It might be the most wide-open Hambletonian in years, the most storied harness race in the sport getting set for what might well be its most intriguing edition in a decade.
The Hambletonian is the most prestigious harness race in the world, the annual event held on the first Saturday of August at the Meadowlands as has been the case now for four decades. The race very rarely creates this type of intrigue and balance, despite having a history that dates back to 1926.
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This year’s edition sees no clear-cut favorite, making it a must-see at the Meadowlands Racetrack for both insightful followers of the sport as well as novices.
“It’s so wide open that a filly, Atlanta, who is trained and driven by a father-son team of Rick and Scott Zeron, will be entered to go for the $1 million Hambletonian prize,” said Hambletonian Society director Moira Fanning. She notes that Atlanta is taking this risk of running against the boys rather than be a sure thing for $500,000 in a race specifically for other female horses.
“Payments for the Hambletonian race were up this year so there is a large group of colts going for the prize. There are several very interesting contenders....two from the Jimmy Takter stable. One is Tactical Landing, an $800,000 yearling purchase who only recently won his first race for Takter - who got him just a few weeks ago. Another one of Takters’ trainees is the offspring of a very famous French racehorse and a stallion named Ready Cash. If he were to win it would truly be an international sensation. But none of them are a sure thing...it truly is a wide-open year.”
It makes for a day where any horse and drive tandem could potentially beat some long odds and capture the most famous title in harness racing. Only 13 fillies have won in the 93-year history of the race.
The day is expected to draw the biggest crowd of the year to the Meadowlands and is routinely one of the biggest wagering days of the year in horse racing. The intrigue for this race is truly global, with a number of international entries as well adding to the uncertainty around this year’s Hambletonian.
The unique set-up of the Hambletonian makes it one of the most intriguing days in racing with elimination stakes held throughout the day. This means that the eventual winner will have to run multiple races, leading to a test of not just talent but will to take home the biggest purse in the sport.
The change of format to eliminations a couple of years ago makes for an interesting twist to the day. Not that any help was needed last year, with plenty of drama already in the final leg.
Last year’s winner, Perfect Spirit, won when What the Hill was disqualified, a memorable day to say the least. Fanning said she can promise a day of great racing, food and live music at the newly-built racetrack but can’t predict what the storied race might look like.
“Last year we saw that the Hambletonian is a very different race and not just because of the purse. It is highly sought after by drivers, trainers, breeders, and owners. There are thousands of races every year but only one Hambletonian and it shows in how the race is run,” Fanning said.
“Last year was a fairly routine event that suddenly turned into a ‘stork one’ with the first ever disqualification of a winner. I think with the Filly Atlanta entering it gives a very dramatic twist to the story. Only 13 Fillies have won in the 93-year history of the race. Also, the heats lend a lot of drama to the race. There are same day qualifying heats and then a final and you never know what is going to happen....post position is important but the standardbred was originally bred for stamina and this is where that trait comes into play.”
It will be a great day on Saturday, Aug. 4th as the Hambletonian takes center stage at the Meadowlands and it is one of the great summer events in the tri-state area. Last year’s edition was historical and this Saturday we should see something just as memorable.