Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Hambo Trip

I mentioned last week that I would tell a few stories about the Hambo trip, so I figured I would jot those down for those who may be interested.

I headed down to Jersey with a betting friend and we both presented at the Hambletonian conference, which was sponsored by the Hambletonian Society. We arrived Wednesday night and it was a good night to play some races and relax, although we did not know that beforehand. Let’s just say the week was packed with functions and racing. We both made a few bucks Wednesday.

On Thursday the conference was scheduled to run from 10AM to about 4PM. It started somewhat late, and carried past 4PM. Gary Seibel from TVG, and original race caller of the Breeders Crown series way back in 1984, moderated my panel. I got to speak with him for about a half hour after the panel was over and to me that was a real treat. He really likes harness racing. He clearly did not get the TVG job as a talking head.

We spent the rest of Thursday at the track at a dinner in the main Meadowlands dining room and that was fun as well. Several people who I had seen listed on some very nice horses, and some of the larger breeding farms were there. I got to pick their brain a little bit about the breed and the business. It was quite enjoyable.

On Friday we mostly milled around the hotel and conversed with a few folks we had met. Later that evening there was a very nice event in Pegasus at the Meadowlands. It was held by the Hambo society and since we presented I guess we were worthy an invite. That was a ton of fun. I sat with a few interesting folks. One, a gentleman from Finland that has a breeding operation was beside us. He was very interesting because of his betting knowledge, however. He runs a tip service for the European continent, had met many big bettors over the years and had some interesting stories. He had been to Hong Kong to play the horses; pretty much all over the world, really. With virtually everyone in the room speaking about the Hambo and harness in general I would think if many sat in on our conversation about betting angles and databases and all the rest would have found us the outsiders for sure! Anyhow, they really made the dinner fun and I had no idea I would have been invited along with all the owners and industry folks.

Saturday was Hambo Day. And it was more than we expected. Moira Fanning from the Hambo Society had to take care of literally hundreds of people. We expected to not see her at all and we thought we would head up to our seats and that would be that. But she paid way too much attention to us bums. She showed up and gave us passes to the front paddock and we were thrilled. Those passes allowed us to be in the Hambo paddock and get a good look at the horses, trainers and drivers. The horses were immaculate - every one of them. Absolutely beautiful trotters. I had never been in the front paddock before.

We headed back upstairs to watch the race and it was quite exciting. The crowd was deafening in the grandstand. I think most were cheering for Dewey, as I was. I walked by the Antonacci box on the way down to catch a glimpse of Dewey in the circle and it dawned on me that there are winners and losers in the game, like we all did not already know that. A couple of their family were children - all decked out and dressed to the nines - and they looked disappointed.

Half the state of Jersey was in the winners circle. I saw the very classy Dewey just standing there and being a true gentleman (I assume he is used to the winners circle now!). I think we all knew that Crazed would give the big horse a run, and that he did. In retrospect the 1-2 ex looked like an overlay. I saw Donna Brothers after the race getting a lot of the gear taken off. I was surprised at how she handles the horse and does the interviews and all with all that stuff on. I saw the feature that we alluded to earlier on the blog where Ray let her hop aboard Dewey for a ride so I said "you got to ride a Hambo champ so that must have been cool", she replied that it was no set-up, he just said hop aboard in an impromptu way. That's harness racing for ya.

The entire card was a bit light on talent for a Hambo card, but I guess that is the sign of the times. Still there was some good racing. Mr. Big showing he is Mr. Big was fun to watch.

I would highly recommend a trip to the Hambo for those who have not been there. I have been to many tracks and many races. Each of them I find are unique. However, this one stood out in many ways and I am 100% positive this will be not my one and only trip.

5 comments:

Jeffrey Biever said...

There has been a lot of negative industry comment about the reporting, and attitudes towards harness racing, exhibited on the NBC telecast by Donna Brothers and esp. by Mike Battaglia, the t-bred announcer. Did you note any of this when you were there?

Pull the Pocket said...

I only caught the feature Jeffrey. I was walking around and stuff.

No one said anything there, but they would not have seen it either. What have you heard? Did you watch?

Allan said...

I go to the Hambo every year since it moved to the Meadowlands and while I would never miss it, I am disappointed the attendance never gets really big (I know 25,000 is a large crowd these day, but the following day at Monmouth, they had 40,000 for Big Brown). The NJSEA should rethink their policy of racing the Haskell the same weekend, you are drawing on the same group of people and there is only so much money available; you are forcing people to choose (not everyone can go to the track both days of the weekend).

Other than Dewey, the card was probably one of the weakest Hambo cards. It certainly missed SBSW, but hey, he's a Canadian horse so I can understand why most of his racing occurs in Canada. In the past few years, you had a couple of European horses racing on Hambo day which added to the mystique; perhaps they need to do something to get more European horses over for Hambo day in the future.

While the Woodrow Wilson is not the race it once was, moving it to Hambo Day may not be a bad idea. Move the Peter Haughton as well so people will see the future stars on the same day as well.

Pull the Pocket said...

Probably some good ideas there Allan. Two days do not seem to generate the excitement they should and that is the Hambo and the Breeders Crown.

I can see the Hambo getting less and less quality since this game has been slots infiltrated. In the old days there were very few Classic races and Hambo day was a day when virtually every top horse would race. I remember back in teh 1980's it was THE day to play and watch. Now the Adios is the same weekend and stakes are peppered everywhere. Not to mention the top younger colts and fillies are raced so few times now.

I think it is reason 1,543 why we need a central organization. For the two weeks before and two weeks after a day like the Hambo day a commissioner would make sure that there are zero stakes races scheduled. I think that would ensure that every horse is available for this big day.

Will that help? Who knows, we are on the decline, but the Hambo Society and the M can only do so much to attract the best. The rest seems to be out of their hands.

Jeffrey Biever said...

Mike Battaglia made a reference to buggies and mispronounced Frank Antonacci's name the first time. As for Brothers, all I have is hearsay that she seemed "put out" that she was stuck with a harness racing assignment.