HAMBLETONIAN MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 2, 2005
DAVE JOHNSON: Since 1981, this racetrack has been the showcase of The Hambletonian, the premiere event in standard bred racing. First held in Syracuse in 1926, The Hambletonian has also been contested at Goshen, Lexington and even once at Yonkers. But today, on a hot and humid Tuesday afternoon in East Rutherford, New Jersey, just across from the concrete canyons of Manhattan, you are invited to join us for the press conference and post position draw for harness racing's biggest day and the 80th edition of The Hambletonian to be presented this Saturday right here at The Meadowlands. Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen. For those of you who are live here in the Pegasus level, at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority's Meadowlands racetrack, just across from New York City, we're delighted to have you here. A quick note about the format for today. We're going to be having the draw for both The Oaks and The Hambletonian. While I have you there, and while the folks at the Internet are being connected and satellite transmission of this press conference and also journalists and horsemen on the telephone from around the world, let me give you a few highlights for this week. Thursday, it's the $460,000 Peter Haughton and $390,000 Mary Anna Bell finals. For the kids, rides and carnival attractions from 6 to 10. On Friday, it's the Woodrow Wilson $375,000 and the $330,000 Sweetheart finals. Again, for the kids from 6 to 10, rides and carnival-type goodies in Paddock Park. Saturday, gates open at 9:00 in the morning. The first race on Hambletonian day this Saturday is at 11:30. The seventh race on the card, the three-quarters of a million dollar Hambletonian Oaks, with post time a little past 2:00, the eighth race on the card, the $1.5 million Hambletonian at 2:42 post time. CBS will be broadcasting live between 2 and 3. Again, on Saturday, live from 12 to 4, The Party Dolls, live music, a baseball cap give away for adults, lunch box give away for the kids, and a special wager on Saturday and Sunday. Our two biggest races in New Jersey, The Hambletonian on Saturday here, The Haskell down at Monmouth Park. There will be a special daily double. What a treat it is to have a governor who really loves the game and who is a fan before he was governor. The governor will be presenting the trophy both here at The Hambletonian, the No. 1 race at the No. 1 harness track in the world, and down at Monmouth Park. With those things out of the way, I have to bring up my colleague and another of the guys who calls races here at The Meadowlands, Ken Warkentin. The story that everybody knows is that Ken Warkentin, the horse, was right on track for The Hambletonian. Give us how it happened and what your feelings were last Saturday.
KEN WARKENTIN: My feelings? Terrible. I was watching it in the grandstand with some old-timers, track patrons. One guy turned to me and said, "You didn't do so well." I just wanted to hide.
DAVE JOHNSON: How did it happen?
KEN WARKENTIN: Christina Takter, Jimmy Takter, the trainer's wife, contacted myself and Bob Heyden and Sam McKee, and asked us to fax a letter to the USTA to give permission to use the name. I was very honored. As the horse gained prominence and eventually became two-year-old champion, we started thinking about Hambletonian 2005. Fortunately, he made it all this way. But there's a big season ahead. He's been syndicated. There will be a lot of Ken Warkentins in the future. I'll be standing stud in Sweden.
DAVE JOHNSON: Let's turn to the business at hand. What is first up for you in terms of our Post Position draw?
