Butenschoen Takes A Shot At The Oaks

Gracelyn Hanover and Corey Callahan
Published: July 28, 2022 11:52 am EDT

John Butenschoen has been training horses since the end of his junior year in high school. With a career spanning more than 42 years, he’s now getting ready to send another of his fillies to the Hambletonian Oaks eliminations, and he’s got high hopes for Gracelyn Hanover.

Gracelyn Hanover, a daughter of Walner-Gatka Hanover, races in the first of Saturday’s two $40,000 Oaks elims for three-year-old female trotters at The Meadowlands. She enters off a neck win in 1:52.3 in a division of the Tompkins-Geers Stakes last week at The Big M.

“She raced good enough last start,” Butenschoen said. “We thought a lot of her, obviously, or we wouldn’t have paid her into the race. She had a couple little hiccups up at Vernon Downs and then one a couple starts back at The Meadowlands, which was totally unexpected. We thought we were on the right course.

“But everything went forward in the right direction last Saturday, so we decided that we’d rather spend the money and be in it than sit on the sidelines and watch it, wishing we had been in it and wondering what if.”

Gracelyn Hanover will start her Oaks elim from post eight in a field of eight. Corey Callahan, her regular driver, will be in the sulky. The filly is owned by Lester Beechy with Harmony Oaks Racing Stable (Jackie and John Butenschoen) as lessee.

The top five finishers from each elim advance to the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks final Aug. 6 at The Meadowlands. Elim winners draw for post positions one through five followed by the remaining finalists receiving their posts in an open draw.

“The eight-hole is pretty disheartening, in a way,” Butenschoen said. “I’ve been down this road. It kind of feels like déjà vu a little bit, with Bill’s Man’s elimination [in the 2017 Hambletonian, losing by a nose] and then drawing the 10-hole for the final.

“Realistically, to think you can win from the eight-hole in the elimination is pretty tough, and then that eliminates a couple of the inside post positions, so you’re looking at the final with another shot to the outside again. So, it’s a little disheartening when you draw outside.

“We’re just hopeful for the final, I guess. If we can’t finish fifth out of the eight-hole, then we don’t deserve to be in the final, regardless. But it would be kind of nice to mix it up and have a shot.”

Gracelyn Hanover has won four of 15 races lifetime, hit the board a total of nine times, and earned $94,612. She is 8-1 on the morning line for Saturday’s elim, where 2021 O'Brien and Dan Patch Award winner Venerable is the 8-5 favourite. Fashion Schooner is the 9-5 favourite in the second Oaks elimination.

As the anticipation mounts for Saturday, and the adrenaline kicks in, Butenschoen admits that he’s anxious and looking forward to the eliminations and hopes for a lucky outcome for his filly.

“Oh, she’s fast!” he said. “I’m excited to be in it.”

Racing begins at 6:20 p.m. (EDT). Free TrackMaster past performances for all Meadowlands cards can be found at the track’s website.

(Hambletonian Society)