The fact that trainer Nancy Johansson will make her Hambletonian debut against her dad, Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter, is one of the big storylines entering Saturday's race. And while Johansson understands and appreciates the interest, it's not something that's really on her mind. Especially since, hey, there will be other trainers there too! "It's no different to race against him than anybody else," said Johansson, who trains Hambletonian starter Resolve, adding with a laugh. "It's a horserace, there has to be other horses in there. He's one of the top trainers with one of the biggest barns, so I expect him to be there." The two have teamed up for previous Hambletonian success, as Nancy was the caretaker for Takter's 2010 winner, Muscle Massive. She grew up learning the trade under Jimmy, who also won the 1997 Hambletonian with Malabar Man, having said in the past "I tell people that from going to my dad's 'school' I got a PhD in training." But neither wants to mix business with pleasure, especially when it comes to head-to-head competition. "We don't talk about it," Nancy said. "When we have family time, we talk about grandkids or other stuff. "But we're both very competitive. I think deep down inside, if somebody beats him he would want it to be me. But it's really deep down because he really wants to win first himself." And Takter has a good chance this year with favorite Father Patrick, along with two other highly regarded horses in the race - Trixton and Nuncio. This won't be the first time father and daughter pitted their Hambletonian horses against each other. On July 19, Resolve finished second to Nuncio in the Reynolds Stakes. Resolve has won two of seven races this year and hit the board six times. He has four wins in 19 career starts, earning $45,950. The horse is owned by Hans Enggren, who won the 1985 Hambletonian with Prakas. Enggren is looking for another shot at Hambletonian glory, which is why he bought Resolve just a few weeks ago. "He was pretty much purchased with the idea he was going to race in the Hambletonian," Johansson said. "Hans is getting up in age and he wants another go at the Hambletonian. He had seen the horse last year and liked him." Enggren saw him again early in the spring and liked him just as much, if not more, but Resolve was not for sale. When he was put on the market, Hans made his move. "We knew that if he raced good in the Reynolds he was going to the Hambletonian," Johansson said. "I didn't really expect him to race that good, so that was a good surprise. He's been solid all year. "He's a nice horse. I think he's going to mature into a nice older horse. He's not staked to a lot this year, so he's going to have a kind of low-key 3-year-old season." Winning the Hambletonian would certainly turn the key up a notch, and Johansson is happy with drawing the No. 1 post. But she was unhappy to see her dad's top horse get stuck in the difficult 10 hole. "The draw helped us, but I didn't like to see Father Patrick draw bad," Johansson said. "He deserves to win the Hambletonian because he's just such an extremely fine animal. With post 10, anything can happen. "I wouldn't be surprised if things shake out differently than expected, too." One of Takter's trademarks is trying new things with a horse entering a final. Nancy is unsure if that will be necessary with Resolve. "I don't know yet. We'll see," she said. "We changed a lot on the horse already. I think you have to be careful how much you change in a short amount of time. "I feel pretty confident we have him the way we want him. He trained absolutely fantastic (Wednesday) morning. I couldn't ask for a better training session than he had (that) morning. I don't really feel like there is anything we need to take care of. Everything feels very even keel right now. It's a good situation." And, as far as Johansson is concerned, a situation like any other when it comes to the trainers she will be facing in this race. Story by Rich Fisher for the Hambletonian Notes Team Ken Weingartner Harness Racing Communications