KEN WARKENTIN: We have the $750,000 Hambletonian Oaks. First of all we want to acknowledge the town of Rutherford, New Jersey, for their hosting the third annual Hambletonian parade on Saturday. I understand it was a great success. I couldn't make it. I was watching Abby and Andrew Warkentin. I was baby-sitting. A great festival of Hambletonian, kicked off by the parade. Give yourselves a hand for a great Hambletonian parade on Saturday. We want to invite our judges up. First of all, our racing secretary, the people who participate in The Hambletonian Oaks draw, Mr. Tad Stockman, our presiding judge Cammie Haughton. Make your way to the stage. Shana Weiler Bloomfield, sales rep from Nutrena. Also Mr. Paul Miller, chief executive officer of the Paul Miller Luxury Auto Group. We want to acknowledge our sponsors and their tremendous participation in The Hambletonian festival, The Hambletonian Oaks, and The Hambletonian itself. Mr. Dan Kramer, equine marketing manager for Pfizer. Also Ms. Susan Shields to assist us. She's a marketing manager for Ford Dodge. Would you please take your positions here. Cammie and Tad, you'll organize the draw for this big race. We have a field of 10. This is a terrific handicapping race, a rock solid field, all the right elements. I think the race sets up for a closer. All depends on the post positions here. We have a very competitive field, a lot of speed in the race, solid closers, as well, a big pot here, $750,000 for The Hambletonian Oaks. Take an envelope there out of The Hambletonian trophy. We'll draw the first name. Jersey Gal of course was the fastest elimination winner, No. 1, Post 1 for Jersey Gal. Brian Sears will drive. He's also listed on Blur. We'll see what his choice is. No. 4 is Jalopy. A well-rated 155 winner. Jeff Gregory, of course, back from an early season hip injury in The Hambletonian spotlight, driving an Oaks contender. Dodger Blues with George Brennan. George Brennan's elimination choice. Our next name, Flawless Bluestone, wide relentless rally, Post 2, Dave Miller driving. Most career starts in the field with 22. Margarita Nights, Jack Moiseyev, Post Position 3. Tough grind in her elim. Magenta Hall, Mike Lachance, No. 9. Vyingforthecrown, No. 6, John Campbell, Post Position 6. She's got a big chance to improve further. Vyingforthecrown. Blur, No. 8, Brian Sears. Post 8 for Blur. Pink Ribbons, No. 7, Ron Pierce. Twin B Senorita, Post 5, Jim Morrill Jr. Finished second to Jalopy in her elimination. Well over $280,000 on her card. That is it. That is the Post Position draw for the $750,000 sister event to The Hambletonian, The Hambletonian Oaks. Thanks to everybody for their participation, their help with the draw. We'll get Bob Heyden with a quick comment from the man behind Blur.
BOB HEYDEN: That's right. That would be Trond Smedshammer. Trond, your reaction to Blur drawing Post 8?
TROND SMEDSHAMMER: I don't like to be a little on the far inside, but that's what we got. That's what we got to do.
BOB HEYDEN: Only have four starts this year. Won a big race in Canada. Tell us how she's doing right now.
TROND SMEDSHAMMER: She's doing good, coming into this race really good. I knew she was going to be a little short last week. But she should be ready to give a top performance this week.
BOB HEYDEN: Brian Sears, backup plan in case he goes to Jersey Gal?
TROND SMEDSHAMMER: He hasn't decided. We'll worry about it if he chooses the other one.
BOB HEYDEN: Thanks. Joe Holloway is also with us. The third leading trainer in Meadowlands history, making his Oaks debut. Tell us about Flawless Bluestone, 22 in the field.
JOE HOLLOWAY: 22 lifetime. We got 10 starts this year. That's by design. I just feel horses kind of come to their peak at around that number. I talked to Mitchell earlier in the year, we set it up we were pointing just to this. We wanted to have the starts under her, we weren't coming in short, that's for sure. She tries. She may not be the fastest, but she gives it a hundred percent all the time. She can wear most of them down.
BOB HEYDEN: She is like a relentless closer. Does the race set up for her maybe more than some of the others?
JOE HOLLOWAY: Maybe so. She won the Sire State final from last. I thought we were too far out of it. She won the other night in 54 firstover. She'll be in the outside flow, going to give it a great effort.
DAVE JOHNSON: The Hambletonian Oaks will be the seventh race on the card. Post time just a few minutes past 2:00 in the afternoon. Here is the Morning Line. Wagering will start with these 10 horses. Here they are from the inside out. We have Post 1 Jersey Gal and the starting price will be 7-2. Flawless Bluestone is 3-one the favorite from Post 2. Margarita nights 10- 1. Jalopy from Post 4 starts at 9-2. Twin B Senorita, 15-1 on the Morning Line. Vyingforthecrown, No. 6, starts at 10. No. 7, Pink Ribbons, starts at 8-1. Blur, No. 8, at 6-1. Magenta Hall at 10-1. Completing the field, Dodger Blues on the extreme outside in Post Position 10 will start at 15-1. We're very happy to have some wonderful partners for our Hambletonian week. One of them is Nancy Byrne who is executive director of the New Jersey Office of Travel and Tourism. Nancy, might I invite you up here. Please come up and say hello to the folks.
