A word of advice concerning Saturday’s Hambletonian: don’t take the “other guys” for granted. Southwind Frank and Bar Hopping will be the clear-cut favourites when the 91st edition of the Hambletonian, presented by Mullinax Ford, takes place at the Meadowlands on Saturday (Aug. 6). But there are at least four talented dark horses that can make things very interesting coming down the stretch.
They are Milligans School, Sutton, Marion Marauder and Brooklyn Hill.
Bar Hopping is a 9-5 favourite in the first nine-horse elimination at 2:58 p.m. Also in his race will be Milligans School (10-1) and Brooklyn Hill (3-1).
Southwind Frank is a 4-5 favorite in the second elimination at 3:25 p.m., while Sutton is 6-1 and Marion Marauder is 3-1.
Milligans School has three firsts and a second in seven starts this year, winning $160,166. He has finished in the money in 14 of 23 career starts, including eight firsts, and has won $462,726. He drew post four in his elimination.
Trained by Julie Miller and driven by Andy Miller, Milligans School opened the season winning two straight Pennsylvania Sire Stakes events in 1:55.3 at the Meadows and 1:54.4 at Harrah’s Philadelphia. After breaking in his next two starts he trotted to a a career best 1:53.2 in the $75,000 Earl Beal Jr. Consolation at Pocono and is coming off a second-place trip in the $300,000 Zweig Memorial at Vernon Downs on July 24.
“I take complete responsibility (for the breaks), that was my fault,” Julie Miller said. “I was tinkering with his shoes, I made a bad choice, but I got him back the way he was. If it wasn’t broken, I shouldn’t have tried to fix it. Luckily he’s bounced back after those mishaps and Andy was really pleased with him in the Zweig, so we like him.”
Sired by 1997 Hambo elimination winner Yankee Glide, Milligans School is owned by Natalia Stroy of Stroy, Inc. Stroy, an importer and exporter of meats, is flying in from Russia to watch her first Hambletonian entry.
“She’s very excited, obviously,” Miller said. “She’s remarkable. Pete Spears of Hanover Shoe Farms introduced us at Harrisburg and we had horses with her last year and now this year.
“She’s a smart, educated lady, she follows American racing and I’m always impressed by her e-mails and the questions she asks. She has her finger on the pulse. I’m glad to work with her.”
After Andy Miller drives Milligans School, he will climb in the bike behind Sutton, who his stable owns along with Jason and Doug Allen.
Sutton opened this season winning a qualifier at the Meadowlands in 1:51.2 on May 28, making him the fastest three-year-old trotter of 2016. He won his first start of the year in an overnight race at Pocono in 1:56.2 over a sloppy track on June 5. After finishing fifth as the beaten favourite in a PA Sire Stakes event at Pocono on June 12, he raced against older foes in two overnights at the Meadowlands, finishing seventh and second.
The horse, who drew post three, is coming off a strong second to Southwind Frank from post 11 in a $153,250 division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial on July 16. He then posted a 1:52.4 score in the $75,000 Zweig Consolation on July 24 at Vernon Downs.
“We’ve been really happy his last few starts, it seems like he’s putting it together,” Julie Miller said. “He raced at Pocono in the mud and I think that kind of kinked him up. Luckily I think he’s come out of that and I think we have him as healthy and fit as we can have him for Saturday.”
Sutton has two wins and two seconds in six starts, earning $87,539 this year. He has four wins and five seconds in 15 career starts for $166,706 in winnings. He is the first foal of his dam, I Wanted Wings, who won the NJSS final at two.
“He’s always had a great demeanor on and off the track,” Miller said. “He is full of himself, being a stud horse and nickering and playing. But I really just think he’s always been sensibly mannered. It’s just overcoming his endurance and fitness. He’s coming into himself and Andy has a lot of confidence in him.”
Andy Miller, whose best finish in five Hambo finals was fourth in 2009, has a potential pleasant dilemma of who to drive if Milligans School and Sutton both reach the final. According to his wife, however, it’s not an issue at all.
“We have no choice because we own part of Sutton,” she said. “He will be the driver of Sutton if he makes it. I will have to snatch up a catch driver for Milligan. I am not even going to worry about it. (Milligans School) is a nice horse to drive and there’s a top-notch crew that’s going to be here Saturday. If we cross that bridge, I am sure I can find one. I don’t think I’ll get an ‘I’ll pass’ on that.”
Marion Marauder hopes to finally pass Southwind Frank -- preferably in the Hambo final -- after having finished second to him four times as a two-year-old.
The two missed each other earlier this year when they were in different divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial. Starting from post six, Marion Marauder won his $153,250 division in 2:08.1 at a mile and one-eighth as the even money favourite.
He was then entered in a July 30 qualifier at the Meadowlands as a Hambletonian tune-up but, in order to maintain his confidence, was eventually scratched from a field that included numerous older and accomplished horses.
