We are visiting today with three time harness racing trainer of the year Jimmy Takter. This past year Jimmy had three Breeders Crown winners, Father Patrick ( two-year old colt trotter), Shake It Cerry ( two-year old filly trotter), and Ulffizi Hanover ( two-year old filly pacer). His past accomplishments include more than 70 million in earnings and more than 1,200 victories for his stable. He has won the Hambletonian twice, with Muscle Massive and Malabar Man, and trained back-to back Horse of the Year Moni Maker. We caught up with him as he got off the training track at his impressive farm in East Windsor, New Jersey. One-On-One is done exclusively for Harnesslink.com by Brian McEvoy. HLINK: Tell us about your impressive farm and training facility in East Windsor, New Jersey and what you are focusing on at this time of the year. JT: Right now I am concentrating on the babies we just recently bought. We have 70 horses and of those are 40 new babies. We have over 100 acres, a 5/8 mile track, a 3/4 mile straight track, and a 2 mile jogging track. HLINK: You had an incredible year of racing. What are your thoughts on this past year of racing? JT: It was a very good year with close to 8 million. I didn't have those three olds that I had the year before. I was actually aiming for around 6 million, so doing 8 million was very good. HLINK: You had two Breeders Crown winning trotters in Shake It Cerry and Father Patrick. Ron Pierce has said that Shake It Cerry is the best two-year- old filly trotter he has ever driven. How good was she this year? What are your plans for her next year? JT: She had a fantastic year. She is one of a kind. She had one bad start in Indiana. She trotted 1:51 and a piece at Pocono. This year was one of the best group of two-year-old trotting fillies I have ever seen. She is just a top horse. I have to see the stakes schedule when it comes out. I will schedule her for all the big races. HLINK: Would you race her against the boys in the Hambo? JT: I don't thinks so. If it is a shallow group of three year olds, which I don't think it will be. Then it is a possibility, but probably not. HLINK: Your two-year-old trotter, Father Patrick, destroyed the competition this year. Yannick Gingras said " He can go so fast it's scary". He will be the early favorite for the Hambletonian. Give us the lowdown on Father Patrick. JT: He had a perfect season. He is one of the most gifted horses I have ever been around. He is the best two-year-old I have ever had. He is one of the better two-year-olds I ever seen in the 30 years I have been here. He is very consistent and has a flawless gait. He has been a very sound horse, which is a big plus. I am going to lay out the right schedule for him. The goal is to win the Hambletonian. HLINK: Let's talk about your two outstanding two-year-old fillies in Uffizi Hanover and Ali Blue. JT: Ali Blue has been a horse that has been hampered by bad posts and bad luck all year. When she had a good post as in her last race,she came up in bad form and finished third. She had a good year. She can step it up and compete at the highest level next year and be a top horse. Uffizi was coming on at the end of the year. She was sitting on top of a top performance. It was a surprise to me that she won the Breeders Crown. I am excited about her. She can compete at the highest level next year. HLINK: You had both Guccio and Uncle Peter in the ultra competitive older trot division. You have stated that Uncle Peter is a notch better than Guccio. JT: They established themselves very well in the age group. I think both of those horses will have a chance to step it up next year. Uncle Peter is a little bit more handy. You can use him a little more at the start and get better position. That is the big difference. Guccio has to depend upon what kind of pace it is. Things like that make it a handicap for him. HLINK: Trixton was the highest priced trotting yearling sold at auction last year at $360,000. He had an up and down year. How do you see his development? JT: I think he is going to do quite well. He was battling some issues all year. We finally found out he had a hairline fracture of the sesamoid. We took care of that. I think he is going to be good to go next year and be a contender for all the big races. HLINK: Rockin Amedeus had a bit of a disappointing year after winning the Breeders Crown as a two-year-old. What happened with him this year? Will he be shut down and race again next year? JT: It looks like he might end up as a stallion in