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From Hardship To Hambletonian

Published: August 5, 2016 10:48 am ET

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The past year and a half has been full of ups and downs for trainer Andrew Harris, but the roller coaster ride will look to hit another high point on Saturday as the trainer sends out his first Hambletonian starter.

Harris enters Hambletonian Day after a year of trials. In March 2015, his wife, Amanda, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Harris has maintained his stable throughout the ordeal, while still being there for his wife and two daughters.

“If you ask me, I think I’ve done pretty well,” Harris said. “But if you ask my wife, she may say something different.

“It hasn’t been that tough,” Harris also said. “My wife’s been a real trooper. She takes care of the girls, and has been super-supportive that way.”

Going through surgery and radiation treatments, Harris said that his wife is recovering well.

“She’s still on medication,” Harris said. “She still goes for check-ups every three months, but so far everything has come back clean.”

Before operating a stable in the states, Andrew Harris got his start in Ontario worked as an assistant trainer for Casie Coleman -- not a stable known for its trotting power. Harris, however, has two trotters racing on the Hambletonian card.

“I’ve always wanted trotters because I think you can make a lot of money with them,” Harris said. “I think pacers are the toughest breed [to train]; there are pacers everywhere you look. Getting into trotters opens up the market a little bit.”

The first Harris trainee on the Hambletonian card is Songnatra, who’s owned and bred by Robert Key and races in the $294,450 Peter Haughton Memorial. Listed at 20-1 on the morning line, he’ll start from post seven.

“He was really green on the front,” Harris said about Songnatra's Haughton elimination performance. “We raced him with an open bridle, and I think he was seeing too much. He had a blind bridle the week before, but they said he was a bit hot so I decided to put an open bridle on him. This week I’m going to use the Swedish blinds on him.”

Songnatra (Winning Mister - Pleasures Song) definitely has the pedigree to be a top level stakes performer. He's a half-brother to stakes winner Flowers N Songs, and his dam is a sister to a multitude of Key's top performers including 1993 Hambletonian winner American Winner.

“I got him about a month before he qualified [from Chuck Sylvester],” Harris said. “He’s a fast horse, but his elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top yet. If he ever figures out what he wants to do, he’ll be good at it. We just haven’t figured that part out, yet.”

Key owns and bred Harris’ other trotter, Waitlifter K, who will give Harris his first chance at Hambletonian fame.

“It’s the Hambo. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to be able to go to it and have a shot at it,” Harris said. “I have to thank Bob Key for sending me this horse, and Chuck Sylvester for bringing him along. He came to me at the right time.”

Waitlifter K, set at 10-1 on the morning line, starts from post nine in the second Hambletonian elimination, going up against Southwind Frank and Marion Marauder. His form couldn't be better, having won his last start in a lifetime best 1:52.3 at Vernon Downs.

“It’s a tough field,” Harris said. “It’s tough from the nine-hole, no doubt, but if we can punch out of there and get a spot, or go to the front and let two of those good ones go, Matt [Kakaley] could figure something out there. Just to make the final would be a big deal."

“He’s got a nice engine to him,” Harris also said of Waitlifter K. “But the thing I really give him credit for is he’s got a really nice mouth. You can shut him down after shutting him up, and that will go a long way for him, not only in this race, but for the rest of his career.”

Harris said Waitlifter K should have no issues with the two-heat Hambletonian format should he finish in the top five in his elim and advance to the final.

“He’s in great shape, and he’s not hard on himself,” Harris said. “You never really know how they’ll handle it until you send them, but I don’t see it bothering him.”

Like others watching the Hambletonian card, Harris is also looking forward to the $225,550 US Pacing Championship, where Always B Miki once again threatens the record books.

“That’ll be a great race with less horses in it,” Harris said. “I want to see Wiggle It [Jiggleit], Freaky Feet [Pete] and [Always B Miki] battle. They’re poised to break the record [1:46.4]; I’d love to see it happen.”

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.

For a free Hambletonian program courtesy The Meadowlands and TrackMaster, click the following link: 2016 Hambletonian Program

(A Trot Insider Exclusive by Ray Cotolo)

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