Marcus Melander has had an early and impressive influence in the Hambletonian

by Bob Heyden

Trainer Marcus Melander has had six checks in four Hambletonian appearances — the last four. He’s 29. The last time a trainer younger than that won a Hambletonian was in 1985 when 24-year-old Per Eriksson won with Prakas. Jimmy Takter’s first check was at age 33 in 1994 with runner-up Mr Lavec. Melander has sent out three in each of the last two Hambletonian finals. He is the youngest trainer to make money in four straight Hambletonians (2017-2020). His brother Mattias drove for the first time in 2020 in a Hambletonian final. Marcus has sent out the three favorites in the Hambletonian final — in 2019 with Greenshoe (second), Gimpanzee (third) and Green Manalishi (fifth). Takter had the three favorites in 2014 finishing first, second and last with Trixton, Nuncio and odd-on choice Father Patrick. Chuck Sylvester had the four favorites in 1998.

Trainers finishing 1-2

Several trainers will be trying to go 1-2 in the Hambletonian final. Jimmy Takter has turned that trick twice — 1997 and 2014. Chuck Sylvester in 1998 did it and Per Eriksson in 1992 with Alf Palema and King Conch. Billy Haughton did so in the last pre-Meadowlands Hambletonian with Burgomeister and Final Score in 1980.

New era

This year marks the fifth straight Hambletonian without John Campbell driving and the seventh in a row without Ron Pierce.

Miller holds consecutive record

Del Miller holds the record for the longest period of time from his first to his last driving Hambletonian appearance — 36 years from 1946-1982.

Billy Haughton is second on this list — 35 years from 1949-1984.

John Campbell is next up — 33 years 1983-2016.

By way of comparison, Willie Shoemaker was in the Kentucky Derby 36 straight years — 1952-1988.

Not on the board? No worries

Didn’t have your very best day in the Hambletonian? No issue. There was yet another seven-figure pot awaiting a pair of colts who tried unsuccessfully for Hambletonian glory — Cruzado Del
Noche was last in 2015 in his elim, but later won the Yonkers International; that same International went to Resolve after he was fifth in the 2014 Hambletonian final.

Schnittker’s three records in one Hambletonian

Ray Schnittker set three records in the 2008 Hambletonian:

1. First undefeated colt to win the Hambletonian — Deweycheatumnhowe.
2. The $930,000 total take was a record for a trainer in a single trotting event as Make It Happen was third from post 10.
3. Schnittker’s first three Hambletonian drives netted him $1,007,233 in earnings, making him the only driver to ever bank over $1 Million his first three times behind the gate in a Hambletonian final. He was third both in 1997 and 2000 — with Armbro Plato and then Armbro Trick.


Billy Haughton and Stanley Dancer won 10 of the 19 Hambletonians from 1965-1983 as trainers. (8-for-10 as drivers, too) Both from the good ol’ USA. Then a trend began which is quite evident today. Trainers and drivers are just as likely — or more likely — to be born somewhere else. Since Duenna crossed the wire in 1983 for Dancer, trainers were born in the USA 15 times, Sweden 10, Canada 8, Norway 2, Argentina 2 and Australia 1.

Drivers were born in the USA 16 times, Canada 16 times, Sweden 3 times, Norway 2 and Australia 1.

Sears going for #4

At the age of 53, Brian Sears is going for his fourth Hambletonian win to go with the ones in 2009, 2013 and 2015.

Here are the comparable ages of the others who got their fourth Hambletonian win:

Ben White, 70 in 1943.
Stanley Dancer, 56 in 1983.
Billy Haughton, 56 in 1980.
John Campbell, 40 in 1995.
Mike Lachance, 52 in 2003.