Ohio next year HLINK: You were very active at both the Harrisburg and Lexington sales. You had the sales topper at Lexington in Custom Fit for a high bid of $475,000. He is the full brother to Father Patrick and Pastor Stephen. Were you surprised by how high the bidding got? JT: The horse was a absolutely gorgeous horse. I was actually afraid that I might have to go higher than that. The same group of people that own Father Patrick wanted this horse. I am so glad I got him and he is a very nice colt. HLINK: At Harrisburg you bought Canepa Hanover for $300,000. He is the half brother to Breeders Crown winner Glidemaster. JT: He is also a very nice colt. I am also so happy to get him. He is a beautiful horse with a great gait. He shows a lot of promise at this point. HLINK: Tell us about some of your other purchases. JT: It is so early to tell which horses will be really good. They have been just jogging a little bit. I am so pleased with the purchases. This is the best group of purchased horses that I have ever had. This is a group of great potential horses, especially the two -year- old trotting colts. They are very, very, strong this year. There is one horse that I did not pay that much for that is out of a Costa Rica sister. I really like this horse that I bought at Harrisburg. I though he would go much higher. I got him for a reasonable amount. I think his name is Murray Hanover. MY wife is in charge of naming the horses. HLINK: What are your impressions of the new Meadowlands and how it will help racing? JT: I am really pleased with the job they done. It looks like they have all the material. Now we just gotta bring the crowd there and let them start betting. There is a whole process they have to go thru. They have to teach people to start getting exciting about going to the races again. They have plenty of new bars, restaurants, and entertainment. They have to keep it up. Hopefully the people will come back. We have to take care of the customers who come to the races. We can't just expect them to show up. HLINK: The industry is putting a little more emphasis on racing horses as they get a little older. The Meadowlands has just added a $ 400,000 type Hambletonian trot for 4-year-old male trotters. What are your thoughts on this trend? JT: You see great horses like Captaintreacherous. He had two very tough seasons. I think horses only have so many good miles in them. If you are racing a horse as hard as we do as a two-year-old and then again as a three-year-old, it is tough. Forcing people to continue racing as a four-year old, I am against that. That is no guarantee how good Captaintreacherous will come back. Those people should have to right to stand him at stud if they choose to. You take a horse like Heston Blue Chip who only made $80,000 this year. That is a sign that it is very difficult to establish themselves as a 4-year-old. Unless they are going to have a strictly 4-Year- old races for these horses and I don't think the industry can afford it. We were very fortunate with Guccio, Uncle Peter and Market Share as there was a generation change for those aged horses. Thrond's horse was basically the only one that was left. There was a bunch of beat up trotters. Those horses came in very nice. It is tough for the pacers. I think you take a 3 year-old pacer that is turning 4 and they are going to have a helluva time facing this competition. HLINK: The racing in Ohio is going to be a big factor in the future with the opening of all the Racinos. How do you see your participation in Ohio racing? JT: I think it is a big possibility. They are starting to accumulate some stallions now.. They need to upgrade the breeding material. They will get it done. The purses will eventually climb up. Hopefully they will get it close to Pennsylvania, which would be great. When the money comes a stable like us will show up. I haven't purchased any Ohio breds yet. HLINK: You have some great owners in John Fielding, Marvin Katz, the Solveigs Group, and others. Tell us about your relationship with your owners. JT: The owners I have now are the best in the sport. I don't have one single bad owner. It is just a pleasure to work for them. They are very understanding and have been in the game a long time. They know it is bad days and good days. They are all good friends of mine. I have a very good group of people behind me. HLINK: Your wife Christina is also a owner for you. Is she tough on you? JT: No she is not really. She is my biggest supporter. She handles everything in the