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Judge Joe Could Rule In Hambletonian

Published: July 30, 2009 10:50 pm ET

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Three years ago, D.R. Ackerman steered defending two-year-old champion Chocolatier to a runner-up finish behind Glidemaster in the Hambletonian. While his contender this year is not as high profile, Ackerman is in the running again for harness racing’s most coveted prize with Judge Joe.

Ackerman will sit behind the homebred son of Credit Winner for his father, Hall of Fame trainer Doug Ackerman, in the first of three $70,000 elimination races for the $1.5 million Hambletonian on Saturday night at the Meadowlands. Post time is 7 p.m. for the card, which also features four elimination dashes for the Hambletonian Oaks for fillies. The eliminations will determine the fields for trotting’s most prestigious events on Saturday, August 8.

“I really don’t know if he’s a major player, but he’s a player anyway,” Ackerman said. “We’re anxious to see how he measures up in a tough elimination. He’s by no means the best colt out there right now, but he gives an honest performance every time out. Whatever happens, he’ll be at his best on Saturday that’s for sure.”

Judge Joe won seven of 12 starts and was never worse than third as a two-year-old. His victories included a 1:56.4 effort in a $98,000 International Stallion Stake at The Red Mile and an elimination of the Valley Victory at Woodbine. The colt was also a standout in the New York Sire Stakes program, which boosted his earnings to $330,509 for the year.

Judge Joe has built on that success at three. He opened his 2009 campaign with five straight wins, including the $151,670 Zweig at Tioga, and was en route to victory in the Tompkins on July 19 before being nipped in the final strides by Shibboleth Hanover. While several of Chocolatier’s losses as a sophomore came from breaking stride, consistency is one of Judge Joe’s best attributes according to Ackerman.

“You can stop with any comparisons to Chocolatier,” he said. “There’s simply no comparison. Last year, Judge Joe was very successful in New York Sires Stakes. He was very steady and went the same competitive race every week. He won’t make any breaks, doesn’t do any goofy stuff and even overcomes some of my drives!

“This year, he got bigger and stronger, and maybe a little smarter,” he continued. “It makes no difference what size track he races on. He leaves well and can take back. He’s got tactical speed and can maintain his position well. He’s probably a little better coming off cover, but whatever you decide to do, he’ll do his best. He’s just a real manageable horse and does his job. Given the opportunity in the right spot, he’ll get home good. For instance, the Zweig was a really nice performance. I got out a little late in the stretch, but he adjusted well.”

Judge Joe’s Zweig win was all the more impressive considering he had been sidelined by an infection for two weeks prior.

“He had a bone infection in his leg from a boot, and we just didn’t want to take any chances with him on June 26 when we scratched him [out of a NYSS division],” Ackerman said. “The three-week break didn’t affect him, and he didn’t need it because he was sharp anyway.”

Judge Joe will leave from post two in the eighth race, the second of the evening’s three Hambletonian eliminations, on Saturday night.

“From what I’ve seen, Muscle Hill and Federal Flex are just incredible horses,” Ackerman said of the competition. “It’s pretty satisfying just to be back for this race. It’s not that easy to get there. Everything has to come together and there’s a whole lot of luck involved. It’s actually awesome and very exciting to get back here.”

(The Meadowlands)

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