NANCY BYRNE: Good afternoon, everyone. It's my job to welcome you all to New Jersey, which I'm happy to do, because we in New Jersey love our state and we want you all to come visit. I thought I'd take my minute or so and give you a verbal tour of New Jersey and hopefully dispel some of the myths about what people tend to think about us. The first thing is, yes, people do ask what exit. I will tell you for the record we're at Exit 16-W. We often call this area The Meadowlands. It's not just because of the sports complex, it's actually because of the topography. When you look outside, we're actually in the meadows. Now with a lot of things that have been going on in this area, you can actually go out canoeing and kayaking and touring here and see different bird and plant species. I think it's a myth that people really need to now understand, we're not just The Meadowlands the way you used to think of us many years ago. The Devils play in The Meadowlands, but the New Jersey devil lives in the Pinelands. For those of you who don't know the Pinelands, it's a 1.1 million acre preserve, full of campgrounds, state parks, forests, historic villages. We're surrounded by the Hudson River, the Delaware River and the Atlantic Ocean. Notice, none of these things are called the New Jersey River. That makes it a little difficult for people to understand where we really are. But the Atlantic Ocean is the home of the famous Jersey Shore. That's 127 miles of beaches. It goes from Sandy Hook all the way down to Cape May. Atlantic City is also on our Jersey Shore. Cape May, to give you a bit of geography, is about as far south at Baltimore, Maryland. People don't realize when you say New Jersey, you're actually that far south. Really, I would invite all of you to plan a vacation in New Jersey, spend some time here. We have a web site visitNJ.org. I wish all the horsemen and people participating good luck in The Hambletonian. Thank you.
DAVE JOHNSON: The Hambletonian is certainly in good hands. The Hambletonian Society is the caretaker. It's my pleasure right now to bring up the chief executive officer and the man who runs The Hambletonian Society, the president of the great society, Tom Charters.
TOM CHARTERS: Thank you all for coming. On behalf of the directors of The Hambletonian Society and its staff, I'd like to welcome you all, wish you good luck. This Hambletonian is certainly one that is filled with milestones, many of which people refer to here. The one I'll take pride in noting is the purse, which at $1.7 million for The Hambletonian and $850,000 for The Oaks, represents a significant commitment on the part of The Meadowlands and our current contract which runs through 2009. I'd like to publicly express our thanks to The Meadowlands for this. It's just an extraordinary and unprecedented I think in our industry, also for the support of the horsemen who were willing to show their -- increase their share of the purse. It represents a wonderful partnership. This whole race festival is the result of a partnership. Somebody said last night on television that success in great events comes from two things: attention to detail and great teamwork. I think those two things epitomize not only the staff, management of The Meadowlands, I'd like to express my thanks to Carl Goldberg, Mr. Zoffinger, Chris McErlean, the entire staff top to bottom. It's just a pleasure to work with them throughout the year. I often say when I'm up here that I don't think a day goes by without some decision being made about The Hambletonian. I'd also like to commend our staff, The Hambletonian Society. They worked very hard towards this week. They're certainly to be commended. I think many of them have interaction with the horsemen and the track. You know what a fine group they are. I'd also like, before I conclude, just point out to everybody our new base for The Hambletonian. About a year ago, just minutes before this press conference, a member of the staff came up to me and said, "We've got a problem with the trophy," which I didn't want to hear right before the press conference. She said, "We're running out of discs." We looked at it and we only had two discs. This year will be the last disc on the tier. We approached Harry Harvey, who won The Hambletonian in 1953, I believe. Harry is a woodworker, does an extraordinary job. We got him to make a new base. I think we're set for about the next 40 years, which I hope will be somebody else's problem when they have to build another base. Lastly, I'd like to just congratulation the owners and connections of the 20 horses in The Hambletonian, The Oaks. There's about 14,000 foals born in North America in 2003. The USTA tells me about 5,000 of those are trotting bred. From those 5,000, we've gotten down to 20, which is literally the cream of the crop. I'd just like to congratulate you on making it this far. As always, I hope I see you in the winner's circle.
DAVE JOHNSON: There is no better place for a major race of any breed, the Steeple Chase, quarterhorse, thoroughbred, harness, whatever, this is the greatest home for a great race. It is the No. 1 race at the No. 1 harness track. It's my pleasure to bring up your host, the president of the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority, the chief executive officer, George Zoffinger.
