Growing up in a big city there were few things to be envious of. We had it all. Well, as harness fans we had two of the sport’s most iconic tracks in Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceways, but when it came to the sport’s signature event, The Hambletonian, we were miles from where it was happening. In the fall of 1976 The Meadowlands ushered in a new era for the sport. For those of us “half-milers” the one-mile strip had the allure of all of those speedy tracks in the Midwest that annually held State Fairs accompanied by the greatest the sport had to offer. The Grand Circuit’s mile tracks gave the sport’s stars the opportunity to race in heats and generally race faster than they would anywhere else. It just seemed natural that industry leaders would find a way to blend our rich tradition with our obvious future. In 1981 the Hambletonian arrived at the Meadowlands under less than ideal weather conditions. It arrived with many of the same faces that graced the Grand Circuit. It also came with an advanced purse structure more befitting the character the sport had attained in the New York City region. It would be simple to start the history lesson with Shiaway St. Pat’s victory. It’s nice that Ray Remmen, the winning driver remains one of the most respected horsemen at the Meadowlands to this day. Yet my story begins with a man who never won a Hambletonian. However, Carl Allen was hardly a loser that afternoon. He guided longshot Olaf to victory in one heat of the Hambletonian and also guided Pams Key to victory in a heat of the Hambletonian Oaks. Allen’s saga in the Hambletonian is similar to most trotting horsemen. He wanted to win the race more than any other. In 1995 most people thought his time had finally arrived. The homebred C R Kay Suzie was the best filly of her generation and an odds-on favorite to beat the boys in the Hambletonian after capturing the Yonkers Trot. Sure there was a genuine family story line with Carl’s son Rod driving the filly. There was also some dissent because C R Kay Suzie would race with trotting hopples. Purists far and wide (and most Europeans) believed that no true trotter should wear hopples and that they should be prohibited from use in the sport’s most elite race. Maybe like all great inventions, 1995 was too soon for the gear Carl Allen had modified and maximized to be fully accepted. That’s the only plausible reason I can imagine as to why C R Kay Suzie made a break that day as the 1-10 favorite in her Hambletonian elimination. Over the 32 years at the Meadowlands the race has evolved when necessary to more accurately resemble challenges of the day. What has never changed is the openness and availability of the race to those from North America and overseas. The universal appeal of the Hambletonian is something that was nurtured and grew at the Meadowlands. It’s hard to imagine another race having the same allure that would draw a Ulf Thoresen (Nuclear Kosmos 1986) or a Stefan Melander (Scarlet Knight 2001) to come to these shores and succeed. One would have to think that location, location, location is a major reason why Canadians based in Ontario made the pilgrimage to East Rutherford and enjoyed the ultimate prize in 2000 (Yankee Paco), 2003 (Amigo Hall) and again in 2006 with Glidemaster. It is this type of diversity that has set the Hambletonian apart in its stay in New Jersey. In DuQuoin the greats of the sport were prominent with the Dancers and Haughtons winning with regularity. The canvas has been spread much wider since the race arrived in the Metropolitan New York area. While the race isn’t going anywhere for some time, the 2013 edition marks the last time the horses will cross the wire in front of the current grandstand. With building fast reaching its completion the 2014 Hambletonian’s finish wire will be on the current backstretch. Much like the Hambletonian, however, the shift in grandstand will do little to shift the drama and excitement the race creates for the sport each and every year. It’s hard not to look back and recall some of the greatest moments in the sport’s long history taking place in the Hambletonian or on Hambletonian Day. It’s a race that has been filled with epic drama. In 1983 for example Hall of Famer Stanley Dancer’s stable would suffer a crippling blow in July when likely Hambo favorite Dancers Crown would succumb to severe intestinal issues. Dancer enlisted his brilliant filly Duenna to fill the void and her victory was bittersweet to all. The 1983 Hambletonian was the first to offer a $1 million purse putting it on similar footing with many of the Meadowlands other signature events. It was hard to argue with the Meadowlands brass when they called upon the Hambletonian Society to shift eliminations to a week before the final. That move took place in 1997 and it was in response to the creation of a week-long Hambletonian Festival, adding Breeders Crown races, maximizing betting and attracting international simulcasting. Still it was sad at