Hightsown, NJ — Ake Svanstedt believes Back Of The Neck has got it all, which is everything a horse needs in the Hambletonian.
Back Of The Neck is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the first of Saturday’s (Aug. 1) two $50,000 Hambletonian Stakes eliminations at The Meadowlands. The colt is a nose from being unbeaten in three races this season and will start from post one with Scott Zeron in the sulky for trainer Svanstedt.
The top-five finishers from each elimination advance to the $1 million Hambletonian final Aug. 8 at the Big M. Elim winners draw for post one through five for the final. The Hambletonian is racing’s premier event for 3-year-old trotters.
Svanstedt will send out a total of four horses in the eliminations, with Third Shift joining Back Of The Neck in the first, followed by Jula Trix Treasure and Moon Bridge in the second.
First post is at 7:15 p.m. (EDT) and the Hambletonian eliminations are races six and eight on the 13-race card.
Back Of The Neck, trained by Marcus Melander in 2019, won three of nine races last year, including a division of the W.N. Reynolds Memorial and an elimination of the Willliam Wellwood Memorial. He finished third in the Wellwood final.
This year, the colt was second in a 3-year-old open before winning divisions of the Reynolds and Stanley Dancer Memorial, both in 1:52. All three starts were at The Meadowlands.
“He has won with power left every time,” Svanstedt said. “He feels good and he trains good. I think he’s in good condition.
“He is a strong horse. He has a big engine and is good gaited. I think he has a good head also. I think he has everything. But for a horse to have a chance to win the Hambletonian, they must have everything. They must have the power, they must have the speed, and they must have the heart. They must want to win.”
Back Of The Neck raced on the lead in his first start in 2020, but from off the pace in his most recent outings, winning with strong stretch drives.
“Scott said he was grabby the first time, but the last two races he hasn’t been grabby,” Svanstedt said. “It was no problem to back off. He is very nice to drive and he can come home very fast.”
Zeron is already a two-time winner of the Hambletonian at the age of 31. He won in 2018 with Atlanta and in 2016 with Marion Marauder, who went on to sweep the Trotting Triple Crown (Hambletonian, Yonkers Trot, Kentucky Futurity).
Back Of The Neck is owned by Howard Taylor, Judy Taylor, and breeder Order By Stable. The colt is a son of French star Ready Cash out of Big Barb. Ready Cash also sired the favorite in the second Hambletonian elimination, Ready For Moni.
Third Shift heads to his Hambletonian elim off a second-place finish behind Back Of The Neck in the Dancer. In his other two starts this season, he won a division of the New York Sire Stakes and a division of the Empire Breeders Classic.
Last year, the son of Chapter Seven-Overnight Command won three of eight races, including the New York Sire Stakes championship. He will start from post two in his Hambletonian elim, with Svanstedt driving.
“I think Back Of The Neck is a better horse, but Third Shift is not so bad,” said Svanstedt, who owns Third Shift with Mellby Gard Inc. “I raced him (on the lead) last time, drove him tough, because I wanted to stretch him out before the Hambo. I think he can do better.”
Svanstedt also will drive Jula Trix Treasure in the second Hambletonian elimination. Jula Trix Treasure, by 2014 Hambletonian winner Trixton out of Victory Treasure, won a division of the Reynolds on July 11 in 1:51.2, which is tied for the second-fastest victory time by any of the 17 horses entered in the Hambletonian.
For his career, he has won four of 10 races for owner Jula Racing. He enters his Hambletonian elim off a fifth-place finish in the Tompkins-Geers Stakes last week. He will start from post three and is 6-1 on the morning line.
“The last race he wasn’t a hundred percent gaited and lost ground in the last turn,” Svanstedt said. “We’re going to do some small changes to try to make his gait better. He’s always been strong and comes home good. He’s a fighter.”
Moon Bridge, who will have Andy Miller in the sulky, has a win and a second in three starts this year. His triumph came in his most recent race, July 17, by 12-1/4 lengths in 1:52.2. The Hambletonian elim will be his first Grand Circuit race of the season.
Last year, he won two of eight races, including the Ontario Sire Stakes championship. Moon Bridge, a son of E L Titan-Classic Belle, will start Saturday from post nine and is 20-1. He is owned by Esa Lahtinen, Janne Korpi, and Jussi Hietalahti.
“He’s good gaited and he always does the job,” said Svanstedt, who won the 2017 Hambletonian with Perfect Spirit as the result of What The Hill’s disqualification for interference. “I think he’s as good as he can be. We’ll see how far he can go.”
Eliminations for the Aug. 8 Hambletonian Oaks for 3-year-old filly trotters were unnecessary, but eight Oaks finalists will be in action in an open for 3-year-old filly trotters. Also in action will be Meadowlands Pace champ Tall Dark Stranger in the Tompkins-Geers Stakes for 3-year-old male pacers.
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