by Brett Sturman
With four of the 16 horses entered in this year’s Hambletonian, to say that trainer Marcus Melander is well-positioned to win the trotting classic would be an understatement.
One of the horses that Melander sends out is Gimpanzee – the reigning divisional champion, last year’s Breeders Crown winner and a horse to that this day remains unbeaten in his career. And he won’t even be the favorite.
That distinction will go to barn mate, Greenshoe. A somewhat mercurial type of horse at age 2, Greenshoe has looked unstoppable this year as a sophomore and will open as the 4-5 morning line favorite in his elimination. Greenshoe raced most recently three weeks ago in a division of the Stanley Dancer in which he rolled to what might have been the easiest looking 1:50 trotting mile in history.
Likely in part because of some common ownership in addition to both horses being from the same stable, the Hambletonian will be the first time that Gimpanzee and Greenshoe will meet (provided that they both finish in the top 5 from their respective eliminations). According to trainer Melander, the decision to race them separately wasn’t to protect one from having to race against the other, but rather to plot out the best course of action specific to each horse.
“It started out like that (running in different races), but then me and Brian (Sears) and the owners decided that we’d keep Gimpanzee in New York and race him there,” Melander said. “We’ve been very happy with how we’ve matched the horses and raced them in the races that we did, so I’m super happy with they have both raced so far.”
For his part, Gimpanzee has made easy work in three starts in New York banking $161,688 this year. Greenshoe has amassed $326,500 this year in five starts and it would have been close to a half million if not for coming up a nose short in the Beal.
Presuming that both horses make the Hambletonian final barring a break or something completely unforeseen occurring, the question becomes, if despite all his accolades, can Gimpanzee go with Greenshoe? In talking with Melander about it, there’s little doubt as to he thinks the speedier horse is but that doesn’t mean who wins the Hambletonian is a foregone conclusion.
“You never know in a second heat how each horse will take to that,” said Melander. “If they were meeting in an elimination I don’t know if Gimpanzee has the speed to do it because I don’t think really that anyone has the kind of speed that Greenshoe has, but he has the capacity to compete in a second heat. But Gimpanzee’s a fast horse too, a really nice horse. People seem to think he doesn’t have that kind of speed, but he hasn’t really been on the mile track and hasn’t had to go faster than 1:52, yet.”
In addition to partial common ownership and coming from the same stable, Greenshoe and Gimpanzee also share the same regular driver in Brian Sears. At this point Sears doesn’t have to make a decision with the horses drawing into separate eliminations, but is there any way that Sears would opt off Greenshoe come time of the final? Melander said that it could be a tough call for Sears and that you never know. “It all depends on how they race (in the eliminations),” said Melander. “You don’t know if Greenshoe is on hist best day. I think he will be, but you never know. It’s horse racing after all and there’s so much that can happen. First of all, they both have to make the finals and if there’s nothing wrong with them I think there’s a good chance they’ll do that.”
If Gimpanzee is being overlooked due to Greenshoe, then another Melander trainee that’s being overlooked even further is Green Manalishi S. He’s last year’s Breeders Crown runner-up to Gimpanzee and is the second highest money earner in the field, trailing only that same rival. He has a good chance in the Hambletonian coming off a sharp score in the Geers.
“He’s never missed the board, that horse,” Melander said. “He’s another really nice horse and he’s needed those couple recent races to step up into form. He’s a big horse, long gaited and he needed his races and it feels like his last race really put him back in form and I think he’ll be 100 per cent for Saturday. He drew a tough post but he’s a strong horse and can do a little bit of work and can come from off the pace. I’m excited to see him race because he really stepped up in his last race.”
Melander also sends out Gerry, though by any reasonable measure that one seems to be a step or two behind the top ones.
While the road clearly goes through the Melander trainees, there’s a number of others who rate legitimate chances.
DON’T LET’EM shined on this day last year when he set a stakes and track record when winning the Peter Haughton in front end fashion in 1:51:4. Perhaps more importantly, he comes off an amazing 1:50:2 win here just last week and it came when starting from post 10 no less. At his very best I’m convinced he can give anyone in here – including Greenshoe – a run for their money.
MARSEILLE continues to get faster every race and I don’t see any reason why he won’t be going to the front once again. I hear people say that he keeps “stealing” races, but he’s now beaten two of the best 3-year-olds and he’s deserving of respect at this point.
PILOT DISCRETION and FORBIDDEN TRADE both sport similar resumes and ran 1-2 with each other in the Goodtimes at Woodbine back in June. I actually thought Forbidden Trade would have won that race if he’d gotten out a bit sooner and is a 3 for 3 since that race.
SWANDRE THE GIANT turned a massive corner when he powered first-over against Green Manalishi S to win in 1:51:3 two back, but then was overrun last out by Don’t Let’em after being hard used to the front. He’s looked much better of late and I’m sure Burke will have him primed; needs his very best.
SOUL STRONG isn’t generally accustomed to this level of competition, but he did almost get to Marseille last out and has now closed in :26 and change in two straight.
Don’t Let’em – Greenshoe — Swandre The Giant