Sunday, August 3, 2014

The case of the missing colt

Hambletonian 2014

On the left you see a photo of soph-colt trotter Father Patrick, driven by Yannick Gingras and trained by Jimmy Takter. It is a photo of the 2014 Hambletonian favorite when he was a two-year-old, winning a race at Mohawk from post 10.

On Saturday, Aug. 2, the sophomore Father Patrick was assigned post 10 in the 2014 Hambletonian at the Meadowlands. The post meant nothing to bettors; they made him 2-5 and were poised to collect their money when the best of the three Jimmy Takter-trained colts in the $1-million-plus race lined up with his foes behind the starting gate before more than 20,000 fans and industry members and a television audience over CBS Sports Network.

In the scant moments it took for the wings of the starting gate to open, Father Patrick resorted to galloping, surrendering his unique gait in a shocking display of movement that no one had ever seen him make. For Father Patrick and his many supporters, the race that was supposed to be his to make history, was history for him the moment he galloped.

10x   11/57 3/4   11/63 1/2   11/63 1/2   11/65   11/70 Those are the past-performance lines for Father Patrick's Hambletonian effort.

Trainer Jimmy Takter never saw exactly what the audience saw when the starting gate swung open because he was driving another colt he trained, Trixton. "I was waiting for 'Patrick' to come," Takter said about the stretch drive after the race. "I had no clue. I didn't see him so I knew something must have happened to him."

John Campbell, no stranger to the race as a winning and losing driver over the years, took charge of the race early with the third Takter-trained colt in the field, Nuncio. Trixton and Takter chased Nuncio. Trixton and Takter won; Nuncio and Campbell were second. The Takter-trained exacta pair was so fast that the rest of the field was far behind them.

Takter told press-box members later he was elated to come in first and second in the classic race and happy to be the winning driver but that he was convinced it would have been different if Father Patrick trotted in the race.

"If Father Patrick stayed flat," Takter said, he would've wound up behind me [and Trixton] and come up in that position and he would've blown by both of us in the stretch."

Trixton and Nuncio had a good deal of supporters in the win pool; both went off at variables of 4-1. The non-Father-Patrick-involved exacta paid only $39.60.

For the best part of the season so far, Trixton was winning powerfully but could not beat his stable mate Father Patrick. Trixton was clearly the second-best in the division. And, as he trotted into history as the 89th Hambletonian winner, everyone knew the second-best trotter was the real horse that caught a break.

Many of us longed for the emotional punch we felt when we saw other special horses come rolling down the stretch, grabbing the ground and gliding to victory, almost laughing at foes. It is a special feeling we are only exposed to when a special horse comes along. It allows us to witness a certain greatness which we long to adore. We were robbed of that rare moment at a crucial time in the sport's history.

It was certainly not the first time and won't be the last time that a revered horse lost a big event. But to many of us following the impressive steps that Father Patrick has taken to victory at two and at three, this is the one to grieve over because he didn't win or lose--he just ran off. That left so many of us feeling the same as Takter: Father Patrick would have won the Hambletonian. He will win again, for sure, but the greatest moment of his career, no matter where he marks victories again, is lost because Father Patrick just ran off.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hambletonian and ‘Oaks’ single contests with heavy favorites

After returning to the elim-heat format, where colts race more than once on the first Saturday in August to earn a berth in the Hambletonian final, the main event is forced into a single heat with only 11 colts dropping into the box. This is not much of a surprise, considering the presence of Jimmy Takter’s dominating colt, Father Patrick. As well, Takter’s Trixton and Nuncio are on board. That may be a triptych into history for team Takter. It is certainly enough horse power to have made the decisions of many colts’ connections to stay out of the race.

Some of the colts that have decided to show up for the $1,006,125 race are surprise entries considering their histories this season. This could make for fascinating results in the exotics, even with the mighty Takter trio.

The Hambletonian Oaks will go as a single mile as usual, though the soph-filly division has also been dominated by a Tatker terror—Shake It Cerry.

Below is a horse-by-horse analysis and suggested wagering elements for the events.

(In post position order)

One of the surprises, this son of Muscle Hill has done well in seven starts as a soph and came close to Nuncio recently but has only a wild chance of finding the circumstances to win.

