This weekend at The Meadowlands, trainer Ray Schnittker aims for a spot in the Peter Haughton Memorial final with King Of The North, while Jim Campbell looks to advance to the Hambletonian final with Take All Comers and Erv Miller eyes the Hambletonian Oaks final with Swift Swanda.
Schnittker hasn’t had a Peter Haughton Memorial finalist since Derby finished seventh in 2013 to Father Patrick, but the veteran trainer has a stellar chance to return to the major stakes event for two-year-old trotting males when he sends King Of The North in the first of two $20,000 eliminations on Friday night (July 30) at The Meadowlands.
Fourteen first-year trotters were divided into a pair of elims, with the top-five finishers in each returning for the $350,000 (est.) final that is part of the Hambletonian day undercard on Saturday (Aug. 7). Listed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite in his elim (race four), King Of The North will be driven by Mark MacDonald.
King Of The North has been king on the racetrack as he comes into the Haughton elims off a sweep of the three-week New Jersey Sires Stakes (NJSS), including a career-best 1:52.4 effort in the $200,000 final on July 16. The mile is also the fastest by a freshman trotting male thus far in 2021.
“He was good from day one,” said Schnittker of the son of Walner who is out of the Schnittker-trained two-time Dan Patch Award and $1.9-million winner Check Me Out. “He is really good and level headed, hopefully he stays sound all year and we’ll have a real good year. And hopefully a good next two weeks.”
Schnittker is co-breeder of King Of The North with Steve Jones, with the colt selling for $190,000 at last year’s Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. The ownership now includes Schnittker, Arden Homestead Stable, Nolamaura Racing and Steve Arnold.
With his NJSS sweep, King Of The North has $125,000 in earnings heading into the Haughton elims.
Schnittker, who has never won the Peter Haughton Memorial, said he sees similarities in King Of The North with his mother.
“He’s got that same desire,” he said. “He likes to play like she did, but probably a little calmer than her.”
Check Me Out’s victories include the 2011 Merrie Annabelle for two-year-old trotting fillies, and Schnittker will have a starter in this year’s race (now named the Jim Doherty Memorial) in Brickhouse Babe, also a daughter of Walner out of the Schnittker-trained stakes-winning mare Royal Assets.
MacDonald will also drive Brickhouse Babe, who starts from post 5 in the 10-filly single-elim field. The top-nine finishers will return for the $350,000 (est.) final on Aug. 7 joined by Venerable, who earned a bye. Like King Of The North, Venerable swept the NJSS series for freshmen trotting fillies.
Competing in all three NJSS legs, Brickhouse Babe won her debut on July 2 at The Meadowlands in come-from-behind fashion in 1:56, and then finished sixth. In the NJSS final, Brickhouse Babe started from post 10 and rallied late for a fourth-place finish.
“That filly was really good last week,” Schnittker said of the trotter he also co-bred and now owns in partnership with Jones, Mary Kinsey Arnold and Paul Bordogna. “She drew the 10 hole and got a fourth and I was ecstatic. A little longer and she’d have been third. She got shuffled to last all three times she raced, and it’s not like she can’t leave, it’s the way the races went.”
Take All Comers takes on Hambletonian challenge
Jim Campbell is not someone who worries much about post positions. So, when the trainer’s Take All Comers got post 8 in Saturday’s second of two eight-horse Hambletonian Stakes eliminations at The Meadowlands, Campbell took it in stride.
“There’s no post that is guaranteed to always work to your advantage,” Campbell said. “Sometimes an outside post can work to your advantage. Sometimes it doesn’t. It all depends how the race shapes up.
“I don’t get too worked up about post positions, either way.”
Take All Comers is 10-1 on the morning line in his elimination, where Yonkers Trot winner Johan Palema is the 5-2 favourite. The top-five finishers from both $50,000 Hambletonian eliminations will advance to the $1 million final on Aug. 7 at The Meadowlands.
Saturday’s second elimination also includes this year’s New Jersey Sire Stakes champion Really Fast (3-1), 2020 Dan Patch Award winner Venerate (4-1), 2020 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champ Captain Corey (5-1), and 2020 Breeders Crown runner-up In Range (8-1). Locatelli (10-1) and Rattle My Cage (12-1) complete the field.
The last time Take All Comers faced a field that included In Range, Venerate, and Captain Corey, was in last October’s Breeders Crown final for two-year-old trotting males at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. Take All Comers finished fourth, beaten only 1-1/2 lengths, as In Range was second, Venerate third, and Captain Corey fifth behind winner On A Streak in a stakes-record 1:52.4 mile.
“It’s a tough, competitive, group of colts in there,” Campbell said. “It’s going to come down to who gets good trips, or who doesn’t get good trips, I think. I don’t think there is anybody out there that’s scared anybody off. There’s a bunch of colts that can all go fast. It’s going to come down to who is peaking and who is sharp in the eliminations and final.”
Take All Comers has won two of six races this year. His victories came in a conditioned race and a leg of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes. He was second to Dancinginthedark M, the 2-1 favourite in the first Hambletonian elimination, in a July 10 division of the W.N. Reynolds Memorial and third-placed-sixth in a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial on July 17.
For his career, Take All Comers has won three of 15 races and hit the board a total of 10 times. He has earned $231,929 for owner Scott Farber’s Runthetable Stables, which also was co-breeder of the gelding. Take All Comers is a half-brother to Breeders Crown champion Next Level Stuff.
Farber and Campbell reached the Hambletonian final in 2011 with Opening Night, who finished third.
“Overall, I’m pretty happy with the way (Take All Comers) is coming into it,” said Campbell, who won the 1995 Hambletonian with Tagliabue. “He’s gone some good races for us this year. He’s got high speed. He’s got a good attitude and likes to do his work. He can race either way, toward the front or come from behind. He’s pretty versatile that way.”
Miller hopes Swift Swanda is set for speedy Oaks outing
Swift Swanda will make only her second start outside of Indiana on Saturday when she faces nine foes in the second of two $35,000 eliminations of the Hambletonian Oaks for three-year-old female trotters at The Meadowlands.
The Erv Miller-trained filly has won four of five races this year. Her only loss came when she went off stride in a field that included male rivals. Otherwise, Swift Swanda has won each start by a minimum of a length.
Last year, she won six of 12 races and was the Indiana Sire Stakes champion. Her only previous start away from the Hoosier State came in her career debut when she won at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.
“We’re going to give her a try and see how it goes,” Miller said. “She’s been on a good roll. She’s a big, strong, mare. Hopefully, the big track will pick her up a little bit. She had a start where she wasn’t quite as good, and we found a couple little things that were bothering her, and she really seems in good health right now.”
Swift Swanda, a daughter of Swan For All out of Cheetah Hall, is owned by Anthony Lombardi and The Kales Company.
She is the 9-2 morning-line third choice in her Hambletonian Oaks elimination, behind favourite Piper Hanover (3-1) and O’Brien Award winner Donna Soprano (7-2). Donna Soprano won her most recent start, a division of the Del Miller Memorial, in 1:51.3 on July 17. The time is the fastest of the season for a three-year-old trotting filly.
The top-five finishers from both Oaks eliminations advance to the $500,000 final on Aug. 7 at The Meadowlands.
“I feel good, but it’s not going to be easy,” Miller said. “Donna Soprano shows winning in (1):51 a couple Saturdays ago. There’s nothing easy about that.”