Hambletonian field filled with former winners

12:30 AM 03 Aug 2010 NZST
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There might not be a big-name trotter in Saturday's $1.5 million Hambletonian, like the past three years when Donato Hanover, Deweycheatumnhowe and Muscle Hill dominated, but there's no lack of star power in the harness racing connections behind this season's horses.

Five of the eight trainers in the race have won the event at least once and four of the drivers have hoisted the trophy.

Leading the way are trainer Chuck Sylvester and driver John Campbell, the combo behind Lucky Chucky. Sylvester has won the Hambletonian four times-- one shy of the training record shared by Bill Haughton, Stanley Dancer and Ben White. Campbell already holds the record for most driving wins, with six.

Sylvester and Campbell teamed to win the 1998 Hambletonian with Muscles Yankee and the 1987 Hambletonian with Mack Lobell. Sylvester's other victories came with Chip Chip Hooray in 2002 and Park Avenue Joe (in a dead heat with Probe) in 1989.

Lucky Chucky is the likely sentimental favorite in Saturday's race. Sylvester's 45-year-old son, Troy, passed away last year on Hambletonian Day, August 8, as the result of injuries sustained in an ATV accident. Lucky Chucky raced that day, finishing third in the Peter Haughton Memorial.

"It sure would be great to win this race after the tragedy last year," an emotional Sylvester said after Lucky Chucky won his Hambletonian elimination race by three-quarters of a length over Mystery Photo and Holiday Road in 1:53.1.

Sylvester passed out briefly on his way to the winner's circle, but was back on his feet in several minutes and even did his post-race TV interview with Meadowlands analyst Bob "Hollywood" Heyden.

The victory was Lucky Chucky's first of the year, in three starts. The colt, who was coming off a second-place finish to Holiday Road in a Stanley Dancer Memorial division, was last year's Dan Patch Award winner as best 2-year-old after winning nine of 12 races (including the Matron and Valley Victory stakes) and $667,649.

"I couldn't be happier with the effort," Sylvester added. "That was a huge mile and I think he'll be even better (Saturday)."

Other trainers with horses in Saturday's field that already have Hambletonian wins to their credit are Ray Schnittker, Trond Smedshammer, Greg Peck and Jimmy Takter. Jonas Czernyson, who trains finalist Temple Of Doom, is yet to win the race, but is a protégé of three-time winner Per Eriksson.

Schnittker, who won in 2008 with Deweycheatumnhowe, will send Cassis into Saturday's race. Cassis, driven by Tim Tetrick, won his elimination race by 1-1/4 lengths over Temple Of Doom in a career-best 1:52.4. Wishing Stone was third.

Cassis has won eight of 10 races this year and been no worse than second. He blistered around Goshen Historic Track's half-mile oval in a track-record 1:55.4 in July. (The previous record was 1:58, set by 2000 Yonkers Trot winner Goalfish.) His Hambletonian elim win was his first ever on a mile track.

"(Last Saturday) was his second start on a big track; some go the other way and some get tougher," Schnittker said. "Hopefully, he gets even tougher next week. Right now we look as good as anybody. We'll see what happens. I guess you get spoiled after Dewey, but he's a very, very good horse. He might be a great horse. He wins a lot."

Trond Smedshammer, who won the 2004 Hambletonian with Windsong's Legacy, took over the training of Pilgrims Taj two weeks ago and watched the horse win his elim by a half-length over Muscle Massive and Hard Livin in 1:53.3. Pilgrims Taj's driver, Mike Lachance, has won the Hambletonian four times.

Pilgrims Taj has won three of six starts this year and won last year's Breeders Crown.

"We changed everything, pretty much," Smedshammer said. "Obviously, there's room for improvement. Overall, I think he's going to be back to the horse you saw last year."

Jimmy Takter, who won the 1997 Hambletonian with Malabar Man, will have three horses in Saturday's race-- Muscle Massive, Hard Livin, and On The Tab. Ron Pierce, who drives Muscle Massive, has won the Hambletonian twice. On The Tab won the Yonkers Trot, the first jewel in the Trotting Triple Crown, in July. The Hambletonian is the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Last year's winning trainer, Greg Peck, and winning driver, Brian Sears, will send Holiday Road into Saturday's final. Holiday Road won last season's Peter Haughton Memorial and was victorious in his first two races this year before finishing third in his Hambletonian elim.

Here is the field for Saturday's $1.5 million Hambletonian in alphabetical order, with drivers and trainers from the eliminations. The top three finishers from each elim, plus the fourth-place finisher with the highest lifetime earnings, advance to the final on August 7. The connections of elimination winners Cassis, Lucky Chucky, and Pilgrims Taj will select their post positions Wednesday.

Cassis, Tim Tetrick, Ray Schnittker; Hard Livin, Yannick Gingras, Jimmy Takter; Holiday Road, Brian Sears, Greg Peck; Lucky Chucky, John Campbell, Chuck Sylvester; Muscle Massive, Ron Pierce, Jimmy Takter; Mystery Photo, Andy Miller, Julie Miller; On The Tab, Yannick Gingras, Jimmy Takter; Pilgrims Taj, Mike Lachance, Trond Smedshammer; Temple Of Doom, David Miller, Jonas Czernyson; Wishing Stone, John Campbell, Dewayne Minor.

Owners: Cassis, Ray Schnittker, Kelk's Inc., Arden Homestead Stable, Jerry Silva; Hard Livin, Christina Takter, John Fielding, Falkbolagen AB; Holiday Road, Jerry Silva, TLP Stable, Four Friends Racing Stable, Deo Volente-Peck Stable; Lucky Chucky, SGS Partners, Perretti Racing Stable, Lindy Racing Stable; Muscle Massive, Brixton Medical AB, Order By Stable, Louie Camara, Katz-Libfeld-Goldband; Mystery Photo, David Prushnok, John Prushnok, Ervin Miller, William Gregg; On The Tab, Christina Takter, John Fielding, Louie Camara, Falkbolagen AB; Pilgrims Taj, Robert Bongiorno, Pilgrims Taj Stable, Bix DeMeo, Val D'Or Farms; Temple Of Doom, Robert Rosenheim Stables; Wishing Stone, Cowboyland Aalborg.

by Ken WEINGARTNER, Harness Racing Communications

Courtesy of the US TROTTING ASSOCIATION'S Web Newsroom

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