Warrawee Ubeaut Romps in Jugette

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

She definitely tried and the she I’m referring to is Treacherous Reign and her effort in the Jugette, the signature race for 3-year old fillies at the Delaware County Fair.  Warrawee Ubeaut came into the Jugette as the heavy favorite and after she won her elimination by 6.5 lengths, that didn’t change.

In the final, Dexter Dunn did what the others apparently didn’t try to do—win the race.  Dunn took his filly out through a blistering 26.2 first quarter on what seems to be an always blazing Delaware track.  Yannick Gingras tried to take the lead shortly after that quarter but was thwarted by Dunn and Treacherous Reign.  Those watching could see the head on Warrawee Ubeaut snap back as Gingras calmy tucked her back into the pocket.

Dunn was able to rate the second quarter in 29, but as they raced down the backstretch, once again, it was Gingras taking Warrawee Ubeaut to the outside and this time, he and his filly would not be denied.  She surged to the lead, hitting three-quarters in 1:23.3 and the only drama coming home was the colt’s wheel running over a fallen pylon.  The final time was impressive for the Ron Burke trained filly, as she tripped the wire in 1:50.1.

Burke thought about racing the filly against the colts in the Little Brown Jug, but fear of drawing the seven or eight post gave him enough pause to keep her with the girls. In pacing, it is very rare to mix the sexes.

You see it in trots, but pacing is different. Trotting is part speed, part form and part style; the latter two can keep the speed down enough for the fillies to keep up. In pacing, it’s more speed than form, more strength than style and the consensus is that filly and mare pacers can’t keep up. Shartin N may beg to differ, but, as good as she is, she hasn’t raced against the boys.

The two wins on the day put Warrawee Ubeaut over $1 million in earnings; $1,175,393 to be exact and for trainer Burke and driver, Gingras, it was Jugette number three for each.  Ideation Hanover passed a tiring Treacherous Reign to earn place honors with Reign holding on for third.

Jugette Day is not one for the weak. The card featured 20 races with an 11:15 am ET post. The Jugette runners were sent on their way at 6:21, meaning that the card was over seven hours in length.

Today is Little Brown Jug Day with 15 entered in the most well-known race for 3-year old pacers. There are two eliminations with the top four in each advancing to the $384,000 final. The three most accomplished are Southwind Ozzi, Shake That House and American Mercury.

Like the Jugette, Jug Day features 20 races and over $1.3 million in purses. Post time is set for 11:15 am ET with the Little Brown Jug scheduled for 4:57 pm ET. The safest bet is the over on the 4:57 pm, but the 40,000 plus in attendance likely won’t mind, especially with sunny skies and a high temperature of 82 degrees in the forecast.

 

Batavia’s Biggest Night Ever

The track is hosting the Sire Stakes finals for the first time and there is $1.8 million up for grabs.

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

Batavia Downs has hosted harness racing for—-a lot of years (the track opened in 1940).  It is the oldest lighted harness track in the USA, but they have never had a night like they will have this Saturday.

For the first time, the Genesee County track will host the finals of the New York State Sire Stakes.  That’s eight races for 2 and 3-year old fillies, colts and geldings with each race carrying a $225,000 purse.  In short, with $1.8 million in purses, it is the “biggest night ever in Batavia Downs history.”

Those that follow harness racing know what the sire stakes are.  Most states have them and the purpose is to encourage those who love the game to breed and race in a particular state, in this case, New York.

One could make the argument that Ohio might be best of the all when it comes to sire stakes action.  The Buckeye State has become a terrific place to breed and race horses.  There are four harness tracks—Northfield Park is the year-rounder while Scioto, Miami Valley and Dayton split the calendar in thirds.  With only two tracks running at a time, the fields are full and cards are long.

If Ohio is 1, New York is 1A; it all depends on who you ask.  New York divides its sire stakes into three classes—Sire Stakes, Excelsior A and Excelsior B.  Horses have to be nominated the year prior and have to be pay the corresponding nominating fees.  The races take place throughout the year at New York’s seven harness tracks.