operation and billing. She makes sure everybody is paid and is running the show. She has a tough job actually. HLINK: How do you decide which drivers to put on your horses? You have used many including Tim Tetrick, David Miller, Ron Pierce, Yannick Gingras and others. You also at times drive yourself. JT: I make all the calls. I never let the owners get involved with that. I know all my horses and all the players. I try to find the most suitable driver for that horse. But sometimes I have a horse that is a little bit green. I know my horses better than those guys. I am a half decent driver and when they are established and are ready for them to play with, I can turn them over to these guys. HLINK: You have had success with the trotters and pacers.. Who do you think is easier to train? JT: The pacers are maybe a little bit easier game. The pacers are a little more sensitive. You have to play more mental game with the pacers. You have to make sure they don't get crushed too early. Pacers can get crushed early easier than a trotter does. HLINK: You have won most every stakes race, Hambo, Breeders Crown, Elitelope, etc. What races have you not won that you have your eye on? JT: All these big races are nice to win. There are a couple of them left to win. The North American Cup and the Meadowlands Pace I have been second in. They are basically the only two big races I have not won. Of course I am much more supportive in the trotting industry. I have better bred trotters than pacers. Sooner or later I will grab those races in the future. HLINK: It is a little slower time of the year in harness racing. Are you planning a break or some vacation time? JT: We have not made any plans yet. Most likely we will try to get away somewhere. I will look at the weather. When it look like it is going to change we will get away for a few days. By Brian McEvoy for Harnesslink.com
For a small breeder, having one foal make the Breeders Crown final is exciting. Paul “Pete” Spears’ Windsong Stables came to prominence in 2004 when Windsongs Legacy captured the Triple Crown of trotting for trainer Trond Smedshammer. The Windsong name will be in focus on Saturday night with two foals from the late Bax Machine figuring prominently in both the $250,000 Crown Mare Trot and the $500,000 Crown 3-year-old filly trot. “I recall we purchased Bax Machine in 2001 at the Harrisburg Sale,” said Spears. “She was in foal to Muscles Yankee and I think we paid either $18,000 or $19,000.” While the daughter of Earl seemed to have a nondescript pedigree, Spears actually favors that approach. “I especially like to purchase hard-hitting mares that race in Canada,” Spears said. “It really doesn’t matter to me what the sires name is.” Diversity has been the watchword at Windsong and it has helped cultivate a brand that continues to perform at a high level. Bax Machine has been a model of consistency no matter what cross Spears chose for her. With 10 foals on the racetrack, Bax Machine was the proverbial sure thing in the breeding shed. “It doesn’t show up on the USTA site, but her 2005 foal by S Js Caviar (Bring Me Back) was a top colt in Sweden,” said Spears. What does show up under her pedigree is an extraordinary array of talented trotters from diverse stallion pairings. Her first colt by Muscles Yankee, named Q Forty Five, was exported and raced well overseas. She was then bred to Angus Hall, Dream Vacation, S Js Caviar, Broadway Hall, Cantab Hall, Windsongs Legacy, Kadabra and Credit Winner. On Saturday night Bax Of Life, the true Windsong-bred mare—being a daughter of Windsongs Legacy and Bax Machine—appears to have the best chance of success. The 5-year-old mare, trained by Jerry Duford and driven by John Campbell landed post three fresh off an impressive 1:52.4 victory in last week’s Crown elimination. The gritty mare has improved with age, earning more than $300,000 over the last two years, a far cry from the just under $90,000 she banked as a 2- and 3-year-old combined. Trainer Jim Raymer entered Bouncing Bax in the Crown because he believed the daughter of Credit Winner deserved a chance. She entered last week’s Crown eliminations on the strength of a five-race winning streak that included the $225,000 New York Sire Stakes final at Yonkers. Though that streak ended with a fifth place finish in her Breeders Crown elimination, driver Howard Parker seemed undeterred. “I thought she raced very well,” said Parker. “She got a little fumbly on the final turn and I had to steady her. She’ll race better next