fourth place and overtook the leaders for the win in 1:51 3/5, her first win since mid May.
Ariana G faded to fifth and Broadway Donna (David Miller) closed strongly to be second, Caprice Hill (Doug McNair) was third.
Dream Together returned $105.60, $49.60 and $25.20 and topped a $1,031 exacta with second place finisher Broadway Donna ($6.20, $6.40). The trifecta was $2,883.40 with third-place finisher Caprice Hill ($9.00).
Tim Tetrick swept the late double and finished the day with four driving victories.
Scott Zeron and Yannick Gingras won three apiece.
Trainer Jimmy Takter had five winners on the day.
The first 14 races on the card saw only one winning favorite, before Tetrick finished the day with the all-chalk double at odds of 3-5 and 7-5.
On-track handle was just short of $1.1 million, with all-source wagering totaling $5,669,720, smashing the previous 2018 industry-best (established on Meadowlands Pace Night) by $1,586,330.
Out of 11 trotting races on the card, winners of seven of those races were sired by Muscle Hill who stands at Southwind Farms in Pennington, N.J.
Long shots Prevail on Hambletonian Eve
The night before the 93rd Hambletonian it was bombs away at the Meadowlands Friday, as a track that had seen 29 favorites score in its previous 60 races (48 percent) became the land of long shots.
Five times on the 12-race card the winner’s odds were 16-1 or higher, and even though the 50-Cent Pick-5 saw a 2-5 shot win leg four, the payout was still a hefty $12,016.25.
The non-chalk parade began in the opening race when amateur driver Roberto Michelotto guided Cheeky Little Minx ($48.60) to victory in an event for Hambletonian Amateur Drivers.
The second amateur driver’s race saw Jennifer Lappe guide Fox Valley Steffen ($69.80) to victory lane in race five. Ake Svanstedt took race seven with Can’t Afford It ($35.80) before Sprinter N ($69.80) rocked the clock to the tune of 1:48.3 in the eighth.
The ninth race saw Steve Smith score with Atlas Alliance N ($49.60) to complete a Pick-3 that returned a whopping $6,797.00, while the 50-Cent Pick-4 (races eight through 11) came back $6,128.50 — despite being anchored by 3-1 and 3-5 winners — given the big prices that started the sequence in the eighth and ninth.
Harness racing at the Meadowlands will take a break until October.
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