Buying and selling top Pace and Hambletonian contenders

A look at the value of the early winter book favorites for the Meadowlands Pace and Hambletonian.

by Brett Sturman

The Meadowlands has come out with its winter book list for the 2021 Meadowlands Pace and Hambletonian, ranking the top 10 contenders for the respective races as things stand today. In the spirit of a recent frenzy of stock market activity, here are my buys and sells.

For starters, the chances of finding a GameStop type of horse would seem more likely to happen in the Hambletonian rather than the Pace. Through the years, the Hambletonian has seen countless horses win that weren’t on anyone’s radar or even known in February, that have gone onto win the race. The Pace is a different story. There, you know, for the most part, what you have.

Beginning with the Pace, nearly all Pace winners the past couple of decades have had notable success at age 2. Recent exceptions would be Wiggle It Jiggleit who didn’t have his first official start until age 3, but did qualify early in his 2-year-old season in a ridiculous 1:51.4 at Pocono, so you could say there was some serious talent there. Another exception to the rule is Best In Show who won the Pace as one of the biggest longshots in the race’s history, and there wasn’t anything you could gravitate towards from his three races as a 2-year-old.

Meadowlands Pace buys:

Always A Miki – My sense is that he perceived just a touch outside of the big three of Perfect Sting, Summa Cum Laude and Southwind Gendry and because of that could represent a hypothetical buying opportunity (as I wrote a couple years ago, Meadowlands/Fanduel Sportsbook should offer actual winter book wagering). Accordingly, he is fourth in the Meadowlands’ winter book list. But he closed out 2020 perhaps sharpest of all when he sprung the 7-1 upset in the Governor’s Cup, a race in which Summa Cum Laude was third as the heavy favorite. A reasonably-priced yearling at just $40,000 he stands a chance to win the race that, though losing, his sire Always B Miki is widely remembered for.

Exploit – Ranked right behind Always A Miki at #5, is another that closed out the year strong. Often overlooked despite being trained by Alagna, he shocked at 35-1 winning the Metro in one of the season’s faster times of 1:50.4, and nearly provided similar fireworks when second in the Governor’s Cup. The $165,000 Harrisburg purchase had his ups and downs last year, but it seems like there’s some Pace potential.

Charlie May and Heart Of Chewbacca – Here’s a couple of horses not on the winter book list and nor should they be, but that’s not to say they aren’t fast. Both from Ohio, these two dominated that state’s 2-year-old races last year and the win time of 1:50.2 by Ohio’s 2-year-old of the year Charlie May in the September OSS Final tied for the 7th fastest national seasons mark. Rival Heart Of Chewbacca beat Charlie May once and his record of 1:51.1 is impressive as well. Following his Ohio Breeders Championship win on Jug Day, Charlie May owner Don Tiger suggested that he would be more heavily staked in 2021.

Lou’s Pearlman – Not on the winter book top 10, but was the fastest of any freshman last year with that 1:48.4 mark from the Red Mile. He was only a winner in 5 of 11, though Burke should give him every chance if he remains good enough.

Meadowlands Pace sells:

If there were actual wagering right now, Perfect Sting would probably be around 3-1 as the #1 winter book ranked horse. Even though he capped off his 2-year-old season with a perfect 10-for-10 record, that last one came in the form of a dead-heat in the Breeders Crown. A fast and obviously talented horse as shown by the record and his 1:49.2 mark, I don’t know if I’d rank him with the likes of eventual Pace winners Tall Dark Stranger or Captaintreacherous as recent 2-year-old champions. Of course, he could end up winning the Pace at odds of 3-5 which would make a 3-1 price now look like a gift. We’ll see.

Hambletonian buys:

Authored by the Meadowlands’ Ken Warkentin, Southwind Tyrion and Cuatro De Julio sit at fourth and fifth, respectively, on the list and both showed immense talent last year. On the same day last year at the Red Mile, Southwind Tyrion lowered the world record for 2-year-old trotters to 1:51.1 in winning his International Stallion Stakes division, and then a short time later Cuatro De Julio won in 1:51.3, which would have been good enough to tie Walner’s previously held world record. Those marks by both horses were naturally the first and second fastest in 2020 for freshmen trotters. While Southwind Tyrion was a $145,000 yearling buy, Cuatro De Julio was only $60,000. What makes that more interesting is not so much that he’s by Hambletonian winner Trixton, but that he’s out of a Ready Cash mare with strong European family credentials. Both should be heard from on the Hambletonian trail.

The filly Anoka Hanover lands at seventh on the Meadowlands’ list. I like the idea of a filly considering recent Hambletonian successes, but as an alternative what about Donna Soprano? A winner in five-of-seven with a mark of 1:53.3, she’s already taken on the boys and was actually favored at odds-on in the inaugural Mohawk Million. She was second that race to eventual Dan Patch winner Venerate, and could represent one of the better chances from the fillies to try for the Hambletonian.

Dancinginthedark M – Another one not currently listed, but he’s another with a world of potential talent and speed. Coming from Marcus Melander’s barn, he broke in his Breeders Crown elimination when it looked like he was picking up steam and could certainly be a contender if he matures at age 3.

Hambletonian sells:

Captain Corey – Currently ranked sixth, I think he’ll continue to be extremely formidable in Pennsylvania, but would be surprised if he won the Hambletonian. Take nothing away from him as another feel good story related to Googoo Gaagaa, but as an early season sensation in 2020, he felt the pressure from the very best in the Breeders Crown. Would make for quite a story, though, should he prove to be a top Hambletonian contender come summer.