JJ Alex
It must be a thrill for his connections to be a part of this field and that is where the thrills will end, for he has only won his maiden at two and been cashing a few place and show checks racing agains far less competition. He is another of the surprise participants.

Having the season of a lifetime, Ake Svanstedt found a way to be a part of the main event by using this lightly raced son of Donato Hanover as his ticket. The colt has only raced once as a sophomore and perhaps has no idea of the strength outside of him, no less that he is a character in an historic event. He is the third surprise entry.

This guy has been competitive, cashed checks and shown a lot of spunk against the division’s top tier but he has never truly threatened Takter’s best. He has chased Nuncio and Father Patrick to the wire, picking up seconds but never showing the ability to thwart their power.

When Father Patrick isn’t in the mix, Nuncio commands the field. We found this guy before Takter had him, when he surprised everyone trotting second to Father Patrick in the Breeders Crown elim (a great exacta) and final (an okay exacta). He may only inherit a win, based on dire, unforeseen trouble besetting “Patrick.”

Royal Ice
Trond Smedshammer brings to the cast a colt hardly noticed along the Hambletonian Trail, having broken his maiden this season and doing little else. Hardly raced at two, he is the biggest surprise to show up.

His only chance to beat his training partner Patrick was a third with trainer Takter driving, as Jimmy is scheduled to do in this mile. Regardless of any changes from that race to this, Jimmy needs to somehow out-gun his best, who we are coming to shortly. Certainly he can upset Patrick but again, extreme duress must fall upon his most dangerous foe.

Il Sogno Dream
He has come along nicely since we supported him at huge odds—we had him second at 18-1 to Trixton four back and he has improved since. Though he is not a terrific surprise to drop into the box, we thought he might pass to find an easier spot to win some money against glamour-boy trotters. Too bad there aren’t elim heats because he may do much better trying to get to the final than racing in it.

Harper Blue Chip
He went back to Canada to swipe the division from his Ontario group and did so easily because he was successfully active against the top tier here. We expected him in this group but don’t ponder a major threat without you-know-who getting into an unpredictable circumstance.

Father Patrick
Great horses overcome adversity. This is a great horse and he has already shown he can make up for inner-mile mayhem. Last year he had a strange shakeup in the stretch, losing enough ground to allow any horse to falter but he came back, made up the surrendered ground and won. At three he is untouchable. So what about the 10 hole is adverse? We don’t know and we cannot concoct a scenario where it makes so much of a difference that this monstrous trotter that continues to trounce his competition, loses this historic mile. Takter was visibly disappointed about getting post 10 but he handled it like a pro when interviewed. But in his heart of hearts he must know that what I and others are writing about this super colt is true, meaning Father Patrick has many more ways to win this regardless of where he leaves the gate.

Don Dorado
From tier two, this colt will have a built-in cover spot but the rail horse is not likely to leave quickly enough to make it worthy of the trip. This guy has a lot of potential and we thought he would be much better by now but he has not shown the super stuff necessary to make Father Patrick break a sweat. He may develop as the season ensues and certainly may mature enough to be a strong older trotter but it is highly unlikely we will be seeing him parade back to the winner's circle in this dance.

(In post position order)

Designed To Be
This the only filly to beat Shake It Cerry this season and she did it when “Cerry” had a tough, outside push early, still finishing second. After that, the public turned on Cerry, a bad move, and this daughter of Donato Hanover disappointed supporters making her the favorite twice because has not been able to shake Cerry down again. She will be bet hard, though, as one of the top choices.

Cee Bee Yes
Since winning at Yonkers she has not gone well enough on the mile oval to be taken seriously, going off at 40-1 in the Oaks prep, where we thought she could show some toughness. In the “Miller” she was also a pawn for Cerry.

Vanity Matters
She will have to look at the rest of the season to improve because she is out of her league here. Here trainer is great and always sends his stock out to compete but she will be lucky to get a check among the best in the division.

Harley Momma
She has had her problems and may be coming around to racing as well as she did before her injury but the Oaks is a long reach for a filly that has only won a single race after her maiden and did so against far less than these.