GEORGE ZOFFINGER: Welcome. If you have 40 more discs to go on there, I hope that in 40 years we'll be having it right here at The Meadowlands. This is our 25th year. We're excited about it. It's going to be a great day. We've already arranged for the weather to be nice. Try to hold the thunderstorms off. Welcome, everybody, have a great Hambletonian. Bye.
DAVE JOHNSON: Just a couple other notes. The media relations department certainly on-call for any of the journalists who have any requests. Updates on our website, www.thebigM.com. Racing from The Meadowlands nightly Wednesday through Sunday. With those thoughts in mind, and with televisions around the room, maybe the best way to look forward to Saturday is to look back at some of the history and current favorites for The Hambletonian. Our video staff might be the best television department in the country, certainly in my opinion it is. They have put together a dynamite presentation for you here. Would you please roll tape and take a look.
DAVE JOHNSON: This Saturday, the 65th million dollar race to be contested here at The Meadowlands. The 2005 Hambletonian at a million point five is the richest race in the sport in the past 19 years. It was all the way back in 1986 that the Woodrow Wilson had a purse of $1,561,000. Our thanks to Bob Heyden for presenting a couple very interesting human notes that I'd like to pass on to you. Brian Sears looking to do what only John Campbell has done before, which is to win The Meadowlands Pace, The Hambletonian and to be the leading driver all in the same season. John accomplished that in 1995. Also Ron Pierce is trying to win The Hambletonian the same year that he went into the Hall of Fame. John Campbell did that back in 1990. Talking about John Campbell, he has five wins in The Hambletonian. Mike Lachance has four. These two tremendous drivers have won nine out of the last 18 Hambletonians. What would The Hambletonian be without those two guys? They'll be back at it again battling each other for the 12th year. With that in mind, let's get some post positions. Ken Warkentin, take us through the draw for the post positions Hambletonian 2005.
KEN WARKENTIN: Thanks a lot, Dave. Again, we want to invite Tad Stockman up to the podium here, to the stage, along with our presiding judge Cammie Haughton. Also Mr. Murray Brown, director of marketing for Hanover Shoe Farms will be assisting us with the draw today. Mr. Lawrence Flack, senior vice president, new development, Valley National Bank. There will be 10 separate betting interests. Don Swick has a pair in the final, but they will be separate betting interests, with the race being over a half million dollars in purse. Let's shake it up good. This is where, again, luck plays a role in getting to the final of The Hambletonian, getting to that winner's circle. The first name is Vivid Photo, elimination winner, No. 6. Classic Photo, another elimination winner, Ron Pierce, Post 5. The elimination winners line up alongside each other there. Muscle Bound, No. 8, Mike Lachance. Solid rally from a long way back to qualify. Self Professed, Post Position 7 with Eric Ledford. Finished third in his elimination, fighting a driving bit change. Sharp upsetter in his elimination. Muscle Memory, No. 1, Brian Sears. Muscle Memory, Jimmy Takter, the great disappointment of Ken Warkentin. Strong Yankee, Post 3. Good draw for Strong Yankee. Another strong rally from a tough post in his elimination. Gettingdownanddirty, Post 9. Mr. Dream OM, Post 10. Dave Miller is listed to drive. No. 2, Racino, Post 2. One of two for Don Swick. George Brennan will drive. Finished fifth while making a late break, but did qualify. Post 2. No. 4, Northern Ensign. Northern Ensign with Post 4. That's it. We've got them all right there. That's the field for the $1.5 million Hambletonian. We'll go to the interviews with our leading driver, far and away our leading driver, threatening the all-time earnings record for a single meet this season.
BOB HEYDEN: Life is all about choices. Brian Sears has a pair in each. Jersey Gal and Blur, do we have a call on that?
BRIAN SEARS: Not exactly. My gut instinct it probably to stay with Trond. I feel comfortable there. I know that filly will probably be better next week.
BOB HEYDEN: That would be Blur. Here in The Hambletonian, you have a couple of shots here. Tell us about your selection here. Do you have one? Muscle Memory has the 1, Strong Yankee has 3.
BRIAN SEARS: They're both decent horses. They can trip out, maybe get lucky and win the race. I just got to think about that for a few more minutes.
