With the running of the Stanley Dancer and Delvin Memorial Trots last night, the picture is coming into focus for the Hambletonian. As for the Hambletonian Oaks, things remain cloudy; the three year old filly trotting division is just a much more competetive division this year as it is deeper in quality.
With regards to the Hambleonian, Muscle Hill is still the horse to beat. That being said, I am not ready to crown him, yet. Make no doubt about it, Muscle Hill deserves to be the overwhelming favorite based on his performance last night in an easy 1:52.1 victory in his division of the Dancer. His victory was made much easier by the unfortunate miscue of Explosive Matter when he tried to leave; at that point, it was a jog in the park for Muscle Hill. That being said, Explosive Matter was impressive considering his miscue. After his break, Explosive Matter was dead last through the half and (sixteen lengths back at the quarter; twelve lengths back at the half) he managed to finish second (six lengths back); he remains a legitimate contender for the Hambo. Copy Catch was best of the rest to finish third. Tom Cango did not impressive me, post position eight is the only that keeps me from dismissing him totally.
In the second division of the Dancer Memorial, Federal Flex's performance, winning in 1:53.3, is the reason why I am not ready to automatically crown Muscle Hill as the Hambo champion. Considering Flex was ill coming out of the Goodtimes which he won in Canada and this was his first start since then, his five length victory served notice that he is a legitimate contender. One has to think he will be even better in his next start. Mr Cantab finished second; he may have finished third if not for a miscue in the stretch by My Back Pages. Cesar A Blue Chip finished a nondescript third. Hot Shot Blue Chip once again broke twice in the race; he may yet turn into a good FFA trotter when he gets older but at this point, he needs to be discounted as a Hambo contender.
It looks like the Hambo will be billed as a Muscle Hill-Federal Flex showdown. For everyone else, it appears to be a race for minor spoils.
While the Hambletonian appears to be a two horse event, the Hambletonian Oaks looks like it will be an exciting wide-open event. Take a look at the first division of the Miller Memorial. Four horses were within a length of each other at the wire. Windsong Soprano came from off the pace to win in 1:55.2, benefiting from early action up front. Margarita Momma was not disgraced in her first loss of the year as she finished second back a head and still remains as one of the leading contenders in the Oaks. Raising Rachel's third place finish ensures Jackie Mo's returns for to the Meadowlands on August 1st for the eliminations. Celebrity Juliet who I ranked as a legitimate long shot closed the fastest of all to finish a neck back in fourth. Gabbys Dream finished sixth but considering she was off a month she can't be dismissed; she will be tighter next time.
As exciting as the first division may have been, your Oaks winner may have revealed herself in the second division of the Miller. Yursa Hanover was very impressive in her split, racing very brave to win in 1:53.2. Not only was she two seconds faster than Windsong Soprano, she was used to get the lead at the quarter and was pressured in the third quarter. Despite this, she won by an unchallenged three lengths being hand driven down the stretch. Celbrity Athena got shuffled back and was able to close the fastest of all to be a non-threatening second. Seaside made two moves to finish third.
Honorable Daughter had a horrible trip and finished fifth. This race is a toss out for her and still merits consideration next start. Another horse that merits some a look next time is the seventh place finisher, Wedding Dress. Considering she was parked three quarters of the mile and was stride to stride with Yursa Hanover for a while, she had every excuse to falter at the end. However, considering she was second and only three lengths back at the top of the stretch, a change in driving strategy next time could result in a better result.
While the three year old colt and gelding division appears to lack depth with two horses leading the pack, the fillies appear to be the more exciting division this year. While wide open, it is not due to the division being mediocre; it is due to it being deep. Unfortunately, the fillies never get the attention and this year it is a shame.
While there are two weeks to the eliminations, both races are shaping up to be great races, for different reasons. Make plans to be in New Jersey on August 8th, you won't be disappointed.
As a side note, I know everyone is focused on the Meadowlands Pace tonight (I reviewed the race yesterday). There is plenty of action on Sunday. While most people will be following the Ben Franklin eliminations at Chester on Sunday, the Tompkin-Geers stakes will be run at Tioga Downs as well. If you have a chance, check them out.