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Sylvester Hopes To Put The Pieces Together

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Published: July 28, 2010 7:50 pm ET

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If preparing a horse to win the Hambletonian, or the Hambletonian Oaks, is like a puzzle, trainer Chuck Sylvester is adept at getting the pieces to fit. Sylvester has won the Hambletonian four times – one shy of the training record shared by Bill Haughton, Stanley Dancer and Ben White – and the Oaks once.

This year, Sylvester sends Lucky Chucky into Saturday’s eliminations for the $1.5 million Hambletonian and Behindclosedoors and In The Mean Time into the elims for the $750,000 Oaks. He has no thoughts at this point about winning either, or both.

“You don’t think about that, you just hope you get in,” Sylvester said. “If you get in, you hope you draw good, and after that you hope for a lot of luck. It takes so much to get all the pieces put together to win those races.

“First you’re hoping you’re not tired and you come out of the race fairly sound. Things happen. Horses get a little sick, just like people. If they have a bad week they’re not going to race good no matter what you do. You just hope when they get to the wire this week that your horse isn’t exhausted. If they come back good on Monday, you’ve got a good chance.”

Lucky Chucky was last season’s Dan Patch Award-winner as best two-year-old male trotter, when he won nine of 12 races and earned $672,634. This year, he is winless in two starts, but was second to Holiday Road in their Stanley Dancer Memorial division on July 17, closing with a :27.2-second final quarter-mile.

The trainer-driver combo of Sylvester and John Campbell teamed up with Hambletonian winners Muscles Yankee in 1998 and Mack Lobell in 1987. Sylvester also won the Hambletonian with Chip Chip Hooray in 2002 and Park Avenue Joe (in dead heat with Probe) in 1989.

“He raced nice,” Sylvester said about the Dancer. “We raced him the way we wanted to. He went a nice easy mile and now we’re ready to go. Now it’s time to win. I was hoping to get one more race in, but he spiked a temperature one day and we had to scratch him [on June 25]. He seems to be very good. We’ve trained him up good and he’ll be fresh and sharp.”

Lucky Chucky will start from Post 5 in the second of three Hambletonian elims. His division also includes Holiday Road, who will begin from Post 2.

“I wish we’d draw a little bit better; it seems we can’t get inside any,” Sylvester said. “John will just have to work out a trip, that’s all. He’s a big handy horse. If he wants to leave, he can. He can do what he wants to. I just hope we get some kind of a trip and I think he’ll be right there at the wire.

“Most of these colts have not raced two weeks in a row,” he added. “This will be the first time everyone has got to go hard two weeks in a row. That will make a difference.”

Sylvester is among six trainers with horses in each the Hambletonian and the Hambletonian Oaks.

Behindclosedoors is winless in three races this season, but won four of 10 last year, including the American-National Stakes. She is coming off a second-place finish to Glide Power in a division of the Delvin Miller Memorial at the Meadowlands on July 16. In The Mean Time has won two of three races this year and was second in last season’s Goldsmith Maid.

“They’re both nice fillies,” Sylvester said. “I don’t think either one will be a favourite, but if they can get a trip I think they can get in the final.
They’ve trained very well. The last race [fifth in a Delvin Miller division] In The Mean Time didn’t like leaving so hard. She doesn’t mind coming first up, so I think she’ll go a good mile. Last year I thought Behindcloseddoors was better and this year it seems like In The Mean Time has been a little stronger.”


This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit www.ustrotting.com.

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