“I’m just so happy anytime I get the chance to be part of the Hambletonian,” said Campbell, who has raced in every Hambletonian final but two since 1983. “When you have a horse that figures in it, that makes it more special, no question about it, but it’s the best we have to offer and I never take it for granted.”
Nuncio is the only horse to beat Father Patrick, on July 12, 2013. Father Patrick has won 15 consecutive races since then, but drew the unenviable No. 10 post for Saturday’s Hambletonian at the Meadowlands. No horse has ever won a Hambletonian final from post 10. Nuncio drew post five.
|Curtis Salonick photo|
|Nuncio enters the Hambletonian with 10 wins in 17 career races.|
“I’m happy with the draw; it gives me options going out of the gate,” Campbell said. “I’m going to be forwardly placed, or try to be, there’s no question about that. I think the unknown is how many underneath me and on the outside are going to leave. I think there’s going to be a lot of action in the first quarter of the mile, it just depends how hot that is and how many are involved.”
Nuncio, a son of Andover Hall-Nicole Isabelle owned by Stefan Melander’s Stall TZ stable, has won 10 of 17 career races and never finished worse than second. The colt is trained by Jimmy Takter, who also is the trainer of Father Patrick and Hambletonian contender Trixton.
Six of Nuncio’s seven runner-up finishes have come against Father Patrick.
“I know Nuncio is going into the race in good shape,” Campbell said. “He’s raced well every start of his life and I don’t expect that to change. Father Patrick, believe me, he’s earned all the accolades he’s gotten. His 15-race win streak is incredible. But at the same time, I’m going to try to upset him on Saturday.
“You have to race against the competition, whatever it is that year. (Nuncio) ran into a horse that has a chance to be one of the all-time greats. But I’m hoping he doesn’t add the Hambletonian to his resume.”
Nuncio will try to give Melander his second Hambletonian victory. He was the owner, trainer and driver of 2001 winner Scarlet Knight.
Part of Nuncio’s success this year is because the horse has been able to relax in races. Last season, Nuncio led at the half-mile point in eight of 10 starts. This year, it’s only happened once in seven races.
“He wouldn’t be in the Hambletonian if it wasn’t for the job that Jimmy did over the winter,” Campbell said. “When he came back, we made a special effort to keep him quiet and race him from off the pace and make sure he didn’t get into the same mode as last year.
“Last year was just him being very talented and he got so exuberant that I couldn’t rate him during the middle part of the mile and it cost him a couple of races. Now he’s to the point where I can leave hard with him and still control him, and that’s vital. If he wasn’t that way going into the Hambletonian, it would compromise his chances dramatically.”
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Aaron Merriman will get his first drive in the Hambletonian on Saturday. He is North America’s leading driver in wins, with 452.
|Aaron Merriman will drive Il Sogno Dream in the Hambletonian.|
Over the past 55 years, these are the drivers who ended the season No. 1 in wins and also drove in the Hambletonian final that same year: Dave Palone (2012, Stormin Normand, and 1999, Cherry Hills), Jody Jamieson (2009, Federal Flex), Tim Tetrick (2007, Pampered Princess), and Jack Moiseyev (1991, Giant Victory).
Moiseyev is the only driver to win the Hambletonian in the same year he was No. 1.
Merriman, a 36-year-old Ohio native with nearly 6,600 lifetime wins, will drive 50-1 longshot Il Sogno Dream in the Hambletonian. The horse is owned by Bill Manes, Dan Manes, Leonard Christopher and Randy Christopher. He is trained by Chris Beaver.
“It doesn’t matter what my odds are, it’s an unbelievable opportunity and I’m just really excited,” Merriman said. “I feel blessed I’m even involved in the race day. Even if I was the presenter of a trophy, I’d be happy. It’s the premier event in harness racing and I’m very excited.”
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Of the 11 drivers in this year’s Hambletonian, four have won the race at least once previously. John Campbell (Nuncio) holds the record with six triumphs, followed by Ron Pierce (Royal Ice) with three, Brian Sears (Harper Blue Chip) two, and Tim Tetrick (Don Dorado) one.
Sears won last year’s Hambletonian with Royalty For Life. If he wins again this season, he will be the first driver to win the Hambletonian in back-to-back years since John Campbell in 1987-88.
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Jimmy Takter and Trond Smedshammer are the only trainers in this year’s Hambletonian with previous victories. Takter -- who sends out favorites Father Patrick, Nuncio and Trixton -- won in 2010 with Muscle Massive and 1997 with Malabar Man. Smedshammer, who trains Royal Ice, won in 2004 with Windsong’s Legacy.
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Trainer Nancy Johansson is making her first start in the Hambletonian, with Resolve, but she is no stranger to the race. She is the daughter of two-time winning trainer Jimmy Takter and was the caretaker of the 2010 Hambletonian winner, Muscle Massive.
|USTA/Mark Hall photo|
|Nancy Johansson and her Hambletonian starter Resolve.|
“That helps me tons,” Johansson said. “I don’t really feel stressed out. I think a lot of people in my situation would be a little more stressed out, but I kind of expect to be here because we were always there working for my dad. And most of the times, I took care of those horses.
“There’s a lot of pressure to take care of a good horse. I always say caretakers are so underrated because every day that horse is their charge. It’s your job to make sure they don’t get hurt, or if they’re sick you need to notice in time so something can be done. I feel like I’ve had that pressure a lot before. I’ve seen my dad deal with the pressure. It doesn’t really bother me because I’m used to it.”