Those that scored enough points are racing in the finals at Batavia with the consolations held this Sunday at Vernon Downs.  The Excelsior finals are slated for Saratoga Casino Hotel on Saturday, Sept. 21.

The headliner is Gimpanzee, who will race in the 3-year colt and gelding trot.  He was good enough to make the Hambletonian final where he finished third behind upset winner Forbidden Trade and the favorite, Greenshoe.

In the second leg of Trotting’s Triple Crown, the Yonkers Trot, he turned the tables, beating Forbidden Trade in the $500,000 final.  The horse loves half-mile tracks and should find Batavia Downs to his liking.

All eight races have full eight horse fields which we all love to see.  Harness racing is having a good year.  Through Sept. 10, total handle for 2,438 racing dates is $1.043 billion, up 4.54 percent from last year.  Batavia is one of the reasons why.

The track is on an uptick.  Purses are up, handle is up and so too, is attendance.  The Sire Stakes is always a good card as it showcases the best that New York breeding has to offer. One would hope that the word will get out and there will be a nice crowd at the venerable track come Saturday night.

In addition to the 64 horses, the sport’s best drivers will be heading west on the New York State Thruway to take part in these big money races.  The names include Hall of Famer Brian Sears, Jason Bartlett, Tyler Buter, Joe Bongiorno, Matt Kakaley, Scott Zeron and many more.

While the Sire Stakes is the highlight, it wouldn’t be right to neglect those who race the Batavia circuit on a regular basis, thus, there are three races with local flavor.

The lidlifter is a $15,000 open trot while the11th and 12th  races are $11,000 and $10,000 open paces.  It’s always important to have a couple of races for the regulars to give those who wager there some familiarity.

The other “wild card” race is the $50,000 Robert Kane Memorial Pace.  The seven horses have combined to make 129 starts this year, led by the venerable Southwind Amazon, who has a record of 12-6-3 in 27 starts to go along with $161,000 in earnings.  Yonkers regular Somewhere in LA will make start number 24 and Imarocnrollegend will start for the 22nd time.

Post time is set for 6 pm and it looks like the weather will be ideal for Batavia’s “Night of Champions.”

The full card is right here.    https://racing.ustrotting.com/chart.aspx

 

 

 

Grow or Die? The Flamboro Downs Dilemma

Stunted Growth?  Flamboro Downs Wrestles with Ethics and Marketing in Decision to Ban Minors from the Grandstand

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

You’re trying to grow the game.  You’ve heard the critics, the doubters and the naysayers.  They say that harness racing is for old people, that young people don’t pay attention and when the old-timers “permanently retire,” the sport will fade into oblivion.

One way to grow the game and secure its long term future is to find ways to expose young people to it.  Every sport wants to get younger.  Young people are the future and once they reach their 20s, many have what businesses desire—–discretionary income.

Every sport is trying to find ways to lure families and kids to it and harness racing is no different.  The thought is simple; get the youngsters to the track, get them engaged, hope they fall in love with the horses and just like that, you have a fan for life.

On the other hand, harness racing relies and sustains itself on gambling.  Every harness track would love to see 25,000 fans watching races on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, but if nobody is wagering, how does the sport sustain itself?

With that comes the danger.  Sure, harness racing wants young people to come to the track, just like cigarette companies want kids to try smoking, but how do you market that?  The sport needs kids to become fans, but do we want them exposed to gambling?

The issue gets further complicated by the slots that accompany harness racing tracks.  When you take your kids to a Yonkers, a Saratoga, a Buffalo or a Harrah’s Philadelphia, young people will see gambling, gambling and more gambling.  As they head to the track, they will hear the bells and whistles that are electronic gaming machines.  We all figure that if an 18, 19 or 21-year old chooses to gamble (or smoke for that matter) it’s an adult decision.