week.” The New York Sire Stakes program has helped Bouncing Bax earn $367,713 in her first two years of racing. “She’s very good gaited and she’s very comfortable on the half-mile track,” said Raymer. “I think she’ll be a little better next year.” While Bax Machine has yet to produce a world champion, she’s given more to the sport in the longevity her foals have had on the racetrack. Just look at Never Bax Down, her second foal by Ontario-sire Angus Hall who raced 180 times between 2007 and 2011. Baximum, Bax Machine’s 2007 foal by Cantab Hall, was a Grand Circuit winner as a 2- and 3-year-old and is approaching $400,000 in career earnings. The saga for owner Spears came to an end last year when Bax Machine was injured prior to foaling her Muscle Massive-sired colt. “She foaled on three legs,” said Spears. “Mares generally don’t get better after that.” Bax Machine did her motherly duty and nursed her foal until the youngster was weaned some three months later. “We could have done a procedure on her,” said Spears, “But it was risky with no guarantee of success.” Bax Machine ultimately was humanely put down and her final foal—Fighting Bax—goes on the auction block Nov. 4 at the Standardbred Horse Sale at Harrisburg. Spears says he’s had fun naming the foals of Bax Machine, who was named as a tribute to Ontario horseman John Bax, who trained the $2.1 millionaire Goodtimes. Spears is grateful for the success of Windsong Stable mares, having had the good fortune to do well with mares others cast aside. He’s bred a diverse group to a wide range of stallions and come up with solid stakes trotters. Triple Crown winner Windsongs Legacy’s dam Yankee Windsong died prematurely after her champion was born. Bax Machine’s greatest accomplishment, producing two exceptional Breeders Crown finalists, comes a year after her passing. On the positive side, the bloodlines of Windsongs Legacy and Bax Machine will be around for some time, especially if two of Windsongs Legacy’s more famous sons —Chapter Seven and Lucky Chucky—turn out to be successful in the breeding shed. Win, lose or draw, Windsong Stables has carved out quite a niche on the trotting breed. By Jay Bergman for the Breeders Crown
Nancy Johansson is hoping she and the "Gator" can do something she never accomplished while working for her father, trainer Jimmy Takter. Win a Breeders Crown. Johansson took care of a number of top horses while working for her dad, including 2010 Hambletonian winner Muscle Massive and world champion Tom Ridge, but never one that won a Crown. It seems difficult to believe because Takter has the leading stable in Breeders Crown history, with $6.42 million in purses and 15 trophies. Now a trainer on her own, the 32-year-old Johansson sends Western Vintage into Saturday's eliminations for the $600,000 Breeders Crown for 2-year-old male pacers at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. Western Vintage, aka Gator, competes in the second of three $25,000 elims and is the 2-1 morning line favorite in his division. The top three finishers from each division advance to the final on Oct. 19 at Pocono Downs. "It's exciting to have my first Breeders Crown as a trainer," said Johansson, who works with her husband, driver Marcus Johansson, and is based in central New Jersey. "Hopefully I can follow in my dad's footsteps a little bit there. If I can do as well as he's done, that would be great. It's exciting. Like they say, it all comes down to the Breeders Crown, so we're happy to be a part of it. "It's one of the few races I haven't won as a groom, so hopefully I can get it done as a trainer. We'll see." Western Vintage has won five of seven races this year, including the $150,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes championship and a $76,750 division of the Bluegrass Stakes, and finished second in the $648,850 Metro Pace. He has won $316,838 for the Johanssons, owner Perry Soderberg and driver Yannick Gingras. "We trained him down and I remember Marcus always telling me 'We have the best colt in the country' and I would always tell him he was crazy because we only have two pacers and (what were the chances) one of them would be the best one," a laughing Johansson said. "But he is one of the best ones now. Marcus knows what he's talking about, I guess." Western Vintage is a son of stallion Western Ideal out of the mare Major Harmony. He was purchased for $7,000 under the name Unity at the 2012 Lexington Selected Sale. His family includes Silk Stockings (the first filly to be