“We don’t want to go in against aged trotters,” trainer Paula Wellwood said. “We drew in against Pinkman and Rose Run Parker. I wasn’t going to do that.”
The Canadian-based horse, who drew post four, was trained by Linda Toscano at Magical Acres last Saturday in order to work on his endurance.
“He’s got the speed, and he trained very, very well,” Wellwood said. “He doesn’t mind the New Jersey heat at all.”
Marion Marauder has four wins in five starts this year, winning $226,929. He has five wins, five seconds and three thirds in 18 career starts, good for $577,263 in earnings.
Paula’s mother, Marion Jean Wellwood, and her son, Devin Keeling, own the horse. He is trained by Wellwood and her husband, Mike Keeling. Marion Marauder is named after Marion Wellwood and the McMaster University mascot, the Marauders. Devin enrolled to play football at McMaster, and Marion Marauder was born on his birthday. The colt's sire, Muscle Hill, was the 2009 Horse of the Year after going 12-for-12 and winning the Hambletonian in a world record 1:50.1.
Scott Zeron, 27, who currently leads the Big M standings and is eyeing his first Meadowlands driving title, is hoping to make his first Hambo final appearance driving Marion Marauder.
“He couldn’t be coming into the Hambletonian any better,” said Zeron, who became the youngest driver in history to reach 2,000 wins in 2013. “He has finished with guns a blazin’, and I haven’t had to pop the ear plugs. He’s strong and fresh, and his last quarter is always his best.”
While Zeron aims for uncharted territory, Hall of Famer David Miller is gunning for his 12th Hambletonian final with Brooklyn Hill. Miller has two third-place Hambo finishes.
Another son of Muscle Hill, Brooklyn Hill has not won a race this year but has finished in the money in four of five starts to earn $46,500. He has two firsts, eight seconds and two thirds in 15 career starts, winning $235,200.
He opened the season by finishing second in a New Jersey Sire Stakes division on May 20, and followed with a second-place finish to Southwind Frank in the $100,000 final on June 4. After taking second in an elimination, Brooklyn Hill made an early break and finished eighth in the $500,000 final of the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial at Pocono on July 2.
“We kind of had a mishap at Pocono, so that put us where we’ve made only $46,000 this year,” said trainer Jonas Czernyson, who has put 13 starters in Hambletonian finals and had a second-place finish in 2000. “But we’ve got five starts, with three seconds, one third and one break. You can’t really fault him. He’s trotted in (1):52 in about half of those starts. I’m very happy about him. I think he’s going to be right there.”
Brooklyn Hill’s final Hambletonian tune-up produced a third-place finish in the $75,000 Zweig Memorial Consolation, setting the pace and trotting a 1:53.2 mile.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” Czernyson said. “Leading up to this, I think he’s as good as we can get him right now. I’m very happy with how he’s been. I’m excited.”
Owned by SRF Stable of Delray Beach, Fla., Brooklyn Hill starts from post five, prompting Czernyson to note, “I’m happy we drew mid-pack. I think we are good to go.”
The CBS Sports Network will have a 90-minute live broadcast including the $1 million Hambletonian final, the $225,550 U.S. Pacing Championship, and the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks beginning at 4:00 p.m. The first post for Hambletonian Day at The Meadowlands is noon.
First $70,000 Hambletonian elim - Race 8 - Post Time: 2:58 p.m.
Post - Horse - Driver - Trainer - Odds
1. Bar Hopping – Tim Tetrick – Jimmy Takter – 9/5
2. Lagerfeld – Yannick Gingras – Jimmy Takter – 12/1
3. Make Or Miss – Joe Bongiorno – Ron Burke – 20/1
4. Milligans School – Andy Miller – Julie Miller – 10/1
5. Brooklyn Hill – David Miller – Jonas Czernyson – 3/1
6. Mavens Way – John Campbell – Ake Svanstedt – 6/1
7. Tight Lines – Jeff Gregory – Jeff Gregory – 25/1
8. Iron Mine Bucky – George Dennis – Greg Haverstick – 15/1
9. Reigning Moni – David Miller – Jimmy Takter – 4/1
Second $70,000 Hambletonian elim - Race 9 - Post Time: 3:25 p.m.
Post - Horse - Driver - Trainer - Odds
1. Jimmy William – Tim Tetrick – Jimmy Takter – 20/1
2. The Royal Harry – Ake Svanstedt – Ake Svanstedt – 20/1
3. Sutton – Andy Miller – Julie Miller – 6/1
4. Marion Marauder – Scott Zeron – Paula Wellwood – 3/1
5. Southwind Frank – Yannick Gingras – Ron Burke – 4/5
6. Hollywood Highway – John Campbell – Staffan Lind – 30/1
7. Dominion Beach – Bjorn Goop – Nancy Johansson – 30/1
8. Love Matters – Brett Miller – Jimmy Takter – 12/1
9. Waitlifter K – David Miller – Andrew Harris – 10/1
This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit www.ustrotting.com.