The 2015 Hambletonian Day card on Saturday, August 8 at The Meadowlands has all the elements necessary to be one of the great events in harness racing history.
The races will begin at noon with a $40,000 Open Pace and over the next six hours 164 horses will compete in 16 races for purses of just over $4 million, led by the $1.2 million Hambletonian and the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks.
The story line for the Hambletonian became far more interesting when trainer Ron Burke entered the great filly Mission Brief in the open event, bypassing the Oaks and taking on last year's Hambo winning trainer/driver Jimmy Takter's five horse armada in the process.
The drama increased when Yannick Gingras, the regular driver for Mission Brief and Takter's top contender Pinkman, was named on both horses for the race. The two drew into separate divisions of the eliminations heats, which will allow Gingras to drive each in their respective elimination before having to make a choice for the final, assuming both qualify.
Pinkman's late season rally as a freshman made him the champion of the division at two and he has defended his title with nearly flawless form this season. The most accomplished of the Takter five, Pinkman has won the Earl Beal, Stanley Dancer and Harry M. Zweig Memorials (all major stakes) in his last three start and has made well in excess of $1 million over his career for owners Christina Takter, John and Jim Fielding, Joyce McClelland and Herb Liverman. He is saddled with the far outside post 10 in the first elimination.
Mission Brief has found the form that dazzled fans last season and was really keen to go in her most recent start, the Filly Zweig Memorial. The Muscle Hill lass is poetry in motion when on her game and has drawn the favourable post two in the nine horse second division for Burke Racing, Our Horse Cents, J&T Silva and Weaver Bruscemi.
The $1,000,000 Hambletonian final is race 13 and is scheduled to go to post at 5:15 p.m.
The Hambletonian Oaks is a very well matched group of ten talented fillies. With the defection of Mission Brief to the main event and the tragic demise of elimination winner and consensus "horse to beat" Spirit To Win in a Monday morning training mishap, the race becomes a wide-open affair. Lock Down Lindy won her split in 1:51.4, starts from the inside for owners Mystical Marker Farms, Crawford Partners, Joe Sbrocco and In The Gym Partners, and is currently doing her best work.
Wiggle It Jiggleit, currently the most exciting horse in harness, will race in the $319,400 Cane Pace, the first leg of pacing's Triple Crown (race 10). Wiggle It Jiggleit has been absolutely monstrous all season long and is coming into the Cane fresh off three weeks rest. He is a family project with young Montrell Teague driving the Meadowlands Pace winner for his father George's stable and trainer Clyde Francis.
The $109,500 Shady Daisy for the sophomore pacing fillies is another chapter in a season that has seen a very evenly matched group slug it out over the past two months with no filly able to rise above the others just yet.
The very best aged performers in the game are out in force on Saturday and account for several of the most competitive and entertaining races on the program.
Eleven pacing mares will race the route distance of nine furlongs in the $251,250 Lady Liberty (race three). These mares may parade like ladies but when the starter says "go" the gloves come off and the girls throw down. The Bamond family's absolutely iron-tough Anndrovette has won four division titles, $3.3 million and the Golden Girls stake last month at The Meadowlands against many of these at the same distance when it looked like she may have lost a step. Well, she hasn't.
This year's edition of the U.S. Pacing Championship is up next and offers a purse of $215,400 to a field of nine really good horses...make that eight really good and one great horse. The venerable $7 million winner Foiled Again has recently shown flashes of his best form after a slow start to the season for Burke Racing, Weaver Bruscemi and JJK Stables. He raced about as good as he ever has in the Haughton Memorial three weeks ago and had plenty of pace but no place to use it in last week's TVG Open. Foiled Again is also being honoured with a Breyer likeness giveaway to all the kids that come out on Saturday.
The $301,500 John Cashman Memorial (open) and $181,450 Fresh Yankee (mares) feature trotting's elite in bulky fields at a mile and one eighth in races give and six. All the stars of the division are on the racetrack in these trotting classics.
Magic Tonight returns home a champion, having won this year's Elitlopp in May for Swedish owner A. O J Konsult and trainer Roger Walmann. The expatriate son of Andover Hall faces a very deep field of 11 rivals including 2012 Hambletonian winner Market Share, who is competing at the highest level on Hambo Day for a remarkable fourth consecutive season.
The Fresh Yankee is a brand new stake for mare trotters and the inaugural edition just could not have drawn a more stellar field. "Queen" Bee A Magician is the undisputed monarch of her division having won seven of eight starts this year including several versus mixed company while passing the $3 million career earnings mark along the way for owners Mel Hartman, Herb Liverman and Dave McDuffee.
"What about the young horses?" you may ask. Well, the $389,450 Jim Doherty for fillies (race two) and $349,850 Peter Haughton (race seven) for colts memorialize two of the game's legends with the first high-dollar opportunity for the freshmen.
Broadway Donna looks like a top filly, having dispensed of all competition with minimal effort thus far, including the fastest Doherty elimination last week for Jules Siegel's Fashion Farm. Womans Will and Kathy Parker were the other elim winners and will seek the upset.
Southwind Frank is the favourite going into the Haughton, having won three of four thus far including both the NJSS final and his Haughton elimination with the greatest of ease. He is another from the Ron Burke barn and races for the same partnership as Mission Brief on what could be a huge day for those connections.
You want wagering opportunities? We got 'em. There are $275,000 worth of guaranteed pools spread over several horizontal wagers and the day ends with a $231,403 carryover on the eight percent takeout Jackpot Hi-5. With this the close of the 2015 Championship Meet, this wager takes on "Mandatory Payout" status, which will create huge interest and great value, potentially driving the pool into seven figures. Programs will be available here and in the Daily Racing Form.
If you can't make it live, the Hambletonian will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and is available in Hi-Def on TRN. The races are also available via live streaming from The Meadowlands website.
There are a ton of promotions going on throughout the plant all day long including the ever-popular Hambo hat giveaway.
It's one of the greatest days of the year in harness racing and it all happens at The Meadowlands on Saturday.
(With files from The Meadowlands)