named Pacer of the Year) and 1952 Little Brown Jug winner Meadow Rice. Fourth dam Napa Valley produced Art's Vintage, the mom of former Takter star Vintage Master. "He's just been awesome and he's matured," Johansson said about Western Vintage. "He loves his work and he loves to race more than anything. I'm just thrilled with him. He's never tired, ever. I've tried to wear him out many times and I've never managed to wear him out. I think that's a really good quality to have in a racehorse. He's a sound horse and very smart. He takes good care of himself." And he is almost always a pleasure to be around. "He's a little bit of a biter," Johansson said, laughing. "That's why he gets his nickname Gator. He's never really bitten anybody, though, but he threatens to bite. I think he's just playful; he wants somebody to play with him. He's like any 2-year-old boy." Western Vintage's Breeders Crown elimination includes Ontario Sire Stakes championship runner-up Crafty Master and Takter-trained Bakersfield. The first division is led by International Stallion Stakes winners Somestarsomewhere (5-2 morning line choice) and So Surreal (3-1) while the third elim features Battle of Waterloo champ Three Of Clubs (3-1) and Bluegrass division winner Smack Talk (7-2). "I think the 2-year-old pacing colts are kind of even," said Johansson, who has 14 horses in training. "It's not going to be easy; it never is. That's for sure. "Western Vintage is heading into his elimination very strong," she added. "He's healthy and he raced well in Lexington (in the Bluegrass) so I'm thinking he's going to have a really good shot." by Ken Weingartner for HRC
Lexington, KY --- It is a bull market at a horse sale, as prices remain strong at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. Through four sessions, the sale has already surpassed the gross sales of the entire five day auction in 2012 by nearly $2 million, and the average price through the comparable session is up a robust 10.8 percent. The sale topper at $95,000 on Friday was Wanna Get Lucky, a filly from the first crop of Lucky Chucky, who continues his impressive showing at the sale. The filly’s dam, Ucalthisahoneymoon, is a full sister to $1.3 million winning mare Falls For You. Deo Volente Farms will be taking home the filly that was consigned by Kentuckiana Farms. Runner-up honors for the night belong to the Art Major filly Daut Full. Showing no doubt about her prospects, Tony Alagna cast the winning bid of $75,000. It is a strong filly family, featuring dam Thereal Ideal ($168,136), half-sister Lyons Anitacol ($174,767) and second dam Doc’s Girl ($411,890). Hunterton Sales Agency consigned the filly. Next on the leader board was the Conway Hall colt Only My Way, the first foal out of $129,000 winner If And Only If. Richard Berthiaume signed for the colt that was consigned by Peninsula Farms as agent. A total of 156 yearlings passed through the ring on Friday, averaging $21,423. This represents an increase in average price compared to the fourth session a year ago of 27 percent. Session 4 Group-Number-Sold-Total-price-Average-Price-Top-Price-Median-$100,000+ Pacing-Colts-39-$777,000-$19,923-$50,000-$20,000-0 Pacing-Fillies-35-$605,000-$17,286-$75,000-$13,000-0 Trotting-Colts-36-$861,000-$23,917-$70,000-$20,500-0 Trotting-Fillies-46-$1,099,000-$23,891-$95,000-$23,000-0 Total-156-$3,342,000-$21,423-$95,000-$18,500-0 Sale through four sessions Group-Number-Sold-Total-price-Average-Price-Top-Price-Median-$100,000+ Pacing-Colts-140-$6,758,000-$48,271-$150,000-$37,000-22 Pacing-Fillies-129-$5,176,000-$40,124-$180,000-$30,000-10 Trotting-Colts-144-$8,017,000-$55,674-$475,000-$40,000-18 Trotting-Fillies-163-$6,133,000-$37,626-$260,000-$30,000-8 Total-576-$26,084,000-$45,285-$475,000-$35,000-58 Yearling-Sire-Dam-Sex-Gait-Price-Buyer WANNA GET LUCKY-Lucky Chucky-Ucalthisahoneymoon-F-T-$95,000-Deo Volente Farms DAUT FULL-Art Major-Thereal Ideal-F-P-$75,000-Anthony P. Alagna ONLY MY WAY-Conway Hall-If And Only If-C-T-$70,000-Richard Berthiaume Inc. TONED LADY-Muscle Massive-My Day To Play-F-T-$60,000-Greg Wright, Agent FIVE BELOW-Andover Hall-Day Five-C-T-$52,000-Kelly O'Donnell, Agent INHERIT HIS LUCK-Lucky Chucky-Promising Deal-C-T-$50,000-Alfred S. Ross & Paul Fontaine HEAVENLY TUNES-Rock N Roll Heaven-Three Kilo-C-P-$50,000-Joe Holloway FINISH LINE-Yankee Glide-Calchips Finisher-C-T-$50,000-Trond Smedshammer The Lexington Selected Yearling Sale concludes on Saturday evening at the Fasig-Tipton sale arena. by David Carr for the USTA (www.ustrotting.com)
