by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
EAST RUTHERFORD—That’s why they race. When you go to the Meadowlands for Hambletonian Day, one of the great things about being there is the race day analysis that is provided and piped over the loudspeakers. The Meadowlands produces its own coverage and on Hambo Day, they used Gabe Prewitt and the recently inducted Hall of Famer Dave Little to provide the commentary. Track announcer Ken Warkentin gets into the mix as does sideline reporter, Bob “Hollywood,” Heyward. All of them came to the same conclusion—that Greenshoe could not be beaten in the $1 million Hambletonian final. They were not alone of course as those in attendance made the 3-year old trotter the overwhelming fave in the biggest harness race of the year.
After he barely broke a sweat on a sweltering 87 degree day in his elimination race, it appeared that the real race would be for second place. But, in harness racing, strange things can happen. Last year, Atlanta faltered badly down the stretch in her elimination heat and finished second. In the final—she romped to victory.
Bob McClure is a horsemen’s horseman. He has spent most of his career toiling on the backtracks of Canada, but in recent years, has elevated his game. He now races primarily at Woodbine Mohawk Park; Canada’s premier harness track and the site for this October’s Breeders’ Crown races. Today, he was on the bike for the Canadian bred, Forbidden Trade. Dismissed at odds of 18-1, he finished third in his elimination behind Don’t Let ‘Em and everybody’s choice, Greenshoe. Remember, those are win odds and because “The Shoe,” was such a heavy favorite, the numbers are going to be skewed just a tad as they say.
In the final, McClure drove a superb race. He stalked nicely and when they turned for home, he took to the center of the track was able to slide by the leading Green Manalishi. Greenshoe made his move late, but despite track announcer Ken Warkentin stating that he took the lead, he never did. Forbidden Trade was able to surge past the fading Green Manalishi and held off the hard-charging Greenshoe to win in 1:51. And, at 15-1, he rewarded supporters with $33.80 for a $2 bet.
There were American flags at the track and both God Bless America and the Star Spangled Banner were played. One song that they didn’t play was O Canada, but no matter—the Hambo gave Forbidden Trade, driver McClure and trainer Luc Blais some good old “Northern Exposure.”
As good as the Hambo final was—and it was a dandy—the two stars of the day were the veterans. In the $230,300 Sam McKee Memorial Pace, Lather Up decimated a very good field. He tripped the wire in a mind boggling 1:59.2 for 1 1/8 miles. He cut the mile in 1:46.3, just three-fifths of a second off the world record of 1:46 he shares with Always B Miki. For the third time this season, This Is The Plan finished second behind this superhorse and reigning Horse of the Year McWicked ran beautifully only to finish third. In fact, both McWicked and This Is The Plan were clocked in 2:00.1, but if you saw the race, it wasn’t close; that’s how good the Clyde Francis trained colt is right now.
The other star was the tiny lady, Shartin N. She will never be intimidating in the paddock, but once she gets racing, the others run scared. She won for 12th time in 13 starts, capturing the $183,000 Lady Liberty Mare Pace. Her time of 1:46.4 set a world record for older pacing mares. They say that female pacers can’t run with the boys, but I tend to disagree here. Other than Lather Up, I wouldn’t bet against the New Zealand bred Shartin N in any race against anybody. She simply glides over the track. Last week, she whipped the field in the $100,000 Clara Barton Pace at Plainridge Park and Saturday, it was more of the same at The Big M.
I should add another star and that would be When Doves Cry, the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks winner. She made it look very easy as she took the lead on the backstretch, cut the half in 54.4 and then glided home from there. The favorite, Millies Possesion ran very well to finish second; sometimes we forget how good the runner-ups do in the big races, but like This Is The Plan, Millies Possesion had to settle for a strong second as When Doves Cry was much the best.
A good crowd was on hand and like the previous two years, I met some great people from all over the place on harness racing’s big day. I spent most of the day sitting in Section 105 with John and Debbie who own and train three pacers that race in Maryland at both Rosecroft and Ocean Downs. To my left was Will, a northern New Jersey native who used to frequent the track while a student at Rutgers-Newark. Now, 62, he decided to come back to the Meadowlands and take in this fine day of racing. When he left, like most bettors, he “was about even.”
After the Hambo, I headed up to the rooftop; there I was able to meet the Canadian Comet, Garnet Barnsdale who was doing some work for the United States Trotting Association. I also ran into Jim and Diane Dunn, who came in from The Pine Tree State, aka Maine. Jim trains seven horses and wife Diane, helps out as well. Last week, they were at Plainridge Park and for the second straight week, Diane was happy to see Shartin N win another big stakes race.
Harness racing fans are good people indeed. In my three years of attending the Hambletonian, I have sat next to and met fans from New Jersey, Ohio, Sweden, England, Finland, Queens (NY), Maryland and Maine. The racing was great, the experience—second to none.
The Meadowlands now takes a break until October 11, but there is no break for harness racing. Next week features two big races; the $300,000 Dan Patch Pace at Hoosier Park on Friday and the $400,000 Carl Milstein Pace at Northfield Park on Saturday. There is no rest for the weary, the fans, the drivers, the trainers and of course, the pacers and trotters.