Donato Hanover: Harness racing’s newest star

by John Pawlak, marketing director, USTA

East Rutherford, NJ — Donato Hanover confirmed on Saturday what many had already suspected: harness racing’s newest star, who many had said had not yet truly been tested, was the real deal after he responded to his latest challenge with a sharp victory on the sport’s most important stage.

A field deep with talent could manage only to race for the minor share of the $1.5 million purse, and Donato Hanover, a $95,000 yearling purchase, now has the world at his feet.

The question of an owner’s political leanings never comes up at a post-race press conference, but based upon his responses principal owner David Scharf is likely a conservative — perhaps a family values conservative.

“I’ve been with Steve (trainer Steve Elliott) for 23 years,” Scharf said. “I’ve seen some owners with go through a parade of trainers over the years, but I’ve stayed with Steve.”

Not surprisingly, with their ability to communicate better than most families, the pair almost answered in unison when asked about their immediate plans for the Hambletonian winner: He will be given a week off before the pair decide whether to send him to Yonkers Raceway for the Yonkers Trot, the second leg of the Trotting Triple Crown.

“We’ve always made decisions based on what’s best for the horse, and on a race-to-race basis,” Scharf said, adding that a chance at winning the Triple Crown wouldn’t weigh, either way, on their decision.

Asked about the “Peter Haughton” jinx, which Donato Hanover broke be becoming the first winner of the Peter Haughton Memorial at age two to win the Hambletonian at age three, both Scharf and Elliott pooh-poohed such things.

“Going for number 13 in a row (the colt’s 13th straight win came on Saturday) was a bigger jinx,” Scharf laughed. “Steve was wearing a Yankee’s jersey with number 13 on it yesterday, not thinking about the 13, and we laughed about it.”

Elliott was asked about the filly, Pampered Princess, being in the in the race, and if it was good for the Hambletonian; he said “It was good for the race. It caused a lot of positive talk — and that’s what we need in this sport.”

While neither Smith nor Elliott would speculate on what the balance of 2007 holds, the trainer observed that the son of Andover Hall had come back this year “more aggressive, bigger and stronger,” which is bound to be bad news for his competition.

Tim Tetrick, who drove Pampered Princess and was the first to challenge Donato Hanover after the leader and eventual winner had reached the half-mile pole in a pedestrian :58, noted that the filly was “really good today,” but also appeared bitterly disappointed in a trackside interview which came after he had steered Southwind Lynx to a win in the second division of the Oliver Wendell Holmes.

“I never figured there’d be really slow fractions (when racing ) for that kind of money; perhaps we should have left,” Tetrick mused as he stared at the ground.

But Tetrick, who given the talent he has displayed in leading the continent in terms of races and purse money won this year, will no doubt have his opportunity to win a Hambletonian in years to come — though it must have been difficult to race outside against the sport’s top colt, who had just saved ground and energy while waltzing to the midway mark.

The fans, who spun the turnstiles 26,115 times, enjoyed great racing and contributed much of the record $1.6 million bet on the Hambletonian itself — a record. Overall, the handle exceeded $7.98 million.

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