Flamboro Downs is located in Southern Ontario, near Hamilton, and like the tracks mentioned above has a casino.  Because of that, the track recently announced that nobody under age 19 can enter the grandstand to watch harness racing. They will be allowed to view races from the tarmac, but in order to be in the grandstand you have to old enough to legally gamble, which in Ontario is age 19.  Great Canadian Gaming, the parent company of Flamboro Downs issued the following statement.

“We have made a significant investment in our gaming and entertainment facilities, and we are eager to share them with our guests,” the track said in a statement. “These enhancements include the addition of new gaming and entertainment amenities and the addition of approximately 100 new jobs.

“In order to accommodate these new enhancements, Flamboro Downs will become a 19+ entertainment destination on Tuesday, September 3, 2019. All ages are still welcome to enjoy live racing on the tarmac and will have access to washroom facilities.”

Naturally, this went over like a lead balloon.  Most harness racing fans went to the comment boards to express their displeasure.  They cited that kids are our future, kids don’t gamble and so on and forth.  Others blame harness racing for selling out to casinos, saying that when you do that, you have to play by their rules.

Some theorized that Great Canadian Gaming had to do this to comply with provincial laws and statutes.  We all know that on-track attendance has suffered for years and many think that tracks should direct their monies to improving their internet product as most feeds still feature grainy, 1980s quality.  I watch enough harness races to know this; only Yonkers Raceway provides HD beauty on their internet stream.

One of Canada’s leading owner partnerships, The Stable.ca announced that they will boycott and not send any of their horses to race at Flamboro Downs.  Anthony McDonald is the President and Co-Founder of The Stable.ca and here is some of what he told Standardbred.ca.

“I must say, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. How are we to reach the next generations if they aren’t welcome at the racetrack? This is straight out of the ’70s and does not meet any reasonable standards in racing in 2019……….Let’s hope Flamboro decides that the original statement was a bit premature and short-sighted, and they are indeed truly committed to racing………We will not support racing in this form and NONE of our horses will race at Flamboro Downs if this decision about age restrictions at their facility is not revisited and rectified.”

The lines have been drawn in the sand. The new regulation will begin on Tuesday, September 3 and it appears that the ball is now in the court of the racetrack and Great Canadian Gaming.

On the surface, the quick, knee-jerk reaction is to agree with McDonald and call the decision short-sighted.  How many kids would actually want to gamble on harness racing?

That said, gambling is the intricate part of the game.  My kids are under the age of 19, yet all of them know how to read the racing form.  I’ve taken them to several harness tracks and once there, I let them read the form, pick the winners and then me, the responsible parent, saunters to the window and makes the bets, usually with my young ones right next to me.

Is that harmless or harmful?  Like a good parent, I preach responsible betting.  I use the old dinner and movie line to justify a night of gambling—if you and your friend went to a nice restaurant, had a great meal and some drinks followed by a movie, it would cost you at least $100.  If you went to a racetrack, you would take the same $100 and spend it at the track.  Once the $100 is gone, you’re done.  Of course, if you get lucky, that $100 could end up $200, $300, $500 or even more, but no matter what happens, you can only lose that original $100 investment.

My guess is that if a family went to Flamboro, it would be to look at the horses, pick some cool names and throw a couple bucks down on a race or three.  I can’t see Mom and Dad going to the ATM and emptying their kids 529s on a trifecta in race four.  The family goes there to expose their kids to the sport; if they really wanted to get down and dirty with betting, the kiddos would be left at home.

My goal was not to make my kids degenerate gamblers, but to make them appreciate the sport, the beauty and to create options and opportunity.  Someday, I’ll be long gone, and they might have kids that are “bored and need something to do.”   Perhaps they’ll remember that dear old Dad took them to a few tracks and might do the same with their offspring.

We take our kids camping, to amusement parks, to lakes, oceans, museums, Niagara Falls and Disneyworld to expose them and create memories.  I’m not sure how much my kids loved the horse and harness racing experience, but I do know one thing—it’s an experience that they know and will be able to share with their kids—should they choose to.

