Saturday's Hambletonian is in the books. Here are a few notes.
* The star of the day, for me, was Hambo champ Royalty For Life. Last season he was a Hambo winter book favorite, with a bit of a wink and a nudge. He was not blue-blooded, he was not trained by one of the chosen ones. He wasn't owned by one of the chosen few. This year it looked like the wink and a nudge crowd was right, because he could not stay flat.
All he did was stay flat in two races in one day, and look amazingly good doing it. Sure this crop is not the best, there are no stars, but this horse stepped up and demolished his foes just like a good horse should.I wrote beforehand I thought Bee A Magician would've been 4-5 in the Hambo field, but the way Royality for Life raced, I think he would've beaten her, or certainly given her a huge run. He was my star of the day.
* Happenstance. It hits racing like no other sport, in my opinion. Brian Sears, toiling at Yonkers and seeing his stakes drives on quality stock fall (as you know, most young horses begin their careers at the Meadowlands), won the Hambo and the Oaks. It was a complete perfect storm of good luck.
First, Bee a Magician is a Canadian bred who had journeyman Rick Zeron in the bike. Rick was not going to travel with her, so trainer Nifty Norman found himself in a weird position: He had the best filly trotter in harness racing, and she needed a driver. With everyone else committed to the blue bloods, enter Brian Sears.
Second up, Tim Tetrick - I am sure - was all ready to drive Royalty For Life. But a horse named Smilin Eli came around in May, who looked like a heavy Hambo chalk. Meanwhile, Royalty for Life was breaking all over the place and didn't even look like he'd make a Hambo. Need a good driver with everyone committed? Call Brian Sears. Boom, just like that a Hambo-Oaks double. This is a crazy sport.
* The race of the day (and this is probably becoming a regular theme) was the US Pacing Championship. For the second time in a row in a major stake, four year olds ran 1,2,3,4; but this time it was a new kid on the block, Thinking Out Loud. How crazy good was last year's crop? The four year olds are winning everything and taking turns doing it, while last year's three year old of the year winner Heston Blue Chip and runner up Michaels Power, have not done a thing in stakes. Even last year's Big M scorcher Panther Hanover has not been seen.
* Handle on the Hambo itself appears to be down. But I guess that should not surprise us. People find it incredibly difficult (especially on track) to handicap a final with a printed (real) program page. As well, they don't have three days to study an exact final field, because the field was only assembled an hour earlier. It's like going to a top New York restaurant and seeing the menu two days before to decide what you want, rather than walking in and having to order right away.
* The two best betting races of the day - the US Pacing Championship and final race of the meet - had terrible handles after the Hambo. I know there were a few tote problems, too. Perhaps things will have to be done differently next year.
* Speed bias? I did not think there was one - in fact, I think bias reading is one of the more elusive problems for amateurs. The first race we had a horse win from third at the half, the second race the top two were miles the best, the third the winner was huge and in the fourth, the two best mares were the two best mares. In the fifth it was no contest as well. When the real racing started (overnights, US Pacing Championship etc) we saw a really fair track.
* Clunkers of the day: Word Power and Market Share. How disappointing for their owners, because when you are that heavy of a chalk on such a big day and don't show up, it's not a very nice feeling. Both horses probably headed to the scope barn afterwards.
* Jody Jamieson is usually pretty aggressive, but in the Cashman, he was the opposite. If he pulled, he might've won easily, but he sat to be a charging second. You just never know.
* I'm unsure why this industry does not enforce rules. The hock booting in the Hambo was sickening. It's like parents who let their ten year old kids get away with all the little things; sooner or later they become big things. This rudderless, 'rules-are-merely-suggestions' sport has to get its archaic, obsequious head out of its ass. (Sorry for mincing words. I meant to be harsher.)
* It's fitting that John Campbell won the late double at the Meadowlands on Hambo Day.
* The early pick 5 and pick 4 pools were huge, which was a very good sign. Hambo Day, no matter what, is a good betting day for patrons screaming for bigger pools.
Saturday's match race at Hanover Raceway garnered some alright handle. I was surprised. Match races usually don't. Hanover really, really tried to get people out for that card. There was as much or more marketing for that card than dozens of other small tracks cards over the years.
Handle in Canada is down 10%, but up 25% per race. Down 10% is not as bad as many feared earlier this year, although the full effect of slots being taken away has not been felt yet.
33,000 took in the Whitney card at 'Toga, beating the Hambo attendance.
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