Hightstown, NJ — The Pinske and Allen families have several things in common. Both run businesses that have existed for more than 100 years. Both are longtime participants in harness racing. And, on Saturday, both will be hoping to win their first Hambletonian Stakes.
Amigo Volo carries the hopes of the Pinske family, as well as fellow owner David J. Miller. A year ago, the gelding gave the Pinskes their first Breeders Crown champion. Now, he is their first Hambletonian starter.
His task will not be easy, starting from post 10 in the $1 million Hambletonian for 3-year-old trotters at The Meadowlands. Since the race moved to The Big M in 1981, no horse has won the Hambletonian final from post 10, although two horses — Pinkman in 2015 and Delvin G Hanover in 1984 — won eliminations from that spot. Pinkman went on to capture the final over filly Mission Brief.
Amigo Volo, trained by Nifty Norman and driven by Dexter Dunn, has won two of five races this year and eight of 17 races lifetime. He finished third in his Hambletonian elimination and is 12-1 on the morning line. Ramona Hill, one of two fillies taking on the boys in this year’s Hambletonian, is the 5-2 favorite.
The Hambletonian is the first jewel in the Trotting Triple Crown. CBS Sports Network will air a delayed one-hour broadcast of the Hambletonian from 6-7 p.m. (EDT) Saturday. The stakes-filled card at The Meadowlands starts at noon.
“It’s going to be really tough,” Marlys Pinske said. “But anything can happen. It’s a well-matched group. I think right now Ramona Hill is standing out, but that’s the way it is.”
The Pinskes, who own a custom cabinetry and millwork business that dates back to the 19th century, have been involved in harness racing since the mid-1950s. Pinske Stables today is Marlys, her son Karl, and grandson Carter, who has followed in the footsteps of his late grandfather Tim as a trainer.
“All of the horses mean a lot to all of us,” Marlys said. “Amigo Volo is the best one right now, he’s the current one, but we’ve had a lot of good horses in the past. But he’s our first top trotting colt. I enjoy watching him, just the way he goes. The races that he won this year, he’s just gritty.
“We’ll be there (for the Hambletonian). I think there will be seven of us coming out. We’ll have our own cheering section. David Miller, the other owner, is coming too. We’re looking forward to it.”
What if Amigo Volo goes from being the Pinskes’ first Breeders Crown winner to first Hambletonian starter to first horse to win the final from post 10?
“That would be the perfect story,” Marlys said.
For the Allen family, their hopes rest with Big Oil. The colt, a son of Father Patrick out of Cee Bee Yes, was bred by brothers Jason and Doug Allen, who share ownership of the horse with their father Ron. The Allens raced Cee Bee Yes, who was a word-record-setter, and still own her as a broodmare.
Big Oil, trained by Julie Miller, has won two of four races this year and finished fourth in his Hambletonian elimination. He will start the final from post four with driver Andy Miller and is 15-1 on the morning line.
“I’m happy to be in the race,” Jason Allen said. “It would be even better if we could get a check. The filly looked pretty impressive. We need a good trip and a lot of luck. (Big Oil) always tries. You can leave with him, you can take him off the gate; he’s pretty handy.”
In 2016, the Allens finished third in the Hambletonian with Sutton, who was beaten a neck by Marion Marauder in a three-horse photo that included runner-up Southwind Frank.
“A few more steps and we might have gotten there,” Jason said.
Ron Allen got started in harness racing in the late 1980s, partnering with Bruce McElven to buy horses. Several years later, they bred Fool’s Goal, who at age 7 was the 2002 Dan Patch Award winner for best older male trotter and earned $3.05 million in his career.
“After you get a horse like that, when you win some big races, you want to get another one that wins big races,” Jason said. “But it’s not so easy.”
The Allen family runs an oil and propane business, which was started by Ron’s grandfather in 1919. Big Oil is a reference to a nickname a friend gave Ron.
“It kind of stuck, so we decided we would name a horse Big Oil,” Jason said. “We got a little lucky.”
Is it any more special to be in the Hambletonian with a homebred?
“It makes it a little nicer because you own the mare,” Jason said, “but it’s special to have any horse in the Hambletonian.”
$1 Million Hambletonian
1-Ready For Moni-Yannick Gingras-Nancy Takter-3/1
2-Back Of The Neck-Scott Zeron-Ake Svanstedt-4/1
3-Hollywood Story-David Miller-Marcus Melander-15/1
4-Big Oil-Andy Miller-Julie Miller-15/1
5-Ramona Hill-Andrew McCarthy-Tony Alagna-5/2
6-Threefiftytwo-Daniel Dube-Luc Blais-6/1
7-Capricornus-Tim Tetrick-Marcus Melander-15/1
8-Rome Pays Off-Mattias Melander-Marcus Melander-15/1
9-Sister Sledge-Brian Sears-Ron Burke-12/1
10-Amigo Volo-Dexter Dunn-Nifty Norman-12/1