I understand the Flamboro dilemma, but that doesn’t mean I understand it.  They are not forbidding kids under 19 entry, but they are restricting them.  It’s easy to say that they’re being short-sighted, but rules are rules and laws are laws.  I think most agree that it’s a no-win situation all the way around.

Let’s hope time brings clarity.

A Night to Remember

A special Saturday night in Harness Racing at Yonkers and Woodbine Mohawk Park

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

Saturday, August 31 should go down as one of the best nights the sport of harness racing has ever seen. There were four major stakes races—two at Yonkers Raceway and two north of the border at Woodbine Mohawk Park—that more than lived up to their respective purses of $500,000, $500,000, $600,000 and $525,000—and there were two smaller races that captivated as well.

At Yonkers, the $500,000 Yonkers Trot was the one-sided affair.  The race featured the Hambletonian winner, Forbidden Trade, who was seeking to add the second leg of the Trotting Triple Crown to his resume.  Despite his presence, the big favorite was the 1/5 New York-bred, Gimpanzee, who has really exceled on half-mile tracks.  And, that excellence continued.  He was pushed by 99 to 1 longshot Sheena’s Boy for about ¾ of the race until he, in the words of track announcer John Hernan, fled the scene to win in 1:53.3.

Hambo winner Forbidden Trade did not have the best of trips, but showed his class by rallying to grab the place sport.  Soul Strong broke at the start, but showed his colors by getting back on stride to finish third.

In 16 starts this year, Gimpanzee is an impressive 14-0-1 and now has $1.1 million in earnings. Trainer Marcus Melander was not afraid to tout his talents.

“Since day one when I brought him here, he lays down and turns over like a motorcycle,” Melander said.  “This is an amazing race to win and I don’t think there’s a better 3-year old on a half-mile track.”

The $500,000 Messenger Stakes followed that and delivered a pulsating performance.  Half-mile track racing is much different than racing on the bigger surfaces.  In order for racing on the smaller oval to excite, you need action in the form of pace pushers.  Too often, a horse gets to the lead with the trailers following in single file fashion, allowing that leader to dictate the tempo, the rules and the action.

That was not the case in the Messenger.  Bettor’s Wish was the 1/9 favorite and he got to the lead and set the fractions, but kudos have to go to 26-1 longshot US Captain.  He came first over and pressed the pace and the big favorite.  It would have been easy for driver Jason Bartlett to tuck in and finish an easy third, but driver and colt were looking for upset glory.  His pushing allowed American Mercury to get into contention and despite no passing lane at Old Hilltop, Tyler Buter was able to slither through on the pylons to nip Bettor’s Wish by a nose.  The game US Captain held on for third in a scintillating race, scintillating enough to get me out of my recliner in the final quarter mile.

“I knew if I found room he would go forward,” driver Buter said, “he’s gone forward on the wire all year.”

The win was the seventh in 10 starts this year for the Chris Oakes trained gelding, who has adjusted well to the anatomy change.

“He’s been more focused this year (since being gelded),” Oakes said, “Hopefully, we’ll be moving on to the Little Brown Jug.”

And, just when you thought things were over at Yonkers, late in the card was a $30,000 pace for non-winners of 30k in their last five and all Theartofconfusion did was set the all-time track record at Yonkers when he romped home in 1:49.3.

Racing is different at each track and despite Yonkers having the best purses and best “overnighters,” the track usually produces slower winning times than tracks that offer lower purses. To see a horse break 1:50 was something to be seen.

In Canada, all eyes were on Lather Up in the $525,000 Canadian Pacing Derby.  The colt has been tearing things up this year, winning race after race in record times, but once again, there’s a reason why they race and the Pacing Derby proved just that.

Lather Up did what he wanted to do; he got to the front and led through a half-mile in 54.1, but like the Messenger, a long shot decided to challenge.  At 89-1, Done Well did just that, forcing Lather Up to stay on the gas pedal.  That allowed 34-1 shot Courtly Choice to come out of nowhere to get the win in a thrilling finish. And, if we think Lather Up may have peaked for 2019, please note that Courtly Choice had to run a 25.3 last quarter to beat the talented colt.