Every horse is on its own schedule

Just because the calendar says the first Saturday in August doesn’t mean every single sophomore trotter will be at their peak. Take a look at the last decade — an amazing amount were either off the board, got no money at all or didn’t even make it to the Hambletonian final, yet more than redeemed themselves afterwards

2018 — Favored Crystal Fashion was just fourth, but has gone on to a $2 million career.
2017 — What The Hill was disqualified from first to 9th, but beat older in that year’s TVG and won the division.
2016 — Bar Hopping was fifth as the public choice to win the Hambletonian, but later recovered (or matured) nicely to dominate the Breeders Crown, again as the favorite.
2015 — Cruzado Del Noche was last in his elim — no final for him. But later on he moved on to Marcus Melander’s barn and upset in the $1 million Yonkers International.
2014 — Resolve was a quiet fifth in the Trixton year. He too moved on and working from the Svanstedt barn took down an International.
2013 — Creatine was only eighth as a no factor, but wound up winning a Breeders Crown at 5 and was well past $2 million when he retired.
2012 — Archangel (named for a famous code word used on 9/11) was fourth in the Hambletonian but later posted one of the earliest 1:50 miles and now is a stallion.
2011 — Chapter Seven was fourth on his comeback trail — a touch early for him — and then he simply dominated the next 15 months as a two-time Breeders Crown winner and the 2012 HOY and the sire of Atlanta and Gimpanzee.

Winning debuts

Eric Ledford won his Hambletonian debut in 2002 with Chip Chip Hooray.

A year prior, Stefan Melander did the same with Scarlet Knight the undefeated sophomore who trained overseas.

Trevor Ritchie got this triumvirate rolling in 2000 in his initial Hambletonian steer with Yankee Paco.

Howard Beissinger won two of his first three Hambletonian assignments — 1969 with Triple Crown winner Lindys Pride and then again in 1971 with Speedy Crown who would then sire three Hambletonian winners himself in addition to Moni Maker.

Tommy Haughton’s first three Hambletonian assignments were with elim winner and eventual runner-up Final Score in 1980 and then winner Speed Bowl in 1982 at the tender age of 25 — still the record.

Yes, sire

Readly Express (sire of Dancinginthedark M) and Love You (Ready For Moni and Back Of The Neck) are not household names in North America.

Here’s a look at those 41 New Jersey Hambletonian winners whose sires who did not compete in the Hambletonian themselves:

2019 — Kadabra, sire of Forbidden Trade, was ineligible in 2002
2013 — R C Royalty, sire of Royalty For Life
2012 — Revenue S, sire of Chapter Seven
2011 — Broadway Hall, sire of Broad Bahn was 9-for-9 at 2 and then never raced again.
2005 — S Js Photo, went 1-for-2 in 2005 with Vivid Photo and Classic Photo. He was not a Hambletonian eligible in 1992.
2003 — Balanced Image, sire of both Yankee Paco and Amigo Hall, two Hambletonian winners in 2000 and 2003. Balanced Image would have been the strong 1981 favorite but injured himself three weeks out from the 1981 Hambletonian won by Shiaway St Pat.
1998, 1996,1994 — Valley Victory retired the week of the 1989 Hambletonian due to a virus and never did compete again. He won the big one with his first, third and fifth crops — Victory Dream 1994, Continentalvictory in 1996 and Muscles Yankee in 1998.
1984 — ABC Freight was a stalwart early on for Clint Galbraith but never made the Hambletonian. His son Historic Freight did and won it in 1984.
1981 — Tarport Devlin sired the very first New Jersey Hambletonian winner Shiaway St Pat. All the connections were debuting that year, including the winning stallion who never made it to the Hambletonian final.

Man, is she good

Manchego is now 38-for-62 lifetime and at $3,014,152 she and her sire Muscle Hill are the first father-daughter team to each surpass $3 million.

Manchego is going for her fifth straight Hambletonian Day win. Nobody has won on five straight Hambletonian Day cards. Five wins is the overall record set by Moni Maker. That’s right, she won the Oaks in straight heats in 1996, then the Nat Ray (now the Cashman) in 1997, 1998 and 2000.

Moni Maker through 62 career starts was 39-for-62.