by Bob Heyden
Scott Zeron is the eighth driver to win the Meadowlands Hambletonian, but finish last the following year. International Moni was impeded and broke stride.
• 2010 — Brian Sears with Holiday Road
• 2008 — Ron Pierce with Pine After Pine
• 2007 — John Campbell with Flirtin Man
• 2000 — Mike Lachance with Berndt Hanover
• 1996 — Campbell with Act Of Grace
• 1995 — Lachance with King Pine
• 1993 and 1994 — Mickey McNichol with Dylan Lobell and Gum Ball, respectively.
All eight horses broke stride.
This year marked the 35th straight time the Hambletonian was contested for $1 million.
It was the fourth straight time the same driver/trainer won a race valued at $500,000 or more — Yannick Gingras and Jimmy Takter in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks.
It was the fifth time a Swedish horseman has won the Hambletonian: Per Eriksson (3), Jan Johnson (1) Jimmy Takter (4) Stefan Melander (1) and Ake Svanstedt (1).
The 1:48.4 track record tied by Blazin Britches for the 3 YOFP puts her in a three-way tie.
There were 30 sons/daughters of Muscle Hill on the card, the most of any one trotting sire for a single Hambletonian Day Card.
Perfect, you say?
Perfect Spirit is the third Hambletonian participant to have “Perfect” in his name, but the first to win it.
In 1985, Nearly Perfect was ninth and in 1965, Perfect Freight was 11th, ninth and sixth in his heats.
Muscle Hill’s Hat Trick
Three offspring of Muscle Hill were entered in the John Cashman and they finished one-two-three: Resolve-Marion Marauder and Looknlikechipndale.
The top two finishers by the way were the only two to win a million-dollar race (U.S. funds) in 2016.
Eight of 12 in the Cane Pace were sons of Somebeachsomewhere, and he finished 1-2-3-4-7-9-11-12! (Huntsville-RJP-Downbytheseaside and Filibuster Hanover were 1-2-3-4).
Beach also did well in the Sam McKee Memorial, as his only entrant, 38-1 Check Six, scored the upset.
Beach continued on in the Golden Girls, with just two representatives — his daughter Pure Country held on (Call Me Queen Be was the other) to give him a stakes trifecta for the day. (Idyllic Beach was second in the Shady Daisy).
He had 13 on the card altogether and was 3-2-1.
Ladies Day — again and again
In 21 of the last 23 Hambletonians, a female caretaker has had the winner. This year, it was Janika Haggman
Pure Country held on to win the $200,400 Golden Girls, with Mark Macdonald driving for Jimmy Takter. The two-time defending divisional winner is trying to do what Peace Corps did on the trotting side-be THE GAL all three years-Unprecedented in the Pacing World.
155 horses competed on Hambletonian Day — 108 were trotters. Sixty-three of those 155 horses were trained by someone born outside of the USA.
The card had $3.8 million plus in purses and favorites were seven-for-16 on the card.
Devious Man’s 2.40-1 price in the Hambletonian final as the favorite made his the highest-priced Hambletonian favorite ever at the Meadowlands. Prior, twice a fave had been 2.20-1 (Armbro Keepsake in 1992 (fourth) and 2.20-1 (Tom Ridge in 2004 (eighth)).
How Swede it is, again
Of the last 20 checks handed out in the Hambletonian, 12 — or 60 per cent — have gone to a Swedish trainer. There were three this year as Svanstedt (1st) Marcus Melander (3rd) and Takter (5th) got money. In 2016, Takter was fourth with Bar Hopping, the favorite, and in 2015 Jimmy himself got three checks.
In 2014, the same. In 2013, it was Jim Oscarsson and Takter.
This year marks 10 straight years a Swedish trainer has gotten at least one check in the Hambletonian.
The two ladies who paid the least won by the most — they had the biggest winning margin on the day — the same 4 and 3/4 lengths. Blazin Britches in the Shady Daisy and Ariana G in the Oaks.
For the first time in 15 years, the oldest driver in the Hambletonian won it — 58-year-old Ake Svanstedt. Mike Lachance was 52 with Amigo Hall in 2003 when he took it.
Not quite Ladies Day
Even though Julie Miller was the first female trainer to be second in a Hambletonian final, for the day, the lady conditioners fell a buck shy: 21 starts and a record of 0-4-1
Pinkman and Perfect Spirit
The two trotters are the only two to start from post 10 in the Hambletonian eliminations at the Meadowlands and still win the Hambletonian final.
Had the original Hambletonian finish stood…
It would have paired the richest active driver, David Miller, with the richest all-time trainer, Ron Burke, in the winner’s circle for, fittingly, the richest race of the year.