Take The Money
A promising contender that would have three-straight wins in top company coming into this race were it not for a bad break on the lead at Pocono two back. Trainer Julie Miller has every right to aim at Cerry here and with husband Andy on the mend and off the bike, using Dave Palone makes plenty of sense with this prospect.

Tweet Me
No wins against any in the division leave this gal out in the cold. She picks up some checks but is in no way a threat here.

Lifetime Pursuit
Stuck in the shadow of Cerry in the Takter barn, this filly has been somewhat disappointing and has not been able to keep up with the better in the crop.

Heaven’s Door
Another Ake student, this one shows talent but is unable to make a mark large enough to take her as seriously as others. In exotics she makes sense but under any other circumstances she must look to be an upset.

Cooler Schooner
Scratched sick last week, this filly was waiting for a good spot to really show her stuff but is she well enough to make noise in the big feature? As an exotic partner she may have merit but she isn’t looking like she can beat the best.

Nitro Nittany
She has a very good record but she has not shown the kind of talent that makes her any kind of contender here. As well, she has the far outside to contend with while handling the kind of class she doesn’t seem able to join.

Shake It Cerry
From the second tier, the best of the bunch may once again be the second choice and that could mean we get still another great price on her. She towers over all of these and whether she controls the fractions or slams on the accelerator she takes them all for loops every time. This may be a good spot for her to stalk Designed To Be when that one leaves until her marauder move or she may take over early on and ask them to catch her. Either way, she shines and should add this classic to her classy resume.

One more edition of the Hambletonian Trail blog will be published for 2014. TwinSpires and the Hambletonian Society will then start the Breeders Crown Countdown, featuring coverage of races with BC-eligible division members that warrant wagering consideration.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hambletonian Oaks sans elims, prep mile to final

The Hambletonian Oaks field is set and on July 26 at the Meadowlands a special prep event will be the last we will see of the field until Aug. 2 when the final is part of the stake-filled day’s program. As well, two colt divisions of the Arden Downs at the Meadows on July 26 have to be the deciding events for six eligibles’ connections whether or not to drop into the box for the main event.

The fillies go to the gate in the $35,000 prep and their prowess will be measured against the division’s best, Shake It Cerry. The grand filly is the Jimmy Takter heroine that may earn him both Hambo crowns. Though he also sends Lifetime Pursuit off in this affair, “Cerry” is the focus.

After her remarkable win at 7-2 last week when most bettors (not on our suggestion) let her go for the sake of Designed To Be (leaving from post 1 just in front of Cerry in this prep), it appears most people are convinced—as we continually remarked through the season thus far—that Cerry is the best.

We may be reiterating much of this prep analysis next week when it is time for the final but there is no way to wager against Cerry, who becomes a magnificent key for exotics only if we look deep into second-and-third candidates that will boost the price (hopefully a ton of bettors are not wheeling her).

Last week we liked Cooler Schooner to play the co-starring role but she broke early in the “Miller” and was eliminated. However, she went off at 13-1 and may go off longer in the prep. The other candidate is Cee Bee Yes. She has been highly under-rated while being competitive with the top tier of the division, so she should offer odds strong enough to help the exacta cause (she was 17-1 in the Miller, where she made two moves.

At the Meadows that afternoon, the first Arden Downs for the soph colts, worth $32,455, the eligible Sarcastic Man (one of three eligibles) leaves from the inside and is bound to offer a generous win price, much more than he should offer. On the outside, local hero Dave Palone will drive Stakes N Plates (eligible) and the crowd will swarm to support him. Sarcastic Man can be forgiven for his Reynolds loss (no colt was going to out-trot Nuncio) and his break in the PA All Stars, as well as his sires stakes loss in June at Pocono. He is a contender and the odds predicted make him the bet.

In round two, worth $32,855, Il Sogno Dream heads a trio of hopefuls, including Mister Bs Way and Amped Up Hanover. We were all over “Sogno” from his early soph campaign, capturing much of his six wins and four places for profit, including his second (19-1) to Trixton in the Goodtimes Final. He won’t offer much as a winner but as a key we still like him and we still think it possible he will go on Aug. 2. With him, take both of the other hopefuls, even though Mister Bs Way’s odds may suffer for having Palone along for the ride (still, he is 12-1 on the morning line). Amped Up Hanover has not logged into the win column much but is a tad better than the rest.

