by John Pawlak, the U.S. Trotting Association
East Rutherford, NJ — “I knew when he warmed up nobody could beat him,” driver Ron Pierce said after the $1.5 million Hambletonian Final was raced on Saturday afternoon (August 7) at the Meadowlands.
Pierce was right to be confident; he and Muscle Massive collared the favored Lucky Chucky in the stretch and won the 85th edition of America’s trotting classic in 1:51.
“Jimmy (trainer Jimmy Takter) told me last year we were aiming for one race this year,” Pierce added, revealing the long-term plan that gave Takter his second Hambletonian victory and Pierce the third of his career.
The winner stalked the speedy Cassis through early splits of :27.1 and :54.3. After the half, John Campbell steered Lucky Chucky to the lead at the 1:22.2 third station, looking every inch the winner at that point. But, Muscle Massive exited his rail position as the field came into the stretch and drove right past the leader to prevail by a half-length in what was the second-fastest of the 85 Hambletonians (1:50.1, recorded by Muscle Hill last year is the fastest).
Lucky Chucky finished second, Wishing Stone (George Brennan) rallied to finish third, and Pilgrims Taj (Michel Lachance) was fourth to the wire.
Muscle Massive, owned by Brixton Medical AB and Order By Stable of Sweden, and Louie Camara, Marvin Katz, Al Libfeld and Sam Goldband of Ontario, won for the fourth time in eight tries this year, and sixth time in 14 career starts. He has won $995,192 in his career.
The sophomore son of Muscles Yankee and the Pine Chip mare Graceful Touch was bred in New Jersey by Perretti Farms. The victory by Muscle Massive produced a three-peat for his sire. Muscles Yankee, the 1998 Hambletonian winner, now has consecutive victories with his sons Deweycheatumnhowe in 2008, Muscle Hill in 2009 and Muscle Massive in 2010.
“He was purchased as one of those perfect horses,” said Takter. “We paid a lot of money for him as a baby and we looked him up and we knew he had great potential. As soon as I sat behind him, the first day, I knew he was special.
“We raced him in steel shoes last week and I did that just for safety because he pulled a muscle, just to make sure he wouldn’t go off stride. He made a break in the Beacon Course (he meant the Stanley Dancer) past the wire. I knew he wasn’t really right for that. You have to have the horse safe, make sure you make it to the final and go from there. I put aluminum shoes on him for today.”
When asked what treatment did he use to get him over the muscle pull, Takter said: “At first I had Dr. Mitchell inject him a couple of times and it didn’t work out and it seemed like it was probably deeper than I thought so I made an appointment with Dr. Patty Hogan and I had Patty go in with those long needles because the muscle issue he had was not just on the surface, it’s actually more deep.
“You’ve got to give credit to the horse mostly; Ronnie did a great job, he drove the horse with confidence and as soon as he came out, I could see him at the top of the stretch and that there was a big possibility to pass Lucky Chucky.
“Some races are difficult to win and this is one of them. The Merrie Annabelle, which I was lucky to win today, God knows how many times I was second. Some races I had to really work to win, like the Yonkers Trot — I’d been trying to win that race and now I’ve won it two years in a row. The Hambletonian, it’s so tough to win it. You’ve got to have the horse that’s sharp, week after week and this week was extremely tough because we’ve been dealing with hot weather every single day, it’s tough on these young horses. Muscle Massive is one of those horses that actually handles the heat pretty good.
“He has a race at Chester (the Colonial Trot on August 22) next, but because he has a little bad back, I’m a little scared so it’s very possible I’ll avoid that race. The Canadian Trotting Classic could be one of the targets I have next.”
Hambletonian Day highlighted by wagering, attendance gains
The Hambletonian may be deemed America’s Trotting Classic, but its global significance continues to grow.
Record European wagering helped produce the third highest harness handle in history on August 7 at Meadowlands Racetrack. Total all-source wagering on the 15-race card was $8,391,600, trailing only the $8.8 million wagered in 2002 and $9 million wagered in 2005.
International wagering was nearly $2.4 million, up sharply from the $1.97 million wagered on the 2009 simulcast. The Hambletonian was part of a seven-race bundle beamed to France, Monaco, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The first 10 races from the Meadowlands were sent to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Estonia and Malta.
A crowd of 26,712 turned out to watch Muscle Massive edge Lucky Chucky in the $1.5 million Hambletonian. The attendance was an increase of nearly four percent over the previous year and the highest since 2006.
— Ellen Harvey and Amy Silver also contributed to this story