The emotional toll of Hambletonian 92

Crushing disappointment and emotional tweets were all part of the aftermath of this year’s messy Hambletonian.

by Dave Briggs

David Miller said he can finally talk about the Hambletonian, but it’s not making the result any easier to accept.

The Hall of Fame driver was first across the wire in last Saturday’s $1 million Hambletonian final with What The Hill, but judges placed him ninth for interference in the stretch. Miller has never won the Hambletonian.

“It’s getting easier to talk about, but no, my feelings are very strong that I got robbed,” Miller said Thursday. “I’m going to feel that way probably forever.”

What The Hill’s trainer, Ron Burke, has appealed the judges’ ruling, but Miller said the chance of winning that appeal is slim.

He’s not the only one who felt he was robbed in this year’s Hambletonian.

Scott Zeron, driver of International Moni that made a break in the first turn said after being sent off as the bettor’s second choice, said, “I might have to go to counseling. It was devastating, just because I’ve driven that horse perfect all year and everything was leading up to that moment. To have it slip away because of something that was so avoidable, it’s very hard to get over.

“I’ll have other opportunities, I think, but that specific horse had one chance and everything was pointing to that race perfectly. Even that trip was going to work out perfectly, so it’s very hard. I haven’t watched the replay.”

Zeron said Yannick Gingras, driving Victor Gio It, interfered with International Moni in the first turn.

“I didn’t put an objection in because it felt like my life came to an end the second that happened and I wasn’t thinking about any repercussions at that point,” Zeron said. “When that happened, I just wanted to go home.”

Jason Bartlett, who drove Guardian Angel As, the horse that What The Hill interfered with in the stretch, was slightly more zen about the whole experience.

“At the end of the day, you’re not going to change it. Life goes on and my life went on that night,” Bartlett said. “I was very upset after because that was my first Hambletonian and that’s the experience I got. I’m sure David (Miller) is living the nightmare. Some people it worked out for and some people it didn’t. That’s horse racing.”

Emotions were running particularly high for Lindy Farms’ Frank M. Antonacci. Lindy is the co-owner and co-breeder of International Moni.

Not long after the race, Lindy Farms posted a tweet blaming Gingras for causing International Moni’s break.

Gingras has declined to comment, but five days later, Antonacci addressed the tweet.

“It was emotional, it was in the heat of the moment and it’s the biggest race on the biggest stage that we have,” Antonacci said. “Do I feel that we were wronged? Yes. If people aren’t going to have an emotional response to something like this in this business, then this whole business and sport is in trouble, anyway. If this doesn’t invoke some visceral, emotional response than, first of all, you need to check your pulse and you need to get out of the game.

“Whether you like what I said or not, it’s how I felt at the time. At the end of the day, this is supposed to be a sport. You aren’t supposed to want to get beat. I don’t get it. This is the one sport where we are all supposed to be thrilled when you get beat like that?

“People have been calling me a sore loser or a brat on social media, but to have that opportunity and to have your horse wiped out, through no doing of his own, it’s just hugely disappointing.”

In the end, while still deeply disappointed and frustrated, Antonacci was able to put the Hambletonian into the bigger picture.

“I am in Jackson, Wyoming for my brother’s wedding so that puts everything in perspective,” he said. “We’re all blessed and there are many things outside of harness racing that are very good. Things are back in perspective. Obviously, it’s still upsetting, but it’s in perspective.”