CAMPBELLVILLE, August 28 – Perry Soderberg is usually a man behind the scenes when it comes to recruiting some of harness racing’s great pacers and trotters, but come Saturday evening at Mohawk, he will be square in the spotlight. The native of Sweden spends many of his summer months visiting North America’s top breeding farms in search of future champions. He’s not selecting the youngsters for himself necessarily, but finding top yearlings for the sport’s top owners. But with the up-and-coming Western Vintage, that wasn’t the case. The youngster was a yearling that Soderberg recommended to all of his clients, but when the hammer fell at $7,000 at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale last year, it was Soderberg who was the purchaser. One year later, the son of Western Ideal is one of the key contenders in the $683,000 Metro Pace, North America’s richest two-year-old pacing event. “What an unbelievable thrill,” Soderberg said, of racing for the rich purse. “There are a lot of other top colts in the race, but I’m also confident in our guy. Like anything else, we’ll need some luck and all we can do is hope for the best.” Western Vintage was a horse of which Soderberg spoke highly, but his clients thought otherwise. “I told all my clients about him, but no one really seemed interested. I knew the family very well because of Vintage Master and Great Vintage, so I knew what type of horse the family has been known to throw. “He was average-size, but has a lot of muscle tone and stood very well,” Soderberg continued. “He did have a scar on his back right ankle, which was maybe why he scared some people away, but not me. He was also New Jersey-bred, which isn’t in demand with the Sires Stakes program, but he was well worth a chance.” The homework Soderberg did last season has allowed him to reap the rewards to himself this season as Western Vintage has banked $117,250 with a 4-0-0 record from five starts. “I’m not one to buy yearlings for myself because that’s not my business. My business is scoping out the yearlings each year and giving my recommendation to my clients and allow them to make their own decisions to hopefully end up with a champion. In this case, my clients knew I recommended the horse, but nobody jumped, so I did.” After Soderberg purchased the youngster, he quickly received a text message from Nancy Johannson Tatker, daughter of Hall of Fame Jimmy Takter. “Nancy messaged me asking if she could train the horse because that was the direction her and her husband, Marcus, were going. I quickly agreed. I’ve known Nancy for 30 years, so it was an obvious fit. She’s done a fabulous job with this horse and deserves a lot of recognition.” Soderberg's main clients that he recruits yearlings for include Takter, Al Libfeld, Marvin Katz and Brittany Farms to name a few. Soderberg’s results at selecting youngsters speaks volumes as he’s recruited Mr Feelgood, Muscle Massive, Passionate Glide, Pampered Princess, Ken Warkentin, Pastor Stephen, Cabrini Hanover and in recent years American Jewel, Romantic Moment, Father Patrick and Ali Blue. “I have a terrific clientele and it’s not just about spending a lot of money and purchasing the highest price yearling. It’s about finding the correct individual at the right price with the right conformation. “I get a great thrill just being apart of a horse’s career,” said Soderberg, a resident of New Jersey. “I’m not the type to be in spotlight. I’m content being behind the scenes. “On an average year I’ll look at between 1,600 to 1,700 yearlings,” Soderberg continued. “I remember one year I was close to 2,000. I spend a lot of time on the road, but in the end it has paid off very well.” After Soderberg purchased Western Vintage, the training reports he received were always encouraging, but Soderberg remained grounded. “I follow every horse that I pick out for clients and sometimes they turn out and sometimes they don’t, it’s just the way it works. I’ve been down this road before, so I didn’t want to get too high on him until he stepped foot on to the racetrack.” Western Vintage qualified at The Meadowlands, before scoring three straight wins including a $150,000 New Jersey Sires Stakes final. Most recently, Western Vintage scored a 1:51.3 lifetime best victory by two lengths in his Metro Pace elimination, while in the hands of regular driver Yannick Gingras. “He’s really progressed well this season and I was a bundle of nerves in his (Metro) elimination,” said the 53-year-old. “I usually don’t get worked up when he’s racing. I was fine when he raced in New Jersey, but not last week. Maybe it’s the thought of racing for that kind of money.” Soderberg’s hard work and dedication has paid dividends for his clients. On Saturday, he may well be the beneficiary. Greg Gangle – WEG Communications
