Operation Hambletonian II has run up against the worst case scenario as Holiday Road, the early season favorite to win the Hambletonian this year drew post position ten. With this year's crop being particularly even, perhaps ordinary when compared to the last three years, it seems to be a post that Holiday Road will be unable to overcome.
As could be expected, the three elimination winners have selected the inside posts for the running of the 85th edition of the Hambletonian so there is a good chance either Cassis or Lucky Chucky will be in the winner’s circle when the race is over.
This is not to say there won't be any compelling stories coming out of this year's Hambletonian. With Cassis, the fastest elimination winner, we have a late blooming colt, whose campaign to the Hambletonian included a stop at Historic Track to compete in the Landmark Stakes this year. In smashing an all-age trotting record at Historic Track in what turned out to be a glorified workout, Cassis instantly graduated from a fringe player to a legitimate candidate. A victory here will give Ray Schnittker his second and in some ways more rewarding victory as Cassis was unheard of at the start of the year.
With respect to Lucky Chucky, a victory here will be bittersweet for trainer Chuck Sylvester who lost his son Troy just prior to last year's Hambletonian.. A victory by Lucky Chucky may very well lead to an emotional winner's circle celebration similar to the 1980 Hambletonian at DuQuoin when Billy Haughton won with Burgomeister, a horse owned by the estate of his son Peter. In addition, a win by Lucky Chucky would mean a seventh Hambletonian winner for John Campbell, practically assuring him of being recognized as one of the greatest drivers ever.
Of course, there will be eight other horses looking to make their own story on Saturday. This is the year where no one is racing for second and for the first time in three years, anything can happen.
The field and draw for the Hambletonian follows:
1. Cassis (Tim Tetrick) 7-2
2. Lucky Chucky (John Campbell) 5-2
3. Pilgrims Taj (Mike Lachance) 9-2
4. Mystery Photo (Andy Miller) 10-1
5. Wishing Stone (George Brennan) 12-1
6. Muscle Massive (Ron Pierce) 8-1
7. On The Tab (Daniel Dube) 15-1
8. Hard Livin (Yannick Gingras) 15-1
9. Temple Of Doom (David Miller) 15-1
10. Holiday Road (Brian Sears) 6-1
In a further affirmation that price matters, Tioga Downs has released its latest wagering figures and once again there is positive news. In the month of July, wagering from remote sites taking the Tioga signal increased 21% (13% for the year so far); on-track increased by 8% (-1% for the year due to bad weather early in the meet); simulcast signals at Tioga 25% (4.5% for the year). As for Vernon Downs where the horsemen refused to reduce the takeout rate, the amount of money wagered on their signal elsewhere decreased 13%. Gamblers know value when they see it. Other tracks would be wise to follow the Tioga example.