By John Furgele
On a day where front end speed wasn’t holding up, Captain Corey bucked the trend and dominated the field in the $1 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands.
Driven and trained by Ake Svanstedt, the son of Googoo Gaagaa ripped through the fastest ever opening quarter in 26 seconds flat and in the stretch pulled away from Spy Booth to win by almost two lengths on Saturday. Another Svanstedt-trained colt, Ambassador Hanover, charged up to get third.
It’s the second Hambo win for Svanstedt, who, since coming to the United States six years ago from Sweden has over $30 million in earnings. He won in 2019 with Perfect Spirit, but that was because What The Hill was disqualified for interference. This year, there was no doubt and no controversy.
On Saturday, the good horse became a great one, cementing his legacy with a win in trotting’s biggest race, covering the mile in 1:51.0.
Bella Bellini takes $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks
In the 96th Hambletonian Oaks, Bella Bellini rallied from fifth at three-quarters, surging to an impressive victory.
The daughter of Bell Hopping used a 26.3 final quarter (with help from a tailwind) to beat Iteration and Contested Hanover in 1:52.1.
Trainer Nifty Norman won the Oaks for the third time while driver Dexter Dunn experienced his first win in the big trot for fillies. In the previous six Oaks, driver Yannick Gingras had won five of them.
Props must be given to management at the Meadowlands. In previous years, the Oaks and Hambletonian were raced and then there were four or five more races afterwards. This year, the races were the 14th and 15th on the 16-race card and that obviously kept the fans at the track and that showed in handle numbers. Overall handle for the day exceeded $6.4 million with more than $866,000 wagered on the Hambo and another $486,000 on the Oaks.
There were eight other stakes races and the two old mares once again showed how much they love Hambletonian Day. 2018 Hambletonian champ Atlanta took command of the $187,400 John Steele Memorial to win in 1:50.4 while her nemesis and 2018 Hambletonian Oaks champ Manchego prevailed in the $287,750 Cashman Memorial Trot, beating the boys in 1:50.3. The two 6-year olds continue to be relentless and both owners stated that they are looking forward to facing each other later this year.
-Rockyroad Hanover took the second leg of the Pacing Triple Crown when he held off Perfect Sting in the $276,150 Cane Pace in 1:48.1.
-Lyons Sentinel, who was our Horse of the Week last month after she won the Spirit of Massachusetts Trot at Plainridge Park scored again with a nice win in the $191,050 Lady Liberty Pace for trainer Jim King, proving that she is the best open mare pacer right now.
-It’s premature, but Venerable stamped herself as the very early favorite for the 2022 Hambletonian Oaks by winning the $326,850 Jim Doherty for 2-year old filly trotters for trainer Nifty Norman, who no doubt is already thinking about a fourth Oaks victory.
The same can be said for King Of The North who rallied from seventh and powered his way down the center of the track to take the $293,450 Peter Haughton for 2-year old trotters. If both 2-year olds stay healthy and in good stead, we’ll likely see them next August on Hambo Day.
-There were two divisions of the Sam McKee pace. In the first, Nicholas Beach did what he wanted; he got to the lead and dictated the pace. But, in the end, he was nudged at the wire by Catch The Fire in a sizzling 1:47.2 in the $157,100 race.
The second division shows just how competitive (and yes, a little crazy) the older pacer division is. This Is The Plan, who set a world record of 1:47.3 on a half-mile track at Northfield Park and then won the Gerrity (Saratoga) two weeks ago could only finish third behind Allywag Hanover, who covered the mile in 1:48.0. Western Joe, who looked totally outclassed in the Gerrity, surged from seventh to second in the $158,500 race. With this group, it truly is a week-to-week thing.
The 2020-2021 Meadowlands meet has ended. Dexter Dunn and Ron Burke won the driver and training titles and when racing returns on Labor Day weekend, it will be quite the fall at the Big M. The track will host the two-day Breeders Crown on Oct. 29 and 30 and in November, the TVG Free-For-All finals.
There are two big ones this weekend. The $300,000 Dan Patch for pacers 3 and up takes place Friday at Hoosier Park in Indiana and the $300,000 Carl Milstein Memorial for 3-year-old pacers is slated for Saturday night at Ohio’s Northfield Park.
Captain Corey. He won the big one, the Hambletonian. He was the favorite, he took it to the others and when it all ended, he was the one feted by hundreds in a crowded winner’s circle. Even more impressive was how the colt handled the adoration. He seemed to enjoy it and he looked like he knew he did something special, which, of course, he did.
As a kid growing up in the Buffalo suburbs in the 1970s and 80s, the radio was one of John Furgele’s best friends. In the evenings, he used to listen to a show on WBEN radio called “Free Form Sports,” hosted by Buffalo broadcast legend Stan Barron. The show ran weeknights from 6 to 11 pm and featured every kind of sport you could imagine. One minute, Mr. Barron was interviewing a Buffalo Sabres player; the next, he was giving high school field hockey scores.
But there was always one thing that caught John’s ear. During those five hours, Barron would give the results from Western New York’s two harness racing tracks — Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs. This is where John learned what exactas, quinellas, trifectas and daily doubles were all about. From then on, he always paid attention to harness racing, and when Niatross (a legendary Western New York horse) hit the scene in 1979, his interest began to blossom.
John believes harness racing is a sport that has the potential to grow and he will explore ways to get that done via marketing, promotion and, above all, the races themselves.
When he’s not watching races, John is busy with his family and his job in sales. Like the pacers and trotters, he does a little running himself and you’ll occasionally find him “going to post” in a local 5K race.