Word Association is easy with a great event like the Hambletonian.
by Dean Towers
As harness fans we’re blessed with a lot of great events. But to me, Hambletonian Day encompasses just about everything the sport of harness racing is, and for that reason it tops my list. To illustrate why, I’ll go through the Hambletonian, “H” through “N”.
H is for Hambletonian 10, known as the father of the American trotter. In an age where important stakes races are sponsored by fast food brands or booze (no offense, thank you for the support), we’ve got the Hambletonian brought to you by Hambletonian. Perfect.
A is for Atmosphere. I love what the day says about the sport. For instance, look at the youth races where star drivers — who in a few hours will be racing for millions — are teaching youngsters how to drive a horse. You won’t find Tom Brady running a kid’s camp two hours before the Super Bowl, but football isn’t harness racing. The card is fantastic, the crowd is big, the food is good and it’s a great commercial for this sport.
M is for Matinee. Could you imagine the Hambletonian racing at night? Neither can I.
B is for Big Pools. Time and time again the Hambletonian is the biggest handle card of the year. Bettors can take a swing and make a big score.
L is for Lifetime Marks. If you like speed, you won’t be disappointed. One of the first Hambletonian cards I ever watched was a memorable one as Nihilator scorched the oval in 1:49.3. Similar has happened year after year in the 3-year-old and 4-year-old pacing stakes. And when we move to the square gaiters it’s been even more exciting. Will the Oaks and Hambletonian both go in sub-1:50? If the weather cooperates I don’t think it would shock any of us.
E is for Everyone. One of harness racing’s greatest attributes is its accessibility. On Hambletonian Day everyone is invited. If you’re a horse lover you’ll find yourself inches from them, if you’re a bettor you want to wager, if you’re a sports fan you can flip on CBS Sports Network and enjoy. And if you’re there for a good time with the kids, Hambletonian Day has your back.
T is for the Trotter. If you train them they’ll give you grey hairs; if you bet them they can cause you fits. But there’s nothing like watching a great, balanced, talented trotter trot. It’s their day.
O is for Organization. I marvel at the work people like Moira Fanning do each and every year. How does the Society and the leadership and staff at the Big M pull this off so perfectly? Congress should visit and do a case study.
N is for No Excuses. In 2009, the great Sam McKee bellowed “Operation Hambletonian complete” as Muscle Hill crossed the finish line. Since that time, winning the Hambletonian as a supreme goal has permeated the sports’ training elite. There are no excuses, and may the best horse and driver win.
I is for “there is no I in team”. A Hambletonian winner takes a team. From the breeder, to the trainer (and assistants), to the groom, driver, vet and owner; everyone plays a part. One of the most enjoyable parts of Hambletonian Day is watching the winners’ circle. Each and every smile played some role in making that moment happen.
A is for Atlanta. I remember this filly’s debut this year at the Meadowlands. I, as a bettor, was salivating to bet Trond Smedshammer’s very good open mare and discounted Atlanta’s chances. Boy did I regret it. She convincingly marked her sophomore arrival, and since then she’s been even better. She, in my view, makes this race even more special and I give thanks to the connections for trying her in the big dance.
N is for Next Year, because when the day ends that’s what we’re looking forward to.
When I sat down to write this column I thought to myself, “I wonder if I can find a word or phrase for each letter of Hambletonian”. It turns out it was one of the easiest columns I’ve ever written.
Enjoy Hambletonian Day. May you cash a big ticket or see your favorite horse well. If you’re racing, safe trips and good racing luck to all.