Elimination winner Celebrity Bambino drew post one for Saturday’s $1 million Hambletonian Stakes at The Meadowlands and was established as the 2-1 morning line favourite as he seeks to give trainer Ron Burke and driver Yannick Gingras their first wins in the trotting classic for three-year-olds.
The event’s draw and press conference were held on Tuesday, Aug. 1 at Hogan Equine. Elimination winners Celebrity Bambino and Point Of Perfect, both trained by Burke, drew for posts one through five followed by the remaining finalists in an open draw.
Burke, a U.S. Hall of Famer who is the sport’s runaway leader in career wins and purses, had a three-year string of near misses in the Hambletonian beginning in 2015 when elimination-winning filly Mission Brief finished second by three-quarters of a length to Pinkman.
He was second again in 2016 with Southwind Frank, who was beaten by a nose by eventual Trotting Triple Crown winner Marion Marauder. The following year, What The Hill crossed the finish line first but was disqualified for interference in the stretch.
Gingras, also in the U.S. Hall of Fame, has finished second in the Hambletonian on three occasions. In 2015, he drove both elimination winners, Mission Brief and Pinkman, and stayed with the filly in the final. In 2016, he was second with Southwind Frank and, in 2020, he was runner-up with Ready For Moni.
Celebrity Bambino battled sickness last year but won five of 12 races and finished second in the Breeders Crown. He has raced six times this year, winning two of his three most recent starts, including his Hambletonian elimination in a career-best 1:50.4.
“This year, he’s been good every start,” said Burke. “It’s just not always worked out the way we wanted, but the whole time this was the goal, to have him ready for this week and have him sharp. So, up to now, the plan has worked to perfection.
“I thought he was super [in his elimination]. He was never stressed. I just didn’t want him coming into the final tired.”
Point Of Perfect, who won the first of last week’s two eliminations, will start Saturday from post five with David Miller in the sulky. He is 6-1 on the morning line. Point Of Perfect was winless in 15 starts as a two-year-old but has won three of seven this season. The most recent horse to win the Hambletonian after not having a victory at two was Tagliabue in 1995.
Point Of Perfect won his elimination in a career-best 1:51.2.
“He’s probably not as good as he’s been in his last three or four, and he’s probably not as bad as he was when he was 0-for-15,” said Burke. “We’ve always believed in him. The horse has incredible ability, he’s out of a sister to Southwind Frank, so it’s always been there. David will fit him. He’s going to need an aggressive drive and David will be up to the task.”
Oh Well and Winners Bet, who each won a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial on July 15 at The Meadowlands, are the second and third choices, respectively, on the morning line.
Marcus Melander-trained Oh Well, last year’s Mohawk Million winner, will start from post two for driver Tim Tetrick and is 7-2. He finished second to Point Of Perfect in his elimination.
Winners Bet, last year’s William Wellwood Memorial champ, will leave from post four with Dexter Dunn driving for trainer Domenico Cecere and is 4-1. He was parked on the outside from post 10 in his elimination and finished fourth in the split won by Celebrity Bambino.
“It’s funny, usually I can pick horses in the race that don’t belong and this may be the first time I’ve ever thought that in a 10-horse field any horse could win the race,” said Burke. “There is nobody that is really that much worse than anybody and there is nobody yet that has proven they’re that much better than anybody. So, it’s going to be a wide-open race, which I think leads to a lot of movement because people are going to take shots.
“I don’t think my horses are at the top of their games yet. I think Bambino, for sure, has more left. And the other horse hadn’t been that fast. They’re both speed-tested now. I couldn’t be happier with mine. And I’m sure there are a lot of people with the way their horses raced that will feel the same.”
With a name strikingly similar to that of the great Chicago Bears running back Walter “Sweetness” Payton, three-year-old filly trotter Walner Payton will aim to score a touchdown of her own this Saturday afternoon at The Meadowlands in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks.
The daughter of Walner-Lonely Lady heads into the Oaks off a sharp-looking score in the first of two eliminations a week ago and was installed as the 3-1 morning line favourite at the Tuesday afternoon post draw.
A remarkably steady sort who has hit the board in all eight of her 2023 outings, she put up her third win of the season while equalling her lifetime best of 1:51.4.
“I knew she was going into [the elimination] as good as she’s ever been,” said trainer Chris Ryder, who’s in search of his first Oaks win. “She’s always been a little lean, but she started to put on a little weight the last two or three weeks. [Driver] Dexter [Dunn] was thrilled with her [when second on July 22]. He said she was really coming good. We finally put a hood on her, eye cups, which we probably should have done before. That helped a lot because before when she’s been up front, she’s been wandering around. [In the elim], she had a lot more focus. She finished up strong with the ear plugs in. Dexter gave her a heck of a drive.”
Walner Payton drew post one in the field of 10 and will be driven by her regular pilot Dunn, the four-time defending Dan Patch Driver of the Year, whose one win in the Oaks was in 2021 with Bella Bellini.
“I knew [eventual second-place finisher Railee Something] was going to be a threat [in the elim],” said Dunn. “She’s been racing really good. But my filly was still going super at the time [on the last turn] and she’s pretty quick. She can reel off a pretty good quarter. So, I was still confident enough that she would keep going, and she did.”
Railee Something has lived up to her name during 2023, winning five of eight starts while finishing third in the other three. She will depart from post five and is the 7-2 second choice for trainer Ron Burke and driver Yannick Gingras. Gingras will be gunning for a seventh Oaks win while Burke looks for his first.