Keep watching the Hambletonian Trail blog for updates and races involving eligibles through July and for live coverage from TwinSpires on Hambletonian day. Read race results at the special section archived at the Hambletonian Society web site.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hopefuls contest in late-season preps

With two weeks until the Hambletonian and one week until the Hambletonian Oaks eliminations, the “Trail” has entered crunch time. Hopefuls will compete on Saturday, July 19 in the Reynolds Memorial at the Meadowlands and the Canadian Breeders Championships at Mohawk.

Since the Reynolds for the fillies only attracted four, it will be run as an exhibition race. The male equivalent saw 22 drop into the box, dividing into two divisions on the pari-mutual card.

Nuncio, entering off a runner-up finish to Father Patrick in the Stanley Dancer last week, highlights the opening split. While he is the fiercest competitor in this split, Southwind Poseidon has been improving with every outing. Coming in off of back-to-back victories, he may not be able to defeat Nuncio, but he’ll certainly be in the mix. Uva Hanover, one of the nine hopefuls in this event, could also get involved.

The other episode is a Hambo-hopeful free for all, with all 11 staked to the trotting classic. Other than the match-up of Trixton and Truxton, don’t discount Datsyuk from the second-tier. Trailing Mister B’s Way, who frequently shows speed, Datsyuk should get an easy trip and provide value.

Both genders of sophomore trotters will compete in finals for the Canadian Breeders Championship. The colt final features eligibles Entranced and Harper Blue Chip, with Harper Blue Chip looking near unbeatable off of a victory in the elimination.

Margie is the lone hopeful in the filly final. While she barely made the final, Flexible Woman could be a live long shot. She was victorious on this track against Grassroots competition a few weeks back and came into the eliminations off of an impressive fourth-place closing effort at Grand River. Being locked at the pylons in the elim and caught behind a fading leader, watch out for this filly as she seeks redemption at a price.

Keep watching the Hambletonian Trail blog for updates and races involving eligibles through July and for live coverage from TwinSpires on Hambletonian day. Read race results at the special section archived at the Hambletonian Society web site.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fillies still dreaming with sires stakes at Yonkers

Monday, July 14, at Yonkers Raceway, soph-filly trotters engage in more New York Sires Stakes divisions, which are lucrative affairs featuring some Hambo hopefuls.

It is still well before the time for connections to make a decision about their fillies in the Hambletonian Oaks (we are assuming no filly will enter the main event, though qualified to drop into the box) and the presence of such top performers as Shake It Cerry and Designed to Be may have scared away some probable entrees, but until time runs out, all things are possible.

The two NYSS divisions are worth six digits and the first ($111,500) offers five eligible gals. Market Rally will be a strongly wagered entry, with Glowngold the second choice but two other eligibles deserve attention. Lindys Crazy Doll is one for three, lightly raced and in a good launching spot with post 5. "Lindy"-breds are strong in these parts and trainer Tom Haughton will send this one out looking for the biggest part of the purse. Improvement topples the favorites and at a good price. Gammys Girl is the other hopeful.

The second NYSS split has only one eligible and that should be the only choice if you get a price you like. Beauty Of Gray has almost done it for us before, is competitive among her state-bred foes and with $113,500 on the line and still chances to dream of the "Oaks," this is the time for her to shine.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Top colt, filly contenders in major preps

The August-aimed colts and fillies are on board at the Meadowlands for the Stanley Dancer and Del Miller memorials, which may decide for each if they are going to the Hambletonian events. The two giant stakes are on the Meadowlands Pace program, July 12.

On July 11 at Mohawk, some filly and colt eligibles embark in Canadian Breeders Championships (CBC) elims. There is reason to look at these for betting purposes, with little hope that any of the nine hopefuls will return to America for the first weekend in August.

The $317,000 Stanley Dancer’s headline matter is the meeting of Father Patrick and Trixton, the two Jimmy Takter trotters that have been scourging the division this season. As well, Nuncio, on Takter’s watch this season, takes them both on in this mile.