The $600,000 Maple Leaf Trot featured 10 very talented horses.  The field featured last year’s Hambletonian winner, the filly Atlanta; the 2016 Trotting Triple Crown winner, Marion Marauder, Guardian Angel As and another superfilly, Manchego.

Manchego took it out hard, but by three-quarters, Guardian Angel As took over and it looked like he would cruise to victory.  But Atlanta had other ideas and closed with a flourish, but “The Angel,” at 9-5 was able to dig in and hold on.  The time of 1:50.4 was a stakes, track and Canadian record.

The $173,503 Simcoe Stakes was on the undercard at WMP, but it featured three of the best pacing colts, led by Meadowlands Pace winner, Best in Show, Cane Pace winner Captain Crunch and the under-the-radar, Century Farroh.  As expected those three battled and it looked like Captain Crunch had the win but once again, the rail was open and Century Farroh, the 7-1 choice used it to get by for the 1:49.3 win.

It was quite a night for harness racing.  Six great races, two tracks, two countries with upsets to boot.  That’s what you want to see in sport and that’s what we saw on Saturday night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laboring On Labour Day Weekend

Two big ones north of the 49th

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

As Labor Day weekend approaches, many Americans will enjoy an extra day to celebrate  the end of summer, the kids heading back to school, the start of the college football season and so on and so forth. Here’s hoping if you’re reading this, you will get the chance to relax and enjoy.

It’s called Labor Day for a reason and there will be some top-notch horses doing some serious laboring over the weekend.

The focus is to the North where Woodbine Mohawk Park will host two big races on Saturday—the Maple Leaf Trot and the Canadian Pacing Derby.

Why should you watch the Maple Leaf Trot?

For starters, it’s a big race, many of the best trotters are running.  That includes 2018 Hambletonian winner Atlanta.  She will start behind gate 10 on the 7/8 mile Mohawk track and is looking to get back on track after a couple of less than stellar performances. She is listed at 9-2 in the morning line, which indicates that the oddsmakers no longer find her invincible.

Marion Marauder, the 2016 Trotting Triple Crown winner is in the field.  He is owned by Canadians, so he should be the hometown favorite if you will.  He’s still formidable at age 6 and it looks like he will keep running.  The goal was to retire him to stud duty and that was tried in 2017, but the colt didn’t take to it so it was decided to put him back on the track and thus far, that has paid some handsome dividends.

The others are all good runners—Crystal Fashion, Manchego, Guardian Angel As, Speeding Spur, Dancing Hall, Dream Together, Emoticon Hanover and Six Pack running for a very nice purse of 600k.

When the smoke clears—-Guardian Angel As will visit the Winner’s Circle.

Why should you watch the Canadian Pacing Derby?

For one reason—Lather Up.  He and Shartin N are the best horses in North America and there’s a clear line that separates them from the rest.  Not only does Lather Up win, he romps and runs blazing times for added beauty.  He should like the Mohawk surface and if he brings it, they won’t touch him.

That said, Jimmy Freight is running well and his best might be good enough to pull the upset. McWicked, the reigning Horse of the Year is also running and while he hasn’t been as good in 2019, he is running better now after a slow start.  His problem is that he has been running against Lather Up and when that happens, the best you can hope for is second.  He showed how tough he is when he won the Gerrity Memorial Pace at Saratoga in July and any time an 8-year old can race well against the younger bucks, it’s worth a watch.

This Is The Plan will leave from the one post.  I’ve been high on him.  He’s a good one and he may be ready to breakthrough.  In addition to these three, the other five are Done Well, Western Fame, Courtly Choice, Filibuster Hanover, Casimir Richie P.

When the smoke clears—-Lather Up—again.  Keep your eye on the clock as well.  If he runs his race, I expect see a sub 1:48 and would not be surprised to see a sub 1:47 either.  The track record is 1:46.4.