the time to see an end to what appeared to be a time-honored tradition of heat racing. One of the most exciting periods for the race in New Jersey came in the mid-90’s with the emergence of Valley Victory as a unique and powerful presence in the stallion ranks. Valley Victorys hit the ground trotting and changed the landscape dramatically with Victory Dream (1994), the filly Continentalvictory (1996) and Muscles Yankee (1997). But 1999 may stand out as one of, if not the greatest, crop of trotters the sport has seen. At least that’s the way it appeared to be shaking out leading up to the Hambletonian that year. Self Possessed’s (by Victory Dream) 1:51 3/5 record-setting performance on that afternoon still stands out not just for the final time but for the quality of the horses that the colt left in the dust that afternoon. Vivid Photo and Roger Hammer winning the 2005 edition was a moment in time few will forget. For me Roger Hammer seemed the least likely candidate to emerge from the fairs of Pennsylvania onto the big stage. What made this race special is the obvious miscalculation of the experts. Hammer had been known for most of his career as a driver who liked the front end. When he employed the opposite strategy in the first $1.5 million Hambletonian (of his or any other driver’s career) it fulfilled the “No Guts, No Glory” prophecy. It certainly seemed fitting that horses bred in New Jersey would be good enough to take on the world. Muscles Yankee had a streak of his own with his sons Deweycheatumnhowe (2008), Muscle Hill (2009) and Muscle Massive (2010) distinguishing themselves for varied reasons. Deweycheatumnhowe became the first colt to win the race wearing the trotting hopples Carl Allen had mastered. Muscle Hill set the world record of 1:50 1/5 in a dynamic performance that winning trainer Greg Peck still hasn’t stopped talking about. And Muscle Massive became the most expensive yearling ($425,000) to win the race. The race returns to eliminations and final on one afternoon, for two trips around the course this Saturday afternoon. Though the Hambletonian has moved venues in the past, the next chapter in the race’s rich history remains on sound footing. In an era were few things remain the same for long, it’s refreshing that in this case tradition has triumphed with New Meadowlands home sweet home for the Hambletonian. by Jay Bergman for the Hambletonian Society
East Rutherford, NJ – The stage is set for the 2013 88th edition of the Hambletonian Trot, harness racing’s most prestigious race with 23 three-year-olds entered. The Hambletonian is the second leg of the trotting Triple Crown and features purses totaling more than $1.4 million. The three first heat eliminations will each be contested for a purse of $70,000. The first three horses in the official order of finish from each race will return for the final, plus the one horse finishing fourth with the highest lifetime earnings, to provide 10 horses for the $1.2 million final. It is a true test of stamina as the ten horses in the final will have raced twice in one day. Featured in the seventh race first elimination heat will be Dewycolorintheline for owner/trainer/driver Ray Schnikkter from post three.He is the only possible contender for the Trotting Triple Crown after winning the first jewel, the Yonkers Trot, last Saturday at Yonkers Raceway for a purse of $450,000. The early favorite in the race is Royalty For Life in post eight. He has won his last two starts impressively. Other contenders include High Hope and Smilin Eli. The eighth race second elimination heat is headed by the 2012 Two-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year, Wheeling n Dealin, who drew post position 1. Undefeated in nine starts last year, Wheeling n Dealin is winless in three outings so far in 2013. But last week was a close second to High Bridge at the Meadowlands. Other standouts include Dontyouforgetit and Aperfectyankee. In post four is Jacks To Open, who was sold on Sunday at the Meadowlands Summer Mixed Sale for $122,000 and the new owners promptly entered him in the Hambletonian. The ninth race final elimination heat features Corky (post 5) and Spider Blue Chip (post 6), both of whom have won their last start, All Laid Out and Lauderdale, who was third last week to Dewycolorintheline in the Yonkers Trot. Post positions for both the Hambletonian and the companion Hambletonian Oaks for fillies were drawn at a Tuesday afternoon press conference. Below are the fields, in post position order, with listed drivers and trainers.. First Elimination Hambletonian Race 7 est. off: 2:24 pm Post-Horse-Driver-Trainer 1-Punxsutawney-Tim Tetrick-John Butenschoen 2-Smilin Eli-Tim Tetrick-David Smith 3-Dewycolorintheline-Ray Schnittker -Schnittker 4-High Bridge-Yannick Gingras -Jimmy Takter 5-Super Classic-Brian Sears -Greg Peck 6-Dreams Of Thunder-George Brennan-Jonas Czernyson 7-E L Rocket-Yannick Gingras -Ron Burke 8-Royalty For Life-Brian Sears-George Ducharme Second Elimination Hambletonian Race 8 est. off: 2:51 p.m. Post-Horse-Driver-Trainer 1-Wheeling N Dealin-Sylvain Filion-Dustin Jones 2-Aperfectyankee-Jim Oscarsson-Oscarsson 3-Your So Vain-Andy Miller -Julie Miller 4-Jacks To Open-Jim Morrill, Jr.