It might be a longshot for Holmdel's Tom Pontone and his father Lou to visit the winner's circle again in Saturday's $1.2 million Hambletonian Stakes, but that is better than no shot. The Pontones' TLP Stable and Mario Zuanetti's Atlantic Trot share ownership of Banco Solo, who is competing in the third of three Hambletonian elims and is 15-1 on the morning line. Jim Morrill Jr. will drive the colt for trainer Ken Oscarsson. Corky (2-1 on the morning line) and Spider Blue Chip (5-2) are the favorites in the elim. In a return to a format last used in the mid-1990s, the Hambletonian will be contested entirely in one day. The top three finishers from each elim plus the fourth-place finisher with the highest lifetime earnings will advance to the Hambletonian final. The final is scheduled for 4:41 p.m. CBS Sports Network will air live coverage of the Hambletonian from 3:30-5 p.m. "Listen, you have to be there to win," Lou Pontone said. "That's what we're doing." Winning the Hambletonian is something that has become familiar to the Pontones. They won in 2009 with Muscle Hill and made another trip to hoist the trophy last year with Market Share. Only nine owners have won the Hambletonian more than twice in the history of the event, which began in 1926. Banco Solo is winless in seven races this year. He finished third in a 3-year-old open for Hambletonian eligible horses on July 27 at the Meadowlands. The race was won by Corky in 1:54.3. Banco Solo was 4-3/4 lengths back, timed in 1:55.3. He was third in a division of the Currier & Ives at The Meadows and fourth in the Reynolds Memorial at the Meadowlands. He was nosed out for a spot in the final of the $500,000 Beal Memorial at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs despite trotting a 1:53.1 mile. "He's been OK, he's just had some bad racing luck," said Oscarsson, whose younger brother Jim trains and drives Hambletonian contender Aperfectyankee in the second elim. "He seems like he's good enough (to go in the Hambletonian). He feels good and acts like everything is fine. He feels stronger this year; he really grew up and is more mature. He's got the speed to go with them, but hasn't had the racing luck. It's been frustrating." Last year, Banco Solo closed the campaign by winning seven of his last eight starts, including the $206,000 Kindergarten Classic final at Vernon Downs. He finished the season with seven wins in 10 races and earned $157,481. "We didn't think the (Hambletonian) field this year was that strong, like in some previous years," Tom Pontone said. "Who knows what happens. There's not a horse out there that you could really say is the horse to beat. It's not like there is a Donato Hanover or Deweycheatumnhowe or Muscle Hill. We had the possibility to get in the race, so we said why not try it." Muscle Hill won the Hambletonian in 1:50.1, setting the stakes record and equaling the time for the fastest mile ever trotted on a mile track. He was a perfect 12-for-12 as a 3-year-old and was named Horse of the Year. "When you have a horse like Muscle Hill it spoils you," Tom Pontone said. "We never went to a race expecting to lose; we went to every race wondering by how many lengths we were going to win. "You have to come back to reality and hope you can get another good horse that can maybe win some big races. Maybe he doesn't. But you just accept it and go forward and give that horse the opportunity to do the best he can." The Pontones are hoping Banco Solo's best is Saturday. "He's been gradually improving every week," Tom Pontone said, "so we figured we'd give him a shot." by Ken Weingartner
