by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—Harness racing had its biggest day of the year with over 18,000 in attendance on a hot, humid day at The Meadowlands for the 93rd running of the Hambletonian.
In addition to the Hambo, there were stakes races galore on the program, including the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks.
The Hambletonian is unique. In order to win it, a horse has to run two races in less than two hours. They don’t have to win both, but they have to qualify for the final by competing in an elimination race.
There was extra intrigue in this year’s race because the filly, Atlanta, was entered to run against the boys. In 92 previous runnings, fillies had won just 13 times. In her elimination, she set blazing fractions and was caught at the wire by Crystal Fashion. She looked cooked and some believed that she may be too worn out for the upcoming final.
The second elimination was run at a slower pace with Tactical Landing prevailing in 1:52.1, much slower than the 1:50.1 winning time in the first elim.
So, what happens in the final? Atlanta charges to the lead once again, ripping off a first quarter of 26.2 to the amazement of all. But, in harness racing, the race can be won or lost in the second quarter. If the leader can get that proverbial breather, they might be able to hang on. And, Atlanta was able to do that with a 29 second fraction. Still, when you see a 55.2 half mile split for a trotter, it does raise the eyebrows, wondering what will happen over the last half.
Buoyed by slower quarter, Atlanta hit three-quarters in 1:22.4 and then started to pull away, showing no ill effects of her elimination race. She made the move at the right time. In the stretch, she began to tire, but she had done the heavy lifting and coasted home in 1:50.4 to become the 14th filly to win the Hambletonian. I sat next to a gentleman who like many, thought she shot her wad in the elim; he stood up and bowed, paying respect to this fantastic filly.
Met’s Hall, dismissed at very long odds, tried to chase and did very well to get second, passing Tactical Landing to garner place honors. Crystal Fashion was fourth and Evaluate was fifth. In a $1 million race, winning is important, but so too, is cashing a check. For the unheralded Met’s Hall, a second place finish and a $250,000 reward is not a bad day at the office.
The Trotting Triple Crown’s next race is the Yonkers Trot on Saturday, September 1 at Yonkers Raceway, the half-mile oval referred to as Old Hilltop. The third race is the Kentucky Futurity at The Red Mile in Lexington. There is no guarantee that we will see Atlanta in either of these races; harness racing differs greatly than its thoroughbred counterpart when it comes to chasing Triple Crowns.
Speaking of Triple Crowns, the first leg for pacers took place in a race they call the Cane Pace. Again, the lure of a Triple Crown doesn’t lure all the horses. Dorsoduro Hanover, who to me is the best 3-year old pacer, won the $400,000 Adios last Saturday at The Meadows but did not make the trip to The Meadowlands for this one. Courtly Choice, the Meadowlands Pace winner on July 14 did, but could only manage a fourth place finish. The winner was Stay Hungry, who ran an impressive 1:47.4 in the race that offered a $281,000 purse.
The Pacing Triple Crown’s next race is the Messenger Stakes at Yonkers on the same Saturday night as the Yonkers Trot. Again, who shows will remain to be seen. The third race is the Little Brown Jug, which is the best known race for pacers. That race takes place at the Delaware County Fair in Delaware, Ohio on Thursday, September 20.
The interesting aspect of this day is that many believe the best 3-year olds may be fillies. In addition to Atlanta, there is Manchego, Phaetosive and Plunge Blue Chip. Some joked that Atlanta entered the Hambletonian to avoid these three who squared off in the Hambletonian Oaks.
As expected, the big three dominated. Manchego took the lead and made a statement, winning in 1:50.0. Phaetosive was second and Plunge Blue Chip was third. If you’re a fan, the race we all want to see is these three plus Atlanta. That could be a sight to see for sure and if they all stay healthy, it should happen later this season.
There was plenty of action on the card yesterday with some surprises. Reigning Horse of the Year Hannelore Hanover took on the boys in the Cashman Trot. In the 12-horse race, she started in the second tier and was racing against Marion Marauder, the 2016 Hambo and Triple Crown winner, as well as Will Take Charge. They went 1-2-3, with the 5-year old Crown winner, Marion Marauder prevailing in the 1 1/8 mile race, flowed by Will Take Charge and the filly.
The best older horse in training is McWicked and he took on 11 others in the Sam McKee Pace, and like Hannelore Hanover had to overcome the second tier 12 post. In the field was Western Joe, who is based at the Meadowlands as well as last year’s Little Brown Jug winner, Filibuster Hanover. Western Joe used his home track advantage, edging McWicked to win the 1 1/8 mile race.
The other stakes races and winners:
Shady Daisy Trot Youaremycandygirl
Haughton Trot Don’t Let’Em
Doherty Trot The Ice Dutchess
Steele Memorial Trot Dream Together
Lady Liberty Pace Shartin
With the biggest day of the year now in the books, the horses, trainers and drivers will now scatter across North America for the rest of the summer and into the fall. The next convention will take place at Pocono Downs on Saturday, October 27 for the Breeders Crown and its 12 championship races.
Hambletonian 2018 was a success and it shows that when Harness Racing puts its best foot forward, its product is good. In addition to the 18,252 that paid to get in, on-track handle was just short of $1.1 million and overall handle was $5,669,720. The Meadowlands 2017-2018 season is complete; harness racing will return there on Friday, October 12.