Harness racing has always been Garry Merner Jr.’s passion, so when the opportunity came to put his career as a safety advisor in the oil fields of western Canada on hold and return to the sport with a stable of horses in New Jersey for owner Gino Toscani and trainer Desiree Jones, he took it.
Merner, a 43-year-old native of Newfoundland who worked as a second trainer for a number of stables before switching several years ago to his safety advisor role, will send out three horses in Friday’s single $20,000 Peter Haughton Memorial elimination for two-year-old male trotters at The Meadowlands.
The top nine finishers in the elim will advance to the final on Aug. 6, Hambletonian Day, at The Big M, where they will be joined by bye recipient Oh Well to complete the 10-horse field. Oh Well, trained by Marcus Melander, won the New Jersey Sire Stakes championship last week at The Meadowlands.
Kilmister, also from the Melander Stable, is the 3-1 morning line favourite in the elimination. He is two-for-two this season, with both victories in the New York Sire Stakes.
Friday’s card also includes a single $20,000 elimination of the Jim Doherty Memorial for two-year-old female trotters. The top nine finishers there will go to the Aug. 6 final and be joined by bye recipient Mambacita, the New Jersey Sire Stakes championship runner-up from the stable of trainer Tony Alagna.
Merner, who is stabled at Magical Acres in central New Jersey, has Dahlquist Hanover, Raisealittlehill, and King Trix in the Haughton. Dahlquist Hanover is 8-1 on the morning line and will leave from post six with driver Andy McCarthy. Raisealittlehill and King Trix are both 15-1, starting from posts seven and 10, respectively.
Dahlquist Hanover, a son of Walner-Dangle Then Deke purchased for $210,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale, is winless in four starts but heads to the Haughton elim off a second-place finish in a division of the Kindergarten Classic Series on July 15 at The Meadowlands.
“He hasn’t had very much luck with the [post] draws but he seems to be getting better each week,” Merner said. “We did change shoeing on him a couple weeks ago because he made a couple little steps. Since we’ve changed the shoes, it seems like he’s come round good. He’s a strong colt. I expect him to be good Friday.”
Raisealittlehill (Muscle Hill-Kristine Anne) and King Trix (Trixton-Queen Serene) also are seeking their first wins. King Trix, who has started twice, finished third in a division of the Kindergarten two weeks ago. Raisealittlehill was fifth in the New Jersey Sire Stakes consolation in his most recent outing.
“I think King Trix is going to be a much nicer horse next year,” Merner said. “He’s a well-bred colt, and a big growthy colt. He’s very versatile, but green. I think as he matures, he may be the nicest of the three colts once he learns what he’s doing. He needs to grow into himself. But if one of them had to draw the outside, I’d rather it be him because he can leave hard if he needs to.
“All three horses are longshots, but they seem like they’re getting better each week. They’ve done everything I’ve asked of them so far. Anything can happen in a horse race with two-year-old trotting colts. You can’t win them if you’re not in them. It’s nice to be in and have an opportunity.”
Merner followed in the footsteps of numerous family members in getting involved in harness racing. He had 80 wins as a driver and 17 as a trainer before going back to school and getting a degree in occupational health and safety. Prior to this year, he last raced in 2012, although he still owned several horses.
“I did have a good career, but horse racing has always been my passion,” Merner said. “Even at the other job, I’d be watching the races in my office when I had a chance. On my days off, I helped Desiree with some of the babies training down.
“Gino and Desiree approached me and asked if I would be interested in taking some horses to New Jersey and go on my own, so I took a leave of absence from work and decided to give it a try. Both of them have been great with me. Hopefully, we can have some luck.”
Merner has four horses in training at the moment, with four-year-old male pacer Whichwaytothebeach joining his three trotters.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be a busy day on Hambo Day,” Merner said.
Racing begins at 6:20 p.m. (EDT) Friday at The Meadowlands. Free TrackMaster past performances for all Meadowlands cards can be found at the track’s website.