BOB HEYDEN: Strong Yankee, tell us a little about him. Very nice colt, big-sized colt, good connections. Is everything in the right place for Strong Yankee to possibly win it?
BRIAN SEARS: He's got a great spot. We'll keep making a couple more changes, try to get him a little bit better for the race.
BOB HEYDEN: Muscle Memory last week, went to the lead, finished fourth. What about him?
BRIAN SEARS: A sweetheart of a little horse. Drives real hard. Loves to go by other horses. Last week got roughed up, but was still able to make the final.
BOB HEYDEN: Do you feel like this 2005 season is a bit of a dream for you? Hambletonian cap it off pretty nice?
BRIAN SEARS: For sure.
BOB HEYDEN: Brian Sears looking for a Hambletonian win.
KEN WARKENTIN: I have Erv Miller. Classic Photo, Post 5. Your reaction, how the race sets up?
ERVIN MILLER: I like the Post Position. The mid pack I think is a good spot to start from for him. Now we just have to see how things fall.
KEN WARKENTIN: Is he a one-dimensional closing type? Do you see him getting a live cover trip or trying to work that out?
ERVIN MILLER: I think he can handle it either way. I think the start before last -- the elimination for the Dancer, come first up, kept going. I think he can do it either way.
KEN WARKENTIN: He's a rock solid animal. Nothing seems to faze him. Stringing all these wins together, he's brimming with confidence, is he not?
ERVIN MILLER: Yeah, I think so. He acts like that every day. You can tell he's full of confidence just being around him.
KEN WARKENTIN: I spoke to you a month ago. I mentioned the May 22nd race where he won here. I said, "Too fast, too soon." What did you say?
ERVIN MILLER: No. I thought he was up for it. I said -- we kind of brought him into it that way. We qualified him several times.
KEN WARKENTIN: This horse, tell us about how he developed as a two-year-old and at what point did you think he was Hambletonian material?
ERVIN MILLER: Oh, I don't know about that. That's tough to call. But he showed some real good speed there late in the year last year when we started him a couple times and he closed up real strong on the end of it.
KEN WARKENTIN: How did you come to have a relationship trainer/driver-wise with Ron Pierce?
ERVIN MILLER: We asked Ron to drive him when Andy couldn't make it out here to drive him a couple times. He happened to get along with the horse real well.
KEN WARKENTIN: Any other thoughts going into this race? Obviously, do you like being in the favorite role? You're going to be the favorite.
ERVIN MILLER: I think that's the best place to start from. I've had a lot more favorites win than 10-1's.
KEN WARKENTIN: Keep in mind, the last three Hambletonian favorites have all lost, and all lost real bad.
ERVIN MILLER: We'll take our shot.
KEN WARKENTIN: Thanks a lot. You're a good sport. Congratulations on making The Hambletonian and success with this horse. Good luck in the final.
BOB HEYDEN: Hopefully there's strength in numbers, Don Swick. 11th time in 14 years, a trainer has two or more. Racino and Self Professed. Racino, going for the biggest green. What about him?
DON SWICK: He's on a personal mission. For five years I lived with the fact that I thought I let Fast Photo down in The Hambletonian. I was inexperienced, probably didn't do the right things that he didn't win. This colt, we bought him. It's just in the back of my mind, like I say, a personal mission I was going to make the best we could out of him and help his mother a little bit. I just like the horse. I just like him. He tries hard. That's the one thing about him, he always tries hard.
BOB HEYDEN: Is he playing catch-up with the others?
DON SWICK: Definitely. He's so far behind. Without racing or even qualifying last year, it's leaps he's made just to get this far. But he shows a couple breaks. He's always coming hard at the end. I really believe he'll do it again this week. I don't have expectations that this horse can win, I really don't. But I'd be really personally surprised if he doesn't get a check.
BOB HEYDEN: Self Professed, tell us about the heat of the battle for him. Wasn't too hot for him last week.
