Saturday's date with destiny for 'The Hill'

12:19 AM 05 Aug 2009 NZST
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There are no guarantees in horse racing. That may be so but when it comes to this year's $1.5 million Hambletonian on Saturday, August 8 at the Meadowlands, it may be hard to convince many that Muscle Hill, who was installed as the 3-5 morning line favorite from the rail, can be beaten.

Probably the most cautious words come from his trainer, Gregory Peck, at the Tuesday afternoon press luncheon and post position draw at the Meadowlands.

"You know in the movie, the guy is going to get the girl," said Peck. "In sports, you generally do not know. It still has to happen. We respect the competition. There are nine other horses in there with a chance. So things have to go our way, and we know that. We do not take this lightly."

Muscle Hill comes into the Hambletonian with a 12-race winning streak. The Dan Patch Award winner in 2008 as Two-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year, he is on target to repeat as divisional champion, with an eye toward Trotter of the Year and Horse of the Year if he continues his winning ways. Donato Hanover in 2007 and Deweycheatumnhowe in 2008 also parlayed freshman honors and a Hambletonian victory into post season honors at three.

"He's done everything that we have asked of him easily," said Brian Sears, the three-year-old colt's driver. "He's just waiting for me to call on him. There are still some nice colts in this race, and it's not over ‘til it's over. We still have to have some things go our way."

The son of a Hambletonian winner, the Perretti Farms super-sire Muscles Yankee, Muscle Hill's march to the Hambletonian began as soon as he stepped on the training track at White Birch Farm in Allentown, NJ.

"Probably when they came back from the sale, about two days later [I knew he was special]," Peck recalled. "Sylvia Hovde, who works for me, takes care of Muscle Hill, has been just great with me, said ‘you want to see this one trot.' I remember going to the track with him and literally you'd feel he could go around twice to everyone's once. I knew he had the natural acumen to beat something, but you couldn't dream he'd be this good. How would you know that?"

Muscle Hill breezed to a 1:52.2 victory in his Hambletonian elimination on August 1. His only career loss was his first pari-mutuel start, in which he finished second by a neck on July 3, 2008 in a New Jersey Sire Stakes at the Meadowlands.

A week later, he started his winning streak with a victory in the $175,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes Championship and reached millionaire status in his final prep for the Hambletonian with a career best 1:52.1 score in one of two $185,250 Stanley Dancer Memorial divisions on July 17.

As one of three elimination winners, Muscle Hill's connections could select their starting post for the Hambletonian Final. Driver Brian Sears and trainer Greg Peck were second to select their post and took the rail.

Tom and Louis Pontone who own a casket business in Kearny, NJ and race as the TLP Stables, signed for the colt in the November 2007 Harrisburg yearling sale for $55,000 and sold a half-interest to Jerry Silva of Long Beach, NY, who also owned a share of three prior Hambletonian winners, Deweycheatumnhowe in 2008, Self Possessed in 1999 and Continentalvictory in 1996.

In December 2008, the Pontones and Silva sold a 50 percent interest to Southwind Farm of Pennington, NJ which established Muscle Hill Racing LLC in April 2009, a syndicate that includes Flintlock Farm Inc, Ross Stables LLC, Patricia M Bolte, Margaret K. Dey, Curtis E. Larrimore, William G. Mulligan, Michael Dean Robinson, Jerry Silva, Robert A Stewart, Steve H. Stewart, William B. Weaver III, Brittany Farms, Celebrity Farms, D'Elegance Stable IX, Joie de Vie Farm LLC, Little E LLC, Odds On Nourrir and Spring Haven Farm.

Adam Victor and Son's Explosive Matter is the 5-1 second choice after winning his Hambletonian elimination in 1:52.3. Driver Ron Pierce and trainer Noel Daley elected to start the colt from post two in the final. Explosive Matter has won three of five races this year and earned $126,942.

Symphonic Hanover, who won his elim in 1:54.1, will leave from post three with David Miller at the lines. He is rated 8-1 in the morning line. One of two Jonas Czernyson trainees [along with Hot Shot Blue Chip] in the final, Symphonic Hanover has three wins and a second in five starts this year.

In addition to Muscle Hill by Muscles Yankee, the New Jersey breeding program is represented in the Hambletonian Final by The Chancellor by Yankee Glide, Federal Flex by Muscles Yankee and Hot Shot Blue Chip by Revenue.

Elusive Desire, one of four elimination winners, received the slight nod as 5-2 morning line favorite in the $783,042 Hambletonian Oaks for fillies.

Elusive Desire, who rolled to her fifth straight victory in her Oaks elimination, is trained by Mike Keeling for Paula Wellwood, Charlie Armstrong and Robert Fasken, all of Ontario. The filly will start from the rail with Paul Macdonell at the lines in the Oaks Final, which is carded as race nine.

Five of the Oaks finalists are products of the New Jersey breeding program. Two are daughters of Muscles Yankee -- I Wanted Wings and Jersey AS -- and three are by Yankee Glide -- Margarita Momma, OK To Play and Raising Rachel.

The $1,520,333 Hambletonian, harness racing's most prestigious event, headlines more than $2.3 million in stakes races to be contested Saturday afternoon. First race post time is 12:30 p.m. The Hambletonian is race 10, estimated at 4:15 p.m. The race and its companion event, the $783,042 Hambletonian Oaks for fillies, will be broadcast live on NBC from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. [EDT].

$1,520,333 Hambletonian:
Post, Horse, Driver, Trainer, ML

, Muscle Hill, Brian Sears, Greg Peck, 3-5

, Explosive Matter, Ron Pierce, Noel Daley, 5-1

, Symphonic Hanover, David Miller, Jonas Czernyson , 8-1

, Hot Shot Blue Chip, Mike Lachance, Jonas Czernyson, 10-1

, Triumphant Caviar, Luc Ouellette, Chris Beaver , 15-1

, Calchips Brute, John Campbell, Trond Smedshammer, 30-1

, Reinsman Hanover, Tim Tetrick , Trond Smedshammer, 30-1

, The Chancellor, Andy Miller, Julie Miller, 30-1

, Federal Flex, Jody Jamieson, Jeff Gillis, 8-1

0, Judge Joe, D.R. Ackerman, Doug Ackerman, 15-1

$783,042 Hambletonian Oaks

ost, Horse, Driver, Trainer, ML

, Elusive Desire, John Campbell, Michael Keeling, 5-2

, Raising Rachel, Jack Moiseyev, John Kopas, 7-2

, OK To Play, Daniel Dube, Marcus Johansson, 8-1

, Broadway Schooner, Brian Sears, Jim Campbell, 9-2

, Moonlight Kronos, Tim Tetrick , Lutfi Kolgjini, 10-1

, Jersey AS, Tim Tetrick, Anette Lorentzon , 20-1

, Margarita Momma, Ron Pierce, Jan Johnson, 8-1

, I Wanted Wings, Brian Sears, Ross Croghan, 20-1

, Honorable Daughter, John Campbell, Larry Remmen , 6-1

0, Timelesswinner Two, Andy Miller, Julie Miller, 20-1

Carol HODES

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