Trixton rewarded those making him the highest priced yearling of 2012, coming from the Hambo-winner Muscle Hill, with a sophomore debut that stretched successfully into five-stright wins in six starts. Unlike Father Patrick, Trixton was lightly raced at two and is in full gear to join his sire in history.

Father Patrick’s sire, Cantab Hall, is a great sire but not a Hambo winner, and on paper, Father Patrick is immensely greater than Trixton. This is why he will be the top choice here (as well as because the crowd will not like the 12 post for Trixton) and Nuncio seems comfortable being the co-star of Takter’s giant trio.

There is no way for us to propose an upset but we can take Father Patrick as a key and eliminate the other two for a price. After all, we cannot dismiss the talents of the non-Taktarian [sic] foes included in the mix.

We suggest two other Muscle Hill products, Muscle Network and Martiniwithmuscle, to pump up an exacta and trifecta. The former is another Ake Svanstedt product. The crowd may not bet it solely on Ake’s involvement and allow for a price. The colt is improving and if he does so at a Svanstedtian [sic] rate, he will be trouble for the obvious Father Patrick foes. When “Martini” doesn’t skip gait he is a whirl of trot. Don Dorado’s price would dictate if he is added to the duo mentioned. With a key as strong as “Pat,” it may be worthy a few combos with the longer shots.

In the $213,500 Del Miller Memorial, the Takter topper is Shake It Cerry. She is a daughter of Hambo-winner Donato Hanover and aside from one defeat from Designed To Be this season due to a tough first half outside, she is one of the best soph-filly trotters to come along in a while. Another Svanstedt student, Heaven’s Door, has done well for him and us betting him and should be included in exotics if “Cerry” be your key. Cooler Schooler is a fine exotic companion, too, as trainer Jim Campbell always sends his stock out fit and fighting (bother John is scheduled to help by driving).

The night before those big miles, Mohawk has three splits for fillies and two for colts in CBC elims. Bettors best go with those still eligible for August antics (but likely not to drop in the box).

For the fillies that means Miss Aultsville, Muscle Babe and Belgravia in the first elim; Wings Of Ballykeel in the second; and Miss Luv, Margie and I Jasmine in the third. Chances are the betting crowd may let any of these go off as bargains, so check the prices, making these your prime contenders.

For the colts, take Entranced in the first CBC split and Harper Blue Chip in the second. Harper Blue Chip could be the only hopeful to drop in the Hambo box, as he is an improving colt that has raced with far better and produced more than any of the colts he faces in this eveny.

Keep watching the Hambletonian Trail blog for updates and races involving eligibles through July and for live coverage from TwinSpires on Hambletonian day. Read race results at the special section archived at the Hambletonian Society web site.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

All Stars highlight prep week

While many hopefuls are sidelined for the Stanley Dancer Memorial next week, others will contest in three splits of the $90,000 Pennsylvania All-Stars (PAAS) at Pocono Downs on Saturday, July 5.

The opening split has a trio of eligibles in Paparazzi, Outburst and Jj Alex. While Outburst will take money due to competing against Father Patrick in the Earl Beal last week, Jett Star will likely be ignored. He too competed against Father Patrick but it was in splits of the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes (PASS). When competing against easier company, for example: non-winners of three, he raced competitively and won easily. With the right trip, he could out-trot this field at a price.

The middle division has a sextet of hopefuls with Sarcastic Man, Kapow Hanover, Amped Up Hanover, Stretch Cunningham, Truxton and Another Transcript. The first of the six, Sarcastic Man, was an early standout based on his performance in the Dexter Cup elimination, winning at 12-1 in 1:59.2. Since then, he’s had difficulty competing in the big leagues. He drew into a weaker division, which makes this week his best chance to rebound.

The closing episode features hopefuls Journey, Il Sogno Dream and Uva Hanover. The median of the trio enters off of back-to-back runner-up efforts in the Goodtimes; back class that will make him among the public’s top choices. To his flank is another dangerous rival, Dony Andreas. He’s an opportunist colt; he races his best from the pocket. He has the speed to get his perfect trip and is in against a company where he can surpass rivals through the passing lane.