The undercard features the $171,503 Simcoe Stakes for 3-year old pacers and while it doesn’t attract the top billing, it should be a very good race.  There are three heavyweights in the seven race field led by Meadowlands Pace winner Best in Show, Cane Pace winner Captain Crunch and the always tough Century Farroh.

Some of you may be wondering (and wishing) why the first two horses aren’t running in the Canadian Pacing Derby.  The answer is that the Simcoe is restricted to 3-year olds and the connections figure that they will have plenty of opportunities to face older horses in the future.

In sum, it’s a great day and card for Woodbine Mohawk Park.  In addition to the Maple Leaf Trot, the Canadian Pacing Derby and the Simcoe, there are three divisions of the Ontario Sire Stakes for 2-year old colts and geldings with each race carrying a $73,000 plus purse.  All in all, the total purses are $1,621,503 for the 11 races with 96 horses entered.

The track, after splitting dates with Woodbine now is the premier home for harness racing in Ontario and Canada for that matter.  They race year-round and in October will host the 2019 Breeders Crown races. Saturday post time is 7:10 pm ET

 

 

Dan Patch, Milstein Paces Follow The Week After

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

It’s a weekend highlighted by two paces, as well as Yonkers making some trotters work a bit longer to earn their money.

Hoosier Park grabs the Friday spotlight when it hosts the Dan Patch Pace with nine very talented horses entered.  The headliner is none other than Lather Up, who this year, has brought the clock its respective knees.  He has run 1:46, which ties him with Always B Miki for the fastest mile ever run by a Standardbred and last week, in the Sam McKee Memorial, clocked 1:59.2 for 1 1/8 at The Meadowlands.  One has to think that one of these days, he will have an off race, but that hasn’t been the case in 2019.

Can anybody beat him?  Well, it is harness racing, so the answer is yes, but Lather Up should do well at Hoosier, a first class facility with a 7/8 mile track.  The field has some good names in it, but because Lather Up has been dominant, the field’s winning percentage is on the low side.  Reigning Horse of the Year McWicked—third to Lather Up last week—is running as is Jimmy Freight, who has earned $172,454 in this year.

If Lather Up doesn’t win, that’s a story.  A big story.

The other big pace takes place Saturday at Northfield Park in Ohio.  It’s the annual Carl Milstein Pace which runs for $400,000.  The Milstein has seen a resurgence since switching to an invitation race a few years back and this year, the field is headlined by the Adios winner, Southwind Ozzi.  He does have to overcome the 8 post, so we should see Ozzi leave right at the start to get the lead and settle in.  After that, the rest of the field can take their shots and see what happens.

It’s a good field and overall, is deeper and more accomplished than those running in the Dan Patch.  In addition to Southwind Ozzi, American Mercury, Century Farroh, and Working Ona Mystery have all earned over $200k this year, and one, Bettor’s Wish has banked $624,544 due to his second place finish in the Meadowlands Pace. The 3 post makes him the morning line favorite at 5-2.

On Sunday, Tioga offers the Joiedevie, for older trotters.  Last year’s Hambletonian winner, Atlanta is entered as are Plunge Blue Chip and Manchego.  Atlanta has won six of seven, but was beaten soundly in her last race.  The race has a $132,000 purse.

The $148,000 Crawford runs right before the Joiedevie and the field of six is solid, but far from spectacular.  There is nothing wrong with Pinkman, Mission Accepted, The Veteran, Run Director, Fiftydallarbill and Speeding Spur, but they are now second-tier horses.  No shame of course, but these fine horses have all lost a step in recent years.

Finally, Yonkers is running a trot at 1 1/16 miles.  The field of 10 will run for 24k and the field features some solid performers, including Barry Black who has done most of his racing internationally and comes to Yonkers with over 68k in earnings.

It may be the week after the biggest week of the year, but there is still plenty of good racing out there and as they say; something for everyone.

O Canada: Forbidden Trade Pulls Upset in Hambletonian

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.