The first Saturday in August every year on the harness racing calendar is reserved for the $1 million Hambletonian, which gathers the sport’s top three-year-old trotters to race for a spot in the final on the same day. While harness racing’s biggest stars will be competing on the undercard of the Meadowlands program Saturday, Aug. 5, the keynote event and what the festivities build towards is the Hambletonian.
Heading into the classic, it appeared that Walner was both a clear favorite for the Hambletonian and incredibly likely to win the whole affair. However, about a week ago, news broke that a minor injury would sideline him, which is undoubtedly the reason there are now two eliminations for the big dance, as the million-dollar prize is perceived to be up for grabs.
If Walner was moving towards the Hambletonian as he was prior to his injury, it was likely that the event would go as a single dash. But with the division’s top trotter out of the mix, 19 sophomore trotters had their names dropped into the entry box for two eliminations that will determine the finalists for the $1,000,000 final later that day.
But whom among those 19 in a now wide-open affair stand out? I mean, I have a slight idea, so here are some colts (and maybe some geldings) to watch out for in the Hambletonian.
By French sire Love You out of Moni Maker, known for the sheer amounts of millions she earned as a top trotter in the ‘90s, International Moni is the last in the Moni Maker bloodline (Moni Maker passed away in 2014).
He is undefeated in three starts this season, winning his elimination and the $183,230 final of the Goodtime at Mohawk Racetrack and a conditioned event at the Meadowlands. Driver Scott Zeron has said that he doesn’t feel like he’s asked for his all just yet, so maybe we’ll finally see what that amounts to on Hambletonian Day.
Atop our list of Hambo prospects, Long Tom would be undefeated for the season if we don’t include his second-place effort in the $500,000 Earl Beal Jr. Memorial, but that’s just semantics, really. Cruising in every mile he’s gone on the mile track, he’s another trotter that doesn’t appear to have raced to his potential, and his frontrunning style should put him into contention both in the elimination and the Hambletonian final.
Victor Gio It
Sired by the top trotter in harness racing currently, this son of Ready Cash seems to have plenty of potential, but has yet to learn how to handle himself. He is more well-mannered as a three-year-old and is exiting a second-place effort behind Oho Diamond, who trotted a track record to win an overnight. Being one of a few, if not the only, son of Ready Cash racing in America makes him interesting enough to consider.
What The Hill
Rarely, if ever, do horses that won the Peter Haughton Memorial go on to win the Hambletonian, the reason being that it’s much harder to be the best three-year-old after being the most developed two-year-old by August. That’s a lot to ask from a baby; would you ask your two-year-old son to tend your yard if he doesn’t understand the concept of clothing by that point?
What The Hill, though, is the first on this list going in the second elimination for the Hambletonian. Preferably going on the front, he has shined when not up against better trotters such as Long Tom, but because he draws the rail here, he could be in a spot to strike, considering too that the pace is particularly fragile here. More likely than not, though, he’ll be chasing to hit the board.
I’d argue that he’s one of the strongest horses in the division, and here’s that argument:
He’s the only one this season to even somewhat challenge Walner and, though he conceded to finish second in that division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial, he still went a game mile by pushing first over and trying to pounce at the end.
But Walner is of another caliber.
Some are actually saying that he’s so much better than all these three-year-olds that he is skipping the Hambo because he doesn’t want to be caught dead with them.
Three-year-olds, am I right?
But Devious Man is a grinder; that’s what’s great about him. He’s able to go a first-over mile and still race well — he did it in the Empire Breeders Classic. Plus, he is able to position himself from an outside post, which is pivotal since he’s starting from post nine. The amount of leeway this horse has speaks for both his versatility and his talent, but mostly his talent.
He’s usually been chasing the top of the division as well, but he’s still finishing well regardless against them. With the right trip he’ll be a factor, but it seems like we’ve seen his best.
Off a decent mile last week, Jake is entering the Hambletonian improved from any form he has shown at either two or three. If he shows the speed he did last week from post nine, he’ll be involved, especially since stalking is his preferred method of attack.
Seven And Seven
Seven And Seven was flying home to finish third in the Goodtimes final, the fastest out of anybody. His lack of gate speed is a concern, as well as the Goodtimes being his last pari-mutuel mile to date, but the freshness could also play into his favor. He’s at least entering off a decent qualifier.
Sure, he breaks a lot, but that’s what hopples are for. Sure, he can still break with the hopples, but the hope is that he won’t. Keep in mind he won an elimination for the Breeders Crown last year, albeit off a great trip, but if he can work out a similar trip and stay flat, he could be a Hambletonian finalist, folks.
Shake It Off Lindy
Finally, the stablemate to International Moni comes into the Hambletonian known as the stablemate to International Moni. Shake It Off Lindy, though, has not had a ton of luck trip-wise to really give him a chance to perform, and maybe the Jersey heat and Murphy’s Book of Laws and Litigations can work in his favor. Who knows?
But he, at the very least, has shown the potential to race well, he just needs the opportunity to race well.
You can catch the 92nd running of the Hambletonian along with the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks on CBS Sports Network at 4 p.m. Eastern.
Click HERE to see the current odds.