Hambletonian 2021: A final look

Ken Weingartner

Hightstown, NJ — Over the past dozen years, one Dan Patch Award-winning 2-year-old male trotter has returned at 3 and won the Hambletonian. That was Pinkman in 2015.

Venerate will attempt to accomplish the feat Saturday at The Meadowlands.

Trained by Julie Miller and driven by Andy Miller, the colt heads to Saturday’s $1 million Hambletonian Stakes final with six career wins and a total of 11 top-three finishes in 15 starts. He enters the Hambletonian off a third-place finish in his elimination last week and is 8-1 on the morning line from post eight.

Julie Miller trainee Venerate enters the Hambletonian off a third-place finish in his elimination last week and is 8-1 on the morning line from post eight. USTA/Mark Hall photo.

“I couldn’t be happier with my horse,” Julie Miller said. “He’s had a good week. Knock on wood, he’s been healthy, feeling good, jogging super. You can’t ask for anything more going into a big race than having confidence in your horse and driver.”

Horses starting from post eight at The Meadowlands have won at a 9.2 percent rate this year. Posts nine and 10, at 7.7 percent and 7 percent, respectively, are the least favorable posts.

“I’m all about the cup is half full; I didn’t get the nine or 10,” Miller said about the draw. “I think they’re going to push out of there and I hope Andy can be a force and land where he feels it’s best for Venerate to be and work out a nice trip for him.

“I’ll be biting my nails in anticipation behind the gate to see how it unfolds,” she added with a laugh. “Andy has got to make those decisions behind the gate. He knows what’s best. He’s going to look to his left and decide how he’s going to play it.”

For this season, Venerate has a win and two thirds in five races. His victory came in a division of the W.N. Reynolds Memorial on July 10. He went off stride in his two off-the-board finishes.

“We have been tinkering; changing shoes, changing the bridle,” Miller said. “We’ve been changing equipment on him to tweak him for this moment.

“The gloves are off Saturday. I’m putting the blinkers back on him, we changed his shoes another time. At this level, you’ve got to take the risk to get an edge. Andy and I have decided that this is how we’re setting him up for the race and we’ll let the cards fall where they may.”

Venerate, by Love You out of Peaceful Kemp, is owned by Pinske Stables and Andy Miller Stable Inc.

The Hambletonian and $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks for 3-year-old female trotters will air live from 5:30-6:30 p.m. (EDT) on CBS Sports Network. First-race post time on Hambletonian Day’s stakes-filled card is noon.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Andy McCarthy will try to become the first driver to win the Hambletonian in consecutive years since John Campbell did it with Mack Lobell (1987) and Armbro Goal (1988). McCarthy won last year with filly Ramona Hill and drives Locatelli for trainer Nancy Takter on Saturday. Locatelli is 15-1 on the morning line and will leave from post five.

McCarthy drove Locatelli once previously, finishing 10th after making a break in the William Wellwood Memorial last September. Locatelli has two wins and two thirds in eight races this year. His best time of 1:51.1 is tied for second fastest among the Hambletonian finalists.

Locatelli has two wins and two thirds in eight races this year. USTA/Mark Hall photo.

“He’s a very talented horse when he does what he’s supposed to do,” Takter said. “Earlier in the summer, he was the fastest one out of everybody. I think it’s a very open race and if he minds his manners, I think he can be there.”

Takter has three Hambletonian finalists — Locatelli, Really Fast, and Spy Booth — as she looks for her first Hambletonian trophy. Her father Jimmy won the Hambletonian four times and the Hambletonian Oaks a record eight times in his Hall of Fame career.

Last year, Nancy Takter won the Hambletonian Oaks with Sorella. Ten trainers in history have won both the Hambletonian and the Oaks in their careers.

“It’s an honor to be involved in the race,” said Takter, who was the caretaker of one of her father’s Hambletonian winners, Muscle Massive, in 2010. “Just to be able to participate is amazing. Obviously, my family has a really rich history in it, and to be able to carry that forward also is an honor.”

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Brian Sears is the leading active driver in Hambletonian wins with three. Sears will drive Sonofamistery in Saturday’s final. Sonofamistery, trained by Marcus Melander, starts from post six and is 4-1.

Trainer Marcus Melander’s Sonofamistery has a mark of 1:50.2, the fastest in the Hambletonian field. USTA/Mark Hall photo.

With a victory, Sears would move into a second-place tie for wins, joining Ben White, Billy Haughton, Stanley Dancer, and Mike Lachance as four-time Hambletonian champs. John Campbell holds the record with six victories.

Sonofamistery finished fourth in his Hambletonian elimination, which was won by Delayed Hanover. He has hit the board in six of eight starts this season, winning two. His mark of 1:50.2, set in winning a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial on July 17, is the fastest in the field.

“He raced very well,” Melander said about the elimination. “He never got any room and he had plenty left in the tank. He only ended up fourth, but he looked really good doing it, so I’m confident. He’s developed good, winning (a division of) the Dancer. He is definitely one of those that can win the final.”

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

There are two trainers in this year’s race with Hambletonian victories already to their credit: Ake Svanstedt and Jim Campbell.

Campbell won the 1995 Hambletonian with Tagliabue. Svanstedt captured the 2017 Hambletonian by disqualification with Perfect Spirit.

Svanstedt has three finalists Saturday — favorite Captain Corey, Delayed Hanover, and Ambassador Hanover — while Campbell sends out Take All Comers.

Trainer Jim Campbell sends out Take All Comers in Saturday’s Hambletonian. USTA/Mark Hall photo.

Take All Comers finished fourth from post eight in his elimination, which was won by Captain Corey. David Miller will drive Take All Comers from post two in the final.

“I was very happy with the way he raced last week,” Campbell said. “I thought it was a real tough division, with having the outside. David did a good job; he followed a good horse and got us into the final. I thought he trotted strong right down to the wire and that’s about all we could ask of him.”

Take All Comers has raced seven times this year, with two wins, a second, and a third. This will be only the second time he competes on consecutive weekends.

“We haven’t raced him back-to-back very much this year, just trying to keep him fresh with having this race in mind,” Campbell said. “He hasn’t been over-raced and I think he’s coming into it on a pretty good note.”

The Big M and TrackMaster have teamed to regularly provide free past performances for each race card. Past performances can be found here on The Meadowlands website.

Back to Top

Share via