Ten finalists revealed in Hambletonian questions contest

Revealing 10 finalists in best Hambletonian questions contest

July 28, 2018

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The three prize winners — including the grand prize winner of dinner for two with Hall of Famers Ron Gurfein and Mike Lachance at Il Villaggio — will be revealed tonight at the beginning of the Meadowlands’ simulcast show.

by Ron Gurfein

Tidbits: Your response to the Hambletonian Contest was amazing. Thanks to all of you that participated. I will answer all the questions that weren’t related to the big dance later in the year. The questions that made the top 10 are answered below and be sure if you are a finalist to watch the beginning of the Meadowlands’ simulcast show tonight where we will draw the three winners.

To the grand prize winner, please note that due to the recent death of Mike Lachance’s nephew, Mario Lachance, Mike will be unavailable after this year’s Hambletonian for dinner for two at Il Villaggio. Instead, we will work with the prize winner to find a replacement date in the near future for the dinner with the two of us. We appreciate your understanding in light of the tragedy.

The $500 Meadowlands betting voucher portion of the grand prize — as well as the second- and third-place prizes of $250 and $100 betting vouchers, respectively — come courtesy of The Meadowlands with our thanks.

All three prize winners can contact me via email (gurftrot@aol.com) to find out how to claim their vouchers.

If you love trotting fillies as I do, don’t miss the eliminations to the Hambletonian Oaks tonight at the Meadowlands. You will see Manchego, Phaetosive and the fastest 3-year-old trotter of all time, Plunge Blue Chip. It will be great racing.

Tuesday at 1 p.m. in Harrisburg, PA the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission will hear a discussion on the disappearing positives from Harrah’s Philadelphia. Hopefully it will provide some interesting news.

Please take note that my answers to the contest questions are short and to the point. Unfortunately due to there being 10 questions I couldn’t be my normal wordy self.


Bill Bohnenberger asks: Can you explain the history of the Hambletonian? Why is it the premiere trotting event today?

The Hambletonian was named for Hambletonian 10 the father of the American Trotter. It is one of the jewels in the Triple Crown for 3-year-old trotters. It was first raced at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, NY in 1926. The next year, when the Syracuse meet was cancelled due to rain, the Hambletonian was temporarily moved to Lexington, KY. In 1930, the Hambletonian moved to Goodtime Park in Goshen NY where it remained for a quarter century. Then it was on to the DuQuoin State Fair for the next 25 years and in 1981 it finally settled at the Meadowlands where it is today and hopefully will remain forever.

It started as a premier event and as the purses increased and the stallion value of the winners became so outrageous the importance of the race grew to an amazing level.

Simply put, it is the dream of every trainer, driver and owner.

Carl Coppola asks: Of your three Hambletonian wins which was the most rewarding and why?

Continentalvictory was the most rewarding by process of elimination. Victory Dream and Self Possessed were both odds on and I thought that it would take a strange occurrence for either to lose. The filly on the other hand was racing against the boys and was not even the favorite. Mike Lachance, whose opinion I truly respect, thought Lindy Lane was the better horse. I also had Mr Vic in the race and thought he was actually the faster of the two. He got hurt warming up and I had to scratch him. The filly beat the boys in what to me was the best Hambletonian in Meadowlands history.

John Butenschoen asks: What effect on the Hambletonian did the move from the DuQuoin to the Meadowlands have? List the pros and cons to this decision. Did it lead to the downfall of the Midwest swing of the Grand Circuit?

You of all people know how much I loved racing in southern Illinois, but in my heart there was no downside and tons of upside to the move. The purse went from $200,000 to $1 million, we attracted national television, the huge New York media was all over the race. I remember John Campbell and I were on The Today Show in the early 1990s. Illinois added the World Trotting Derby that comfortably took the place of the Hambletonian and attracted all the same horses. The over concentration of indigenous racing and the lack of casino money was the downfall of Illinois harness racing not the loss of one race.