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Howard Taylor, who is among the owners of 20-1 Hambletonian longshot Doncango, never expected to have a starter in this year’s race. Doncango has raced only once this year, winning on July 25.
“I have tickets for the Billy Joel concert Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, so I had to scramble to rearrange my plans,” Taylor said with a laugh. “In about February or so, (Doncango) got injured. We have just been rehabbing him and bringing him back slowly and he got a late start.
“We have a lot of year left and (trainer Ake Svanstedt) thinks he’ll be heard from for the rest of the year. But I was a little surprised that he entered the horse in the Hambletonian.”
Taylor has had two previous starters in the Hambletonian. He is looking for his first win.
“It would be a dream,” Taylor said about Doncango winning. “It would be a shock, but it would be a dream.”
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Ron Pierce can tie Berndt Lindstedt for most Hambletonian Oaks wins by a driver (with four) if he guides Shake It Cerry to victory Saturday. She is trained by Jimmy Takter, who with a triumph would move into sole possession of second place in trainer wins. Takter is tied with Glen Garnsey with three Oaks titles. Jan Johnson leads the way with six.
Shake It Cerry, who has won six of seven races this year and was the 2013 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old female trotter, is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line.
“She’s good,” Takter said earlier in the week. “It was good we didn’t have to extend her too much (in the Oaks prep, a 1:54.4 win). The Hambletonian Oaks won’t go like that. The race next week, they’re going to mix it up a little bit.
“I think she’s the best one. The only time she got defeated, she had a bad trip. She’s sound, everything is good with her. She is ready to go a big mile. She’ll take (Pierce) home. She’s not known to give up in the stretch.”
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Prior to this Saturday, trainer Julie Miller’s only Hambletonian Oaks starter was 90-1 longshot Timelesswinner Two in 2009. Timelesswinner Two finished eighth.
|Curtis Salonick photo|
|Designed To Be is the morning line favorite in the Hambletonian Oaks.|
This year, she is sending out three fillies in the Oaks including morning line favorite Designed To Be. Starting from post one with driver Brian Sears, Designed To Be has won two of four starts this year. She was second to Shake It Cerry, who drew post 11 in the Oaks, in last week’s prep.
“She’s had a little bit of traffic trouble her last two starts,” Miller said. “I give a lot of credit to Brian. He knows my filly and he’s been able to control her during the pedestrian second quarters we’ve been going. I’m excited for (the final). Obviously, I’d like to see them go a little more (early fractions) in the race. We’ll see how it plays out. I have all the confidence in the world in Brian and Designed To Be.”
Miller’s other starters in the Oaks are 12-1 Take The Money and 20-1 Cee Bee Yes.
“Take The Money had a nice win in the Reynolds (on July 19),” Miller said. “She proved to me that she should be in here. She seems to be a horse that’s better with a week off in between starts. So that’s why we (skipped the Oaks prep and) gave her the week off rather than go three weeks in a row.
“(Cee Bee Yes) is my sleeper. She does her job, she’s a sweetheart, and Marcus (Miller) gets along with her well. If they mix it up, I think she can pick up the pieces.”
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Saturday’s card, which begins at noon, features the Hambletonian Day returns of 2012 Hambletonian winner Market Share and 2013 Hambletonian Oaks winner Bee A Magician.
Bee A Magician, the 2013 Horse of the Year, is the 4-5 favorite in the $52,000 Ima Lula Series final for 4-year-old female trotters. Market Share is the 9-2 third choice in the $300,650 John Cashman Jr. Memorial for older trotters.
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Here is a look at the morning line choices for Hambletonian Day’s top races.
$52,000 Ima Lula: Bee A Magician 4-5, Classic Martine 7-5, Handover Belle 8-1.
$100,000 Miss New Jersey: Gettingreadytoroll 2-1, Act Now 3-1, Blixtra 9-2.
$225,000 New Jersey Classic: Doo Wop Hanover 9-5, Western Vintage 5-2, Bushwacker 9-2.
$257,700 U.S. Pacing Championship: Sweet Lou 4-5, Captaintreacherous 7-2, Thinking Out Loud 6-1.
$352,050 Merrie Annabelle: Mission Brief 4-5, Lock Down Lindy 3-1, Gatka Hanover 5-1.
$355,500 Peter Haughton Memorial: Guess Whos Back 2-1, Canepa Hanover 5-2, Centurion ATM 3-1.
$50,000 Townsend Ackerman: Amped Up Hanover 8-5, Southwind Poseidon 7-2, Marathon Man 9-2.
$50,000 Townsend Ackerman: Outburst 3-1, Sumatra 7-2, Hillustrious 9-2.
$75,000 Vincennes: Master Of Law 3-1, Southwind Pepino 7-2, D’Orsay 9-2.
$300,650 John Cashman Jr. Memorial: Sebastian K 3-5, Archangel 4-1, Market Share 9-2.
$500,000 Hambletonian Oaks: Designed To Be 2-1, Shake It Cerry 5-2, Heaven’s Door 9-2.
$1 million Hambletonian: Father Patrick 4-5, Trixton 7-2, Nuncio 9-2.
$177,750 Lady Liberty: Rocklamation 5-2, Drop The Ball 3-1, Somwherovrarainbow 7-2.