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Ramona Hill Taking Grant On Another 'Hambo' Ride

Published: July 28, 2020 3:47 pm ET

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What do Rosalind, Armbro Flight, Duenna, Continentalvictory, Mission Brief, Atlanta, and now Ramona Hill all have in common? Not only are they all among the finest trotting fillies in racing history, but they’ve all attempted to take on the boys in the Hambletonian, as well.

Although fillies racing in the Hambletonian was commonplace for many years, the undertaking has become a rare occurrence in the 21st century, as it has only taken place four times prior to 2020. The occurrence is now set to happen twice this year, as both the aforementioned Ramona Hill as well as Sister Sledge have been entered to take their shot against male rivals in the $1 million event.

Norway By My Way tried her luck in 2002, but a late break in her elimination resulted in her missing the final. Five years later, in 2007, Pampered Princess was the next to take on the boys, and won her elimination, but made a break in the final. In 2015, Mission Brief attempted the feat, and came closer to winning than any filly since Continentalvictory’s triumph in 1996. Mission Brief won her elimination that year and was second to Pinkman by only three quarters of a length in the final. In 2018, Atlanta broke through to beat the boys, which made her her the first filly to do so in over 20 years.

Since 1926, fourteen fillies have captured American trotting’s Holy Grail -- will 2020 produce the 15th? Canadian Brad Grant, part-owner of Ramona Hill, believes so.

“We talked it over (partners Crawford Farms, Robert Leblanc and In The Gym Partners) and we were all in agreement that she has shown she’s good enough to race against the boys. Tony (Alagna) believes she's good enough to race the boys and Andrew (McCarthy) thought the same… the way she is racing, she's told us she deserves a shot,” says Grant.

The daughter of Muscle Hill impressed as a two-year-old, as she finished the year with six wins from seven starts and a two-year-old filly Breeders Crown title. Her fine form has continued at three. She was a hard-closing third in her first start back at the Meadowlands Racetrack in the Reynolds Memorial Stakes, but it was the performance in her next start, from the 10-hole in the Delvin Miller Memorial, that really presented the question of 'Hambo' or 'Hambo Oaks' for the connections.

“In the Del Miller she made a statement to us, ‘hey take a look at me’… I don't think anyone at first wanted to say ‘maybe we should be looking at the Hambo’ but after it sank in and we thought about it, the conversations took on more life. Then, I talked to Tony and he said ‘she's great, as good as ever’ and Andrew was on board, so we thought she deserved the shot... so why not take it? You don't get that opportunity that often.”

Grant is part-owner in Atlanta also (as are Michelle and Albert Crawford), and for an owner to send multiple horses to compete in a Hambletonian over a short period of time is impressive, let alone two fillies. Even more impressive in this case is that it’s a race Grant really didn’t even see himself winning.

“Two and a half years ago, I didn't even see the Hambletonian as something I would be involved in, and now I’m in my second in three years. With Atlanta, she was my first big trotter, so I think I was in awe of the whole moment, it was whole new territory for me. I was really just along for the ride, but I enjoyed it. The Hambletonian wasn't on my horizon, I saw myself more of a North America Cup, Metro, Cane Pace, Meadowlands Pace type,” Grant shared.

Ramona Hill, pictured victorious in the Breeders Crown in the fall of 2019.

When asked if the payment to enter the Hambo versus the Oaks was significantly more, the owner from Milton, Ontario stated, “I don't think any of us even asked about the payment, we are committed… The Hambletonian is the holy grail of harness racing - to have a filly race against these great colts and go behind the same starting gate is a credit to her.

“The Crawfords (who also bred Ramona Hill) obviously saw the same thing we saw in her, they were interested in her from the beginning and came back in after we purchased her. They are wonderful people and great partners, but this is even that much more exciting for them to own her and being down as the breeder on the filly,” Grant illustrates.

When asked to discuss their biggest threats leading into Saturday's elimination, Grant swiftly replied “Every other horse that enters,” with a chuckle.

With very little normality in the world at the moment, simply watching your horse race live has become difficult, but when asked, Grant joked that he might have a solution to that problem. “I'm a truck driver by trade and we are deemed an essential service, so I might have to take a truck down to Teterboro, NJ or New York that weekend. I haven't driven in a few years, but desperate times call for desperate measures, so if you see a red Active Transport truck in the Meadowlands parking lot on August 8, you’ll know I made it.”

Ramona Hill has drawn Post 7 for the second of Saturday's Hambletonian eliminations. For more information on the eliminations, click here.

(A Trot Insider exclusive by Justin Fisher)

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