“She’s been very good every start [this year],” said Burke. “We have to get one more little half-length finishing. If we can find a half-length finishing, she can go with those fillies. We’ll have a bridle change with her. I think she’s just a little bit getting alongside the horse and hanging, so we’re probably going to close her [bridle] up to try to get her to surge by.”
The other Oaks elim was taken by 36-1 longshot Heart On Fire for driver Todd McCarthy and trainer Tony Alagna. In the final, she will depart from post two and is listed at 5-1.
“I was just hoping that I could get a trip and sort of sneak through and maybe get a spot in the final,” said McCarthy of the inside trip that led to a walk down victory lane. “But the way the race shook out, it worked really good for us. This filly has been so good, Tony has had her really good. When she can get a trip like that, she never had to leave the pegs, it just suited her perfectly.”
The Hambletonian will be race 12 with a post time of 4:45 p.m. (EDT). The companion $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks is race 10 and will go at 3:38 p.m. Racing will begin at noon. For free program pages, visit The Meadowlands website.
The Hambletonian and Oaks fields are listed below in post position order and will headline an afternoon of Grand Circuit stakes that also includes the Cane Pace, Shady Daisy, John Cashman Memorial, Dr. John Steele Memorial, Sam McKee Memorial and Lady Liberty. For complete entries, click here.
$1 million Hambletonian
Post - Horse - Driver - Trainer - Morning Line Odds
1. Celebrity Bambino - Yannick Gingras - Ron Burke - 2-1
2. Oh Well - Tim Tetrick - Marcus Melander - 7-2
3. Osceola - Doug McNair - Gregg McNair - 12-1
4. Winners Bet - Dexter Dunn - Domenico Cecere - 4-1
5. Point Of Perfect - David Miller - Ron Burke - 6-1
6. Up Your Deo - Ake Svanstedt - Ake Svanstedt -15-1
7. Southwind Coors - James MacDonald - Matt Bax - 20-1
8. French Wine - Andy Miller - Julie Miller - 12-1
9. Ghostly Casper - Brian Sears - Ben Baillargeon - 10-1
10. Tactical Approach - Scott Zeron - Nancy Takter - 15-1
AE1. Tuscan Prince
AE2. Little Expensive
$500,000 Hambletonian Oaks
Post - Horse - Driver - Trainer - Morning Line Odds
1. Walner Payton - Dexter Dunn - Chris Ryder - 3-1
2. Heart On Fire - Todd McCarthy - Tony Alagna - 5-1
3. Bond - Ake Svanstedt - Ake Svanstedt - 9-2
4. Righteous Resolve - James MacDonald - Matt Bax - 8-1
5. Railee Something - Yannick Gingras - Ron Burke - 7-2
6. Mambacita - Scott Zeron - Tony Alagna - 20-1
7. Instagram Model - Andrew McCarthy - Annie Stoebe - 8-1
8. Kayleigh S - David Miller - Marcus Melander - 20-1
9. Secret Volo - Brian Sears - Marcus Melander - 6-1
10. Heaven Hanover - Tim Tetrick - Marcus Melander - 12-1
AE1. Gigi Hanover
AE2. Pure Hope S
A replay of the post position draw and interviews with the contenders is available below.
Hambletonian Day At Meadowlands Racetrack
The Meadowlands Racetrack will showcase the 98th Hambletonian, also known as “harness racing’s greatest day” on Saturday, Aug. 5. Home to the Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks since 1981, the Meadowlands will host a day of fun for the entire family including epic races, carnival rides and games, pony rides, hat contest, food trucks, live music and giveaways.
The Grandstand doors will open at 10 a.m. with $5 admission. The giveaways begin immediately, including 2022 Hambletonian baseball cap for adults and children with paid admission. The $5 admission can be purchased in advance here.
The first race post time is 12 noon. The 98th Hambletonian, America’s Trotting Classic, is the richest trotting race in the world for three-year-olds with a purse of $1 million. The companion filly event, the Hambletonian Oaks, is worth $500,000. There will be a total of 16 races on Hambo Day totalling more than $3.5 million in stakes purses.
The Backyard will be filled with free carnival rides, games and pony rides plus a free live concert by the popular Craig Sailer Project beginning at 11 a.m. Racing fans can grab a Hambo flag, snag driver selfies, giveaways and trainer autographs at the Harness Racing Fan Zone Tent.
Fans can grab some food from some delicious food trucks including Clyde’s Homemade Italian Ices and Ice Cream, House of Cupcakes, Latin Bites, Cat Like Reflexes, Carnival Concessions, Who Cut the Cheese Lady Food Truck, The Original Delicious Lola Josefa’s, Rods Fish N Chips, Green Dog Mobile, Hadez Food Truck, Bearded One BBQ, Big John’s Gourmet Burgers and DAW Concessions. Plus grab a cold and refreshing Trotter’s Gold golden ale brewed by Ghost Hawk Brewing Co commemorating 2022 Hambo winner Cool Papa Bell.
As an added bonus, fans can meet actor Kelsey Grammer at the Backyard Bar from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. He will be promoting Faith American Brewing Company, the brewery founded in 2015. Grammer’s Faith American Ale and Blue the hazy NE IPA will be available for purchase. Grammer is also the celebrity trophy presenter for both the Hambleotnian Oaks and Hambletonian.
Bring your most creative hat for the chance to win the Hambletonian Hat Contest. Sign up at the track level promotions table and make your way to the track before Race 4. First place wins $500, second place $250, third place $100, fourth place $50 and the most elegant hat wins $100.
The Hambletonian Oaks is scheduled for Race 10 at 3:38 p.m. and the Hambletonian is scheduled for Race 12 with a post time at 4:45 p.m.
(With files from USTA and The Meadowlands)