Walkover?

Published: July 28, 2009 12:15 pm EDT

Will this year’s Hambletonian be a walkover?

Are the owners of 21 horses chasing the impossible dream of beating Muscle Hill?

I don’t think the race will be a walkover, but I also don’t think they’ll beat Muscle Hill. He’s special. But even if he wins, he only gets 50 percent of the purse money, leaving $750,000 for the others to split up. And that kind of money makes for a nice consolation prize.

When I saw him last year, I thought Muscle Hill was real special, better even than Donato Hanover and Deweycheatumnhowe, the last two Hambo winners. Nothing I’ve seen this year has changed my mind.

I like Federal Flex. I like him a lot. He’s the real deal and he’s the colt I give the best chance of upsetting the favorite.

Isn’t it odd how often you get two standouts in a single crop? I’m thinking of Glidemaster and Chocolatier. American Winner and Pine Chip. Mack Lobell and Napoletano. We could go on and on. Maybe this year will be known as the year of Muscle Hill and Federal Flex.

Doug Ackerman, the Hall of Fame trainer of Hambo hopeful Judge Joe, called me yesterday. He’s certainly under no illusions that his colt can be the upset star.

“Now if they let Judge Joe start around the three-quarter pole and made Muscle Hill trot the entire mile, we might be competitive,” joked Ackerman. “I’m not sure we could beat him even with that kind of head start, but I think we could be competitive.”

Ackerman says he thinks Muscle Hill is the best horse in North America and that he could have won last year’s Hambletonian as a two-year-old.

Regarding Judge Joe, Ackerman thinks a mile track will move him up a bit after competing on the smaller tracks in New York, and adds that “he won’t beat himself.” But he knows Judge Joe is a longshot even to qualify for the final.

You have other legitimate contenders such as Mr Cantab, Truth In Action, Explosive Matter, Tom Cango and others. And don’t completely discount Braggart. Trainer Jim Arledge told me recently that he’s been keeping the Broadway Hall colt away from the bearcats and that he knows the colt can trot a lot faster than his record indicates.

Walkover? No way. It’s the Hambletonian. It will be a real horse race, but I think Muscle Hill is a real special horse.