Irving Bluestein asks: Since its inception, when there was heat racing, of all the mares that raced in the Hambletonian, What mares won a heat but didn’t win the race off?

There were only four that fit the category. In modern times, Mission Brief and Pampered Princess and awhile ago Princess Peg and Larkspur.

Les Stark asks: The 1989 Hambletonian was arguably the most exciting ever, with a dead heat in the raceoff. Do you believe the ruling of Park Avenue Joe the winner over Probe was the right decision?

I do not, but they were between a rock and a hard place. To me, a raceoff is just that and it determines the winner. They did determine that they both were winners, eventually, but split the money on summary, which to me was an arbitrary call and not a good one. I question your opinion that it was the most exciting Hambletonian. LOL.

James Adriance asks: What is the maximum number of trotters in a Hambletonian field?

The more the merrier. There is no limit to the amount of entries that you can have. The only rules there are on entries are that if there are more that 13 entered they will go heats split at 14 i.e.: seven and seven. Otherwise, if there are 30 entered, three divisions of 10, top three in each plus the fourth place finisher with the highest lifetime earnings have a raceoff, the winner is the champion.

Art Zubrod asks: Do you favor open draw for the final or earn your post?

Personally I hate stakes with eliminations that don’t provide for earning your post. For sure it makes the elimination boring, especially in heat racing. No one would be looking to extend their horse knowing they are racing again in an hour. I don’t even like the new format in racing where if you win you choose your post. With the exception of tracks that have tried to balance the scales of position like Pocono and Harrah’s Philly with the slanted gates in elimination races you should start where you finish. The only draw should be between the first-place finishers and then the second place finishers etc. That’s how it should stay in the Hambletonian where you finish is where you start in the second heat so if there is only one division there is no draw before the second heat. To me to win the first heat and draw 10 in the final would be worse than stupid.

Kathy LaMontagne asks: What is the greatest Hambletonian you have ever seen?

The answer is the same as a similar question, but I included it because it belongs in the final and it was an obvious question that was asked by 10 entrants you happen to have been the first. I am not alone in this, many agree that the Continentalvictory, Lindy Lane battle from the head of the stretch to the wire provided as much or more excitement than any other Hambletonian. Plus it being a filly only makes the event more thrilling.

Mike Steel asks: How do you think Hannelore Hanover and Ariana G would have done in the open Hambletonian in their 3-year-old years?

It’s hard to speculate what would have been. The two winners were Pinkman and Perfect Spirit and if they raced tomorrow would be crushed by the fillies. But going back is not so easy to assess.

I would say that Ariana G would have won, but it’s hard to be definitive as she lost to the boys in the Zweig. As for Hannelore, she was an awesome 3-year-old and destroyed the competition in Indiana all year. Could she have won? Absolutely, but to say for sure would be foolish.

Albert Fiorita asks: Can I get an opinion on last year’s Hambletonian final? As a horse owner myself I find it fascinating that nothing happened to Victor Gio for interfering with International Moni in the first turn and What the Hill was disqualified.

The answer is extremely simple. I watched the replay 20 times and came to this conclusion. The infraction in the first turn was not really visible to the camera. All though it looked close, there was no closeup evidence that was necessary for a disqualification. On the other hand, the infraction of What the Hill was blatant. Watching live, I said, “Miller is coming down” that’s how obvious it was to me. Go back and watch the race again. You will see that it was an impossible call in the first turn, although we all know now that Yannick Gingras hit International Moni. It is not a perfect world and these mistakes are part of the game and are basically unavoidable. It’s too bad that it had to take place in a race for $1 million.

Thanks again to my readers for all the kind words. Please keep the questions coming. If for some reason the contest winner cannot make the dinner please tell me via email right away. Next week I will handicap the 2018 Hambletonian and the following week I will tell you how the dinner with the winner and Michel Lachance went. Have a wonderful week.

Have a question for The Guru? Email him at GurfTrot@aol.com.

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