He hopes his luck is on full display in Saturday's $1 million Hambletonian at Meadowlands Racetrack. Mazza owns JJ Alex, who will start from post two at morning line odds of 50-1 in the Hambletonian. The colt, trained and driven by Francisco Del Cid, is winless this year and has one victory in 15 career starts. Like everyone else, JJ Alex will be chasing Father Patrick, one of three Jimmy Takter-trained horses in the race. Father Patrick has won 15 straight starts and is the 4-5 morning line favorite despite starting from the unenviable No. 10 post. Mazza bought JJ Alex privately on Aug. 2, 2013 and exactly one year later, the horse is competing on the sport's biggest stage. Could that be a sign? Probably not, but Mazza thought it was a chance worth taking. "I ain't going to be here forever; this might be my last shot for the Hambletonian," he said. "We got the right draw, we got the right driver on him, we got the right trainer. It's a win-win situation. He added with a laugh, "So I'll see you in the winner's circle." Bold talk since JJ Alex has yet to find the winner's circle in 2014. But he has finished in the money five times with two seconds and three thirds. His final tune-up before the Hambo was a third-place finish in a $32,455 division of the Arden Downs Stakes at the Meadows July 26. "We trained him good before going to The Meadows," Del Cid said. "We were going to train him and based on that training mile make a decision [on whether to enter the Hambletonian]. We were hoping for a better result in the race, but it unfolded a different way and I got pinned in. "But we were satisfied. We came to the conclusion that we were going to enter the horse and give it a try." Del Cid, a former exercise rider for high-profile Thoroughbred trainer D. Wayne Lukas, began working in harness racing in the late 1980s. "I switched to this and I liked it," said the native Guatemalan, now living in central New Jersey. "I'm not afraid of the odds," he added. "I never thought I was going to be in the Hambletonian when I came here. When I switched to this [harness racing] business, that was my goal - to be here one day." Del Cid trained his own small table for several years before joining the Trond Smedshammer Stable. In 2008 he went back out on his own and he and Mazza will now look to shock the world. To Mazza, it wouldn't be a mind-blowing shock. As far as he was concerned, when he first laid eyes on the horse it was Hambletonian at first sight. "As soon as we saw him we wanted to keep him for the Hambletonian," the owner said. "We raced him a couple times as a 2-year-old and we decided to put him in this big race this year." Mazza made his first purchase - Kehms Scooter - in 1991 at a sale at the Meadowlands. Rather than build a stable for a racehorse, he found a racehorse to fill a stable. "I was building a farm in Upper Freehold and a trainer came by and asked what was going on," Mazza said. "I told him I was building a horse barn for my kids. He asked if I wanted to get in the racehorse business. "I said I'd never thought of it, but maybe I would consider it. He told me there was a sale at the Meadowlands and asked if I wanted to come. I told him to pick me up on Saturday and I'd go with him." Mazza promptly spent $10,000 or $20,000 - he can't recall - on Kehms Scooter and was on his way. "He won his first race and it got me hooked," Mazza said. "If it wasn't for that, I might not be here. I try to enjoy it. "It was about time for me to try the Hambletonian. Maybe I'll get lucky. I've been a lucky guy, a fortunate guy, all my life. Maybe my luck will come through on Saturday." In other words, Mazza will stake his luck against all odds. by Rich Fisher, for the Hambletonian Society
Aperfectyankee's season so far has been less than flawless, but that has not dampened trainer Jim Oscarsson's opinion of his stakes-winning trotter as he heads into Saturday's $500,000 Colonial for 3-year-olds at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. The Colonial is part of Super Stakes Saturday at Pocono Downs, which also includes the $500,000 Battle of the Brandywine for 3-year-old pacers and the $350,000 Valley Forge for 3-year-old filly pacers. Aperfectyankee has won three of seven races this year and earned $179,451 for Oscarsson, who also owns and drives the colt. All of his victories this season have come on the Pennsylvania circuit, with two triumphs in divisions of the sire stakes and another in a division of the Pennsylvania All Stars. He is coming off a fourth-place finish in the $1 million Hambletonian on Aug. 3 at the Meadowlands. The nine-horse Colonial field features seven horses from the Hambletonian final, including winner Royalty For Life, runner-up Smilin Eli and third-place finisher Corky. "I'm not disappointed with him, but I know he's better than he's showed," Oscarsson said about Aperfectyankee, who won last year's $387,250 Peter Haughton Memorial by a neck over Corky. "I think with better race luck he can be right there with them at the finish. "I think he's going to win some races this year. It would be nice (to win the Colonial). I think he deserves that." Aperfectyankee entered the Hambletonian off back-to-back wins and finished third in his elimination before ending up fourth in the same-day final. He started the final from post seven and was as many as 11 lengths behind leader and eventual winner Royalty For Life in the early goings. He finished 3-3/4 lengths