Thoughts as Hambletonian Day unfolded

Thoughts as Hambletonian Day unfolded

August 9, 2020

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by Ron Gurfein

Here’s my take on the good, bad and ugly as Hambletonian Day unfolded…

If you couldn’t make it to the track the Meadowlands provided us with numerous ways to view the entire card of racing that even included watching on their own website without paying for it. That was a smart step for Gural and company. It should be like that every day.

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Angers Bayama started off the day with a brilliant 1:48.3 effort to win his third race in a row for Crawford Farms, Tony Alagna and Andrew McCarthy. US Captain at 26-1, pulling the “White Knight for the first time, was second making it an Alagna exacta in race one.

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Kudos to race caller Ken Warkentin for bringing up the great losses to the racing community from the COVID-19 virus that devastated the Brennan and Fusco families.

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Alagna and McCarthy continued their roll with Reflect With Me steamrolling by stablemate Lady Lou in the Shady Daisy. The Brittany Farm and Brad Grant owned filly won her fourth in a row to remain undefeated in 2020. It was the second McCarthy/Sears exacta in a row.

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Very smart move by Ake Svanstedt in the third race, the Steele Memorial, to push Manchego to a :54 half with Plunge Blue Chip. Unfortunately, he could only garner second money, but he made the race for When Dovescry who marched by for David Miller and Brett Pelling.

Fabulous post-race interview with Gabe Prewitt and Brett who is never at a loss for intelligent conversation with a microphone in his hand.

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On the ugly side, Tim Tetrick gave a gift in the fourth race — the Continentalvictory named after one of the loves of my life — to Andrew McCarthy and Caviart Eva by a little over urging of Sweet Shirley Mae in the last sixteenth of the mile. She had a 21/2 length lead and looked to be a comfortable winner. It was the third win in the first four races for McCarthy. It was the first win of the afternoon for Nancy Takter.

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My take from the Jeff Gural interview: it’s good that the track is holding its own and betting is better than he expected. It’s bad that he is worried about the state renewal of the horse racing financial supplement and it’s ugly that it seems imminent Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs will close for the season on Labor Day.

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In an absolute romp, Darlene Hanover provided Andrew McCarthy his fourth win on the afternoon for Brett Bittle and Yankeeland Farm in the Jim Doherty Memorial, a race named after one of the nicest men I have had the pleasure to call my friend.

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Talk about ugly, the clock has been off at the Meadowlands for two consecutive races by almost two seconds in the last quarter.

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The sign of a great horseman is a trainer that can right the ship. Bettors Wish, a truly great colt, went through a funk for almost a month but Chris Ryder had him 110 per cent for the Sam McKee (who was very close to me and nicknamed himself “Little Gurf”). Owned in part by Art and Leah Zubrod, who are also very close to me, Bettors Wish charged to the front going to the half in :52, the three quarters in 1:19 and holding off the late charge of Backstreet Shadow for the victory.

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Gabe Prewitt is a young breath of fresh air in what has been called an old man’s sport. He is bright, upbeat and very articulate. He is knowledgeable on every facet of the game and has a talented eye for a good horse. Not that anyone is a good handicapper but he is better than the average. It’s this writer’s opinion that he would make a great addition to the Meadowlands on a permanent basis.

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The day continued to get better as it went on as more of my buddies entered the winner’s circle. The Mark Harder trained and Emma Petterson babied, Zenith Stride, a $350,000 yearling owned by the Rosatis —no strangers to big ticket yearlings — was craftily guided by the “White Knight” to a handy Peter Haughton victory that paid $177 to win.

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In the early interviews, Yannick Gingras almost guaranteed a win for Sorella in the Hambletonian Oaks with the statement “she will be racing without shoes and will be a full second faster.” She did not disappoint and the listening audience must have been paying attention to Yannick’s disclosure as she paid only $3.60 for the win. Another big win for Crawford Farms this afternoon and a big win for the Fannins — breeder and owner of the winner — and trainer Nancy Takter. The clock was wrong again and anyone who knows harness racing was most likely annoyed at the end of the race as I knew it was wrong, and they never made the correction until after the interviews and the replay. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

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Lindy The Great and Andy Miller did a great job coming first up on Atlanta and wearing her down in mid-stretch to enable the White Knight to win his fifth in a row with Gimpanzee in the John Cashman Memorial. Lindy the Great was a hard-fought second. With his earnings from the victory, Brian Sears went over the $200 million mark in lifetime earnings. The time of 1:50 was a new lifetime mark for the horse trained by Marcus Melander and owned by Courant and SRF. It was also a stakes record.

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The Hambletonian certainly didn’t disappoint. Not only did Ramona Hill prevail, but in doing so she tied the Hambletonian record of 1:50.1. Congratulations to Tony Alagna “ the great American hope” on the trotting scene, as well as driver Andy McCarthy — with his fifth win on the afternoon — and all the owners Brad Grant, Crawford Farms, Robert Leblanc and In The Gym Partners. The Crawfords were also the breeders of the filly.

Frank Antonacci made the comparison of the race to Lindy Lane and Continentalvictory. Although I am prejudiced, I think Ramona Hill was stronger at the wire than “Connie” was. Antonacci’s Ready For Moni truly was a fabulous second coming first up against the great filly and beaten by a diminishing length.

I have a theory that to win the Hambletonian you should race exclusively at the Meadowlands Racetrack prior to the event and the only horses in the field that followed that theme finished one ,two, three.

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John Campbell’s post-race speech concerning the world situation at this time was poignant and rather eloquent. It is not surprising as he is always a good extemporaneous speaker.

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It was great to see Tall Dark Stranger bounce off the mat as did Bettors Wish earlier in the day. It makes me wonder if it wasn’t for Lasix would we see more of these two very special horses. In winning the Cane in stakes record time, Tall Dark Stranger gave the Crawfords their third big stakes win on the day and congratulations to their partners Marvin Katz, Howard Taylor and Caviart Farms as well as the awesome team of Gingras and Takter.

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The real ugly was TVG again. No surprise as we were up against the Travers and the Ellis Park Derby, but there was little or no effort to give us any serious coverage on our biggest day. However, I will say that their announcer today was a lot more cognizant of the ins and outs of harness racing than most of their broadcasters usually are.

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Last but not least, to my friend Dave Brower: please never say she bled a little. That’s like saying she’s a little bit pregnant.

Hope to see you all shortly at the Kentucky Futurity at the Red Mile.

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