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Atlanta headed to Hambletonian
Saturday, July 21, 2018 - by Derick Giwner, DRF Harness

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The conjecture throughout the sport in recent weeks on whether super filly Atlanta would take a shot against the boys in the Hambletonian is no longer necessary as of Saturday (July 21). The decision is in and according to trainer Rick Zeron, it was made weeks ago.

“I think if you have a filly that is good enough and if you get lucky enough to win the Hambletonian, it is a bigger feather in your cap than winning the Hambletonian Oaks,” said Zeron on why he chose the Hambletonian. “Scott (Zeron, driver) and I made the decision probably about three weeks ago. I spoke to all of my partners involved with the filly and they were all on board with whatever decision I made.”

Fotowon photo
Atlanta's connections have opted to place her in the Hambletonian rather than the Hambletonian Oaks.

The $1 million Hambletonian for 3-year-old trotters is widely considered the most prestigious race in sport. It is scheduled for Aug. 4 at The Meadowlands along with the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, the companion event for fillies only.

Only four fillies have ventured into the deep waters to tackle the boys since the year 2000 and none have come out victorious. Mission Brief performed the best, winning her elimination and finishing second behind Pinkman in the 2015 Hambletonian. Since the Hambletonian Oaks was introduced in 1971, 21 fillies have tried to win versus the boys and just two – Continentalvictory (1996) & Duenna (1983) – have been successful.

Zeron, who co-owns Atlanta with Crawford Farms, Holland Racing Stable, Howard Taylor and Bradley Grant, has always been high on Atlanta, even back when she was just fourth beaten 6-3/4 lengths by Manchego in the Breeders Crown 2-Year-Old Filly Trot at Hoosier Park last October.

“I always knew she was something special,” he said, as he credited the perfect conditions in Florida for contributing to Atlanta’s development. “We trained her down at Sunshine Meadows in the hot weather. We didn’t have to put caulks on her and she didn’t have to go out in the freezing cold on slippery icy tracks. She had all of the advantages she needed and I think that really helped her grow into the top 3-year-old she is today.

“She’s grown quite a bit. What I’m extremely pleased with is that she grew up a little bit and out. A lot of horses from two to three will grow up but won’t fill out their bodies. She did both. She’s also a little bit smarter this year and manner-wise she is perfect.”

Atlanta entered 2018 with a 10-4-0-1 record and just $123,411 in earnings, but has gone on a tear after her winter of development. The daughter of Chapter Seven has sparkled in all of her starts this year while more than doubling her 2017 earnings and compiling a perfect record in five starts.

Atlanta began 2018 with a win against older foes in a conditioned event at Meadowlands before heading to Vernon Downs for a sweep of the Empire Breeders Classic elimination and final. In the $238,613 final she would set a track record of 1:50.3. Next up was a pair of New York Sire Stake races at Tioga and Vernon Downs. At Tioga she would set another track record (1:52.1) and in her most recent start (July 19), Scott Zeron would rate slow fractions on the lead with Atlanta en route to a confident 1:53. win by 2-1/2 lengths.

Scott Zeron will be looking for his second win in the trotting classic in the last three years (Marion Marauder 2016) and Rick Zeron will be making his first ever appearance in the big dance. Should they accomplish history with Atlanta, they would join Billy (trainer/father) and Tommy Haughton (driver/son), who kept the 1982 Hambletonian trophy in the family by winning with Speed Bowl.

Following the world record 1:49.4 performance by filly Plunge Blue Chip at Meadowlands on July 14, the continued excellence from last year’s 2-year-old divisional champion Manchego and the expected talent of Phaetosive, one could argue that the Hambletonian Oaks is as difficult a spot in 2018 as the Hambletonian. The difference maker is that elimination races for the Oaks occur on July 28 with the final the following Saturday. The eliminations and final for the Hambletonian occur on the same day.

While racing two heats in one day can get to any horse, Zeron is very confident that Atlanta is the type that won’t mind the grueling format.

She recovers immediately after a race. It doesn’t take her very long to get her wind back after a race,” the elder Zeron said. “She’s just very calm and collected. She does what she has to do and she wants to go home. Those are the reasons why I think she’ll be able to handle two trips in the same day.”

Despite the gap of over 20 years since a filly has captured the Hambletonian, Zeron placed his confidence level going into the Hambletonian at 94 percent. He’s expecting a win and said that he wouldn’t even consider entering her if he didn’t think the chances for success were high.

When you listen to Zeron speak of Atlanta, you begin to wonder if the boys are the ones taking on the more difficult task. “We’ve never found the bottom this year. We’ve never even scratched halfway down,” he said.

It is scary to think that a sophomore trotting filly that has won in 1:50.3 hasn’t scratched the surface of her ability according to her trainer. Whether that statement holds water will be tested on the first Saturday in August as all eyes will be on the lady versus the best 3-year-old trotting colts in the sport.

If at all possible, a can’t miss afternoon of racing just got better.

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