back on a track that favored trotters on the lead; all three Hambletonian elims and the final were won in wire-to-wire fashion. "(The Colonial) is going to be tough; it's pretty much the same as the Hambletonian," Oscarsson said. "Except this time we've got a better post. I think he can go with them. It's going to be a fun race." Last year, Aperfectyankee won three of seven starts and earned $310,035. In addition to winning the Haughton, he won a division of the Tompkins-Geers and was second to 2-year-old champion Wheeling N Dealin in a division of the Champlain Stakes. He saw his season come to an end after a sixth-place finish in his elimination for the William Wellwood Memorial in September. Oscarsson decided to turn out the colt because of allergies. "When we brought him back to train during the winter he was good and he's been healthy," Oscarsson said. "He's a nice horse. He's perfect to handle, perfect to drive. You can do whatever you want with him." Following is the field for the Colonial with listed drivers and trainers (and morning line odds): 1. Picture This, Charlie Norris, Norris (20-1); 2. Aperfectyankee, Jim Oscarsson, Oscarsson (12-1); 3. Fico, George Napolitano Jr., Staffan Lind (15-1); 4. Smilin Eli, Tim Tetrick, David Smith (3-1); 5. Spider Blue Chip, Ron Pierce, Chuck Sylvester (4-1); 6. Corky, David Miller, Jimmy Takter (5-1); 7. High Bridge, Yannick Gingras, Takter (6-1); 8. Royalty For Life, Brian Sears, George Ducharme (5-2); 9. Dontyouforgetit, Takter, Takter (10-1). by Ken Weingartner
Robin Schadt would make a good baseball manager, but for the time being she's content being a pretty astute harness racing trainer. In a 162-game Major League season, a skipper must be patient if his team is struggling early in the season. He has to hang in there, tinker, and trust that his troops get the job done.
Trenton, NJ --- If Murphy's Law means whatever can go wrong will go wrong, 2012 was the year of Gutnick's Law -- whatever can go right will go right. Harness racing owner Richard Gutnick looks back on last year and still thinks he is dreaming.
Leave it to a horse named Word Power to inspire a play on words. The 3-year-old harness racing colt pacer has gone quickly from a dark horse to a winning horse this season. Yes, yes, feel free to groan, but it's true.
Coming off a campaign in which he was the 3-year-old Colt Pacer of the Year, Heston Blue Chip was conspicuously absent in the early stages of this season. It turns out that the horse was having a reaction to his ulcer medicine, although it took owner Ken Jacobs and harness racing trainer Linda Toscano a while to discover that little problem.
The only thing as good as Maven's finish last year is her start this year. The harness racing 4-year-old ended 2012 with two straight wins, taking the American-National Stakes and Breeders Crown.
It's safe to say Rich Gillock will be paying pretty close attention to the Currier & Ives Stakes on Friday night at The Meadows. The harness racing trainer has one horse in each of the three divisions, and all three are eligible to the Hambletonian.
Seth Rosenfeld, harness racing principal of Birnam Wood Farms, is a lifelong Yankee fan who is getting the same production from 4-year-old male pacer Sweet Lou as the Bronx Bombers got from Sweet Lou's namesake, Lou Piniella, back in the 1970s.
Harness racing owner John Fielding feels the 'success pendulum' may be swinging upward again for Uncle Peter. He hopes to see proof of that from his 4-year-old trotter in Sunday's $250,000 Maxie Lee Memorial at Harrah's Philadelphia.
Since he’s not Doctor Doolittle, harness racing owner Howard Schneidler feels there is no real science to buying a horse.
The mare Q And A gave harness racing owner John Mortberg his first Meadowlands triumph in 2004. She never had another victory but is still producing wins for Mortberg. Or at least winning horses.
Harness racing should feel good it has Heather Vitale on its side. When it comes to a positive spokesperson for the sport, Vitale is one of the best in the business. She is celebrating the 15th anniversary as producer, writer and host of her CBS and Fox affiliated 'Post Time' in Delaware, a highly popular half-hour weekly television show that covers Dover, Harrington and Ocean Downs.
Coming off a disappointing finish to an outstanding 2012 harness racing campaign, Champagne Tonight makes her season's debut in Friday night's $84,000 Courageous Lady for 3-year-old filly pacers at Northfield Park.
Earlier this week, a post on Perry Soderberg's Twitter page said 'My horse Rocky Mountain Guy won at the Big M tonight, great job by everyone involved!' At least one of those involved could not be more thankful for the opportunity to help -- harness racing trainer Nancy Johansson.