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, N.J. _ Royalty For Life, Wheeling N Dealin and Corky are the favorites in the three Hambletonian eliminations on Saturday afternoon at The Meadowlands Racetrack. The wide-open field of 23 was divided into three $70,000 heats. The top three finishers in each heat, along with the highest money-earner among the fourth place finishers, return later that afternoon for the $1 million final for 3-year-old trotters, the richest race in harness racing. Unlike other heat races, the winner does not have to win twice on the same day. The winner of the final is the Hambletonian champion. This marks the first time since 1996 that Hambletonian heats and final will be raced on the same afternoon. In recent years, Hambletonian eliminations were held one week before the final. Royalty For Life is the 8-5 favorite from post 8, the outside slot, in the first heat. He won the Stanley Dancer at the Meadowlands earlier this month and has captured his last two races. Brian Sears will drive for trainer George Ducharme. Wheeling N Dealin, last season’s champion 2-year-old trotter, is the 2-1 favorite from the rail in the second elimination with eight starters. Sylvain Filion will be in the sulky for trainer Dustin Jones. Seven line up for the third and final heat where Corky, winner of the Beal Memorial at Pocono Downs, is the 2-1 favorite from post 5 with David Miller at the lines for trainer Jimmy Takter. Post time for the Hambletonian final is 4:41 p.m. Eastern. The live card starts at 11:50 a.m. The CBS Sports Network will present a 90-minute live telecast starting at 3:30 p.m. This year’s Hambletonian lacks a clear standout, adding to the drama heading into Saturday. Royalty For Life might get a slight nod as the overall favorite. After starting the season making costly breaks, Royalty For Life appears to have turned the corner in the nick of time. “Now that he’s had a few more starts, he’s starting to behave himself,” Ducharme said. “I really believe we’re back on the right track. I think we’re headed on the right path.” This will be Ducharme’s first Hambletonian starter. immy Takter is old Hambletonian hand, having already won the race twice with Malabar Man (1997) and Muscle Massive (2010). The Hall of Fame trainer sends out a starter in each heat: High Bridge (first), Dontyouforgetit (second) and Corky. “Going into this race is always special,” Takter said. “This is what we’ve been working for.” Chuck Sylvester can make history with Spider Blue Chip in the third heat. Sylvester has already won four Hambos, one shy of the record held jointly by Billy Haughton, Stanley Dancer and Ben White. John Campbell looks for more Hambletonian glory with Possessed Fashion in the third heat. Campbell has driven a record six Hambletonian winners. Bee A Magician is the overwhelming 2-5 favorite in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, the companion event for 3-year-old filly trotters. She is a perfect 8 for 8 this year, and was an easy winner in last week’s Oaks eliminations. Bee A Magician starts from post 2 with Brian Sears driving for trainer Richard “Nifty” Norman, winner of last year’s Oaks with Personal Style in a 57-1 stunner. Mistery Woman, winner of the other Oaks elimination, is the 9-2 second choice from post 4 with David Miller at the lines for trainer Jonas Czernyson. Hambletonian Day will be the final live standardbred program contested before the original Meadowlands grandstand. The facility, witness to so much harness racing history, gets a grand sendoff with a stellar 15-race card that includes 14 stakes. In addition to the Hambletonian and the Hambletonian Oaks, the spectacular lineup includes the $321,700 Merrie Annabelle for 2-year-old filly trotters; the $318,350 John Cashman Memorial, formerly the Nat Ray, for older trotters; the $280,500 Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-old trotters; the $250,000 Anthony Abbatiello SBOA New Jersey Classic for 3-year-old pacers; the $217,100 Lady Liberty for Free-For-All pacing mares; the $213,650 U.S. Pacing Championship for Free-For-All pacers; the $125,000 Thomas D’Altrui SBOA Miss New Jersey for 3-year-old filly pacers; the $75,000 Vincennes Free-For-All trot and the $55,000 Ima Lula for 4-year-old trotting mares. Fans can follow all the action at www.meadowlandsracetrack.com, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and on Twitter at #Hambo13. by Rachel Ryan
Western Vintage and driver Yannick Gingras captured the 4th race $150,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes Final for harness racing two-year-old pacing colts with an impressive 1:52.1 victory.
Harness racing driver David Miller and breeder William Weaver will be on this summer's ballot for election to the Living Hall of Fame, the U.S. Harness Writers Association announced Monday.
When Jimmy Takter left Sweden three decades ago for a career in harness racing in the U.S., he dreamed of finding success in the sport's biggest races. As he prepares for his induction Sunday in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame, his motivation remains unchanged.