-Nick Surick 5-Celebrity Maserati-Tom Jackson-Susanne Strandqvist 6-Caveat Emptor-Steve Smith-Ray Schnittker 7-Dontyouforgetit-Yannick Gingras -Jimmy Takter 8-Creatine-Mike Lachance-Bob Stewart Third Elimination Hambletonian Race 9 est. off: 3:18 pm Post-Horse-Driver-Trainer 1-Possessed Fashion-John Campbell-Tom Fanning 2-Murmur Hanover-Randy Waples-Normand Bardier, Jr. 3-Banco Solo-Ron Pierce-Ken Oscarsson 4-All Laid Out-Tim Tetrick -Noel Daley 5-Corky-David Miller -Jimmy Takter 6-Spider Blue Chip-Ron Pierce-Chuck Sylvester 7-Lauderdale-Corey Callahan-Jonas Czernyson $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks Race 11 est. off: 4:14 pm Post-Horse-Driver-Trainer 1-Fashion Athena-John Campbell -Jim Campbell-30-1 2-Bee A Magician-Brian Sears-Nifty Norman-2-5 3-Classic Martine-Ron Pierce-Chris Oakes-15-1 4-Mistery Woman-David Miller-Jonas Czernyson-9-2 5-Coffeecake Hanover-Jim Morrill Jr.-Ron Burke-20-1 6-Frau Blucher-Jim Morrill Jr.-Chris Oakes-8-1 7-To Dream On-Yannick Gingras-Jimmy Takter-12-1 8-Time To Kill-Simon Allard-Ross Croghan-50-1 9-Handover Belle-Mike Lachance-Tony Alagna-50-1 10-Ma Chere Hall-Corey Callahan-Jonas Czernyson-10-1 By Steve Wolf
He was perfection in 2009 when he was named the nation's harness racing 'Horse of the Year' after winning all 12 of his 3-year-old starts including two big ones right here in Illinois
Stakes-winning trotters American Gangster, From Above and Chapter Seven were among the winners at Friday morning's (June 8) harness racing qualifiers at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
In this harness racing video the United States Trotting Association's 'Black Book Today' program has Sam McKee and 'Hollywood Hayden' interviewing Muscle Hill trainer Greg Peck.
The harness racing connections of champion trotter Muscle Hill share their experiences with the likely 2009 Horse of the Year in an exclusive round table interview.
From Above, who was fifth in his elimination for the $600,000 2-Year-Old Colt Trot has been scratched sick from the harness racing final set for Sat., Oct. 29 at Woodbine Racetrack.
Although his parents captured editions of the harness racing trotting classics at the Meadowlands during their 3-year-old seasons, it never entered Greg Peck's mind that From Above's genetic composition might supply him with an advantage over his colleagues for the 2012 Hambletonian.
The second day of Grand Circuit harness racing at The Red Mile featured four divisions of the $340,000 Bluegrass Stakes for 2-year-old colt and gelding trotters. In the $84,250 opening division on the Friday night (September 30) card, Scary Good rallied in the stretch to nip Power Play and Nagini in a lifetime best clocking of 1:56.4.
Things are getting bumpy on the Holiday Road. The 3-year-old harness racing trotting colt, who went off stride and finished last in the Hambletonian on August 7 after wins in the Historic-Dickerson Cup and a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial at the Meadowlands, was not entered in the Canadian Trotting Classic.
Holiday Road was the harness racing headliner at this morning's qualifiers at Mohawk Racetrack. The Greg Peck pupil was victorious in his qualifying effort for driver Paul MacDonell. The three-year-old son of Yankee Glide stopped the timer in 1:57.1 and will remain stabled in Canada in preparation for the $1 million Canadian Trotting Classic with eliminations take place on September 11.
The first round of American-National Stakes at Balmoral Park outside Chicago gets underway this weekend with races for 3-year-old male and female trotters. Hambletonian second runner-up Wishing Stone, who has $250,389 on his card this year and has yet to win a race in seven starts, heads a field of 10 going for the $150,000 harness racing purse in the race for 3-year-old male trotters.
Thomas Pontone is thoroughly enjoying this week, even if it is much different than a year ago as he awaited Muscle Hill's bid to win the Hambletonian. Pontone, who is among the harness racing owners of Holiday Road in this year's final, saw Muscle Hill win the 2009 Hambletonian by six lengths in a world record equaling performance.
What a difference a year makes. This time last year, harness racing trainer Greg Peck was the subject of media attention and scrutiny as his charge, Muscle Hill, was trotting into the Hambletonian as the favorite on a long unbeaten streak. This year? Not so much.
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.
Harness racing trainer Greg Peck, who sent out last year's Hambletonian winner Muscle Hill, has a chance to make it two in a row with this year's Hambletonian entrant, Holiday Road. Owned by the Four Friends Racing Stable, Jerry Silva, TLP Stable and Deo Volente-Peck Stable, he has won both of his starts this year.