DON SWICK: No. The weather was good. Two weeks ago -- he's had two bad races. Both time he got ugly, ugly trips. Hot nights, couldn't get him blown out before or after the race. He was just in terrible shape. For whatever reason, he couldn't get his air. The other day, when he raced, even though he raced good, I didn't see his really big kick that he has at the end of the mile. When he pulled up, I noticed when I took his overcheck off, he was just hanging, just head hanging heavily in the overcheck. I should say chin strap. All the trainers here know when horses do that, they don't perform right. There's something wrong when a horse's head is hanging that heavy. They don't work right, don't get their air right. Last year we wore an overcheck bit on him all year. Truthfully, this is Gurfein's fault. He's always telling me, "Let those Valley Victories head down, get a chin strap on them." This spring when I was getting him ready, I dropped his overcheck, put the chin strap on him, and he's been great that way. I think he's got to a point in the year where he needs his overcheck. We put the bit back on. I think he'll get his air better. Other than the two races where he got horrendous trips, he's been first or second. I have a lot of faith in that horse. He doesn't give up.
BOB HEYDEN: For a trainer who is hoping to be 1-2, to a trainer who has been, Jimmy Takter.
KEN WARKENTIN: Jimmy, we've got to touch on it right off the top. What happened?
JIMMY TAKTER: I don't know really. We're not sure really what happened to the horse. We thought he maybe got a little scared of the whip from Roger Hammer when he waved it out. I don't know. He was completely shocked after the race, thought he had the race won. That's horse racing. I've been here before. Last year I thought I had a winner. Things didn't work out either. It's a tough race. You got to get lucky to win.
KEN WARKENTIN: The horse is good, he's still okay, he's in good shape?
JIMMY TAKTER: I had tears in my eyes on Monday when I jogged him, he felt so good. A lot of races coming up after, too, that could be interesting. Hopefully it's not over just because The Hambletonian is over for him. I think it's a very interesting horse. I just love the horse.
KEN WARKENTIN: Muscle Memory, good post. You drew the rail. I hope you like the rail. Better than Post 10. Strong elimination effort from him. Won a couple of divisions of the Sire Stakes. He's a solid contender, is he not?
JIMMY TAKTER: Absolutely. You know, without Ken here, looks like Classic Photo is maybe slightly better than all of them. This is Hambletonian. A lot of things happen. Not many favorites in the races. Post 1, it could be very good, especially a horse like him. I consider him like fourth or fifth horse in the field. One post, he's good out of the gate. Anything can happen.
KEN WARKENTIN: Any changes in equipment or shoeing for this horse to try to get him to step up another notch or two?
JIMMY TAKTER: It's couple things we're working on him. He been carrying a lot of weight up front. We light him up a little bit last week, a couple small things. Hopefully we can get him adjusted to suit him here. He had a bad post. Brian thought that not many horses inside was leaving, so he took his shot to leave. He thought the situation was he had to take back. Unfortunately, on the momentum to go, you have to stop your horse, of course, take a lot out of a horse.
KEN WARKENTIN: Are we going to see Ken Warkentin this weekend? Rumor is Townsend Ackerman perhaps?
JIMMY TAKTER: We enter him for that. Hopefully he get to show up his class. Unfortunately, just a $50,000 race.
KEN WARKENTIN: Congratulations on making it to the final with Muscle Memory. Best of luck on Saturday.
JIMMY TAKTER: Thank you.
KEN WARKENTIN: Mark Harder is looking to pull off the ultimate daily double.
BOB HEYDEN: No trainer has ever won The Hambletonian and Meadowlands Pace in his first shot. Mark, you're halfway home. Now you're trying it with Northern Ensign. Life can't be too bad. How you doing?
MARK HARDER: I'm doing fine. An experienced driver like we got and all, but we'll be okay.
BOB HEYDEN: Your horse raced here, went to Canada, came back. Has he maintained his form?
MARK HARDER: Came back from Canada because he got a bad limestone infection in his heels. Something didn't agree with him up there. The two breaks up there can attribute to the bad cracks in his heels. He made a break for George a couple starts ago. I think he had him on the gate a bit early. John drove him early. Qualified him three times. Drove him a couple of times. Never had any trouble with him here, no trouble with him last week.
BOB HEYDEN: Angus Hole, second in this race. Turned out to be a pretty effective sire.
MARK HARDER: I'm not a big trotting man. I'm happy I'm here. I didn't pick the horse out. Brian Montgomery, John Fielding had much more to do with this horse. I'm just lucky to have him here.
BOB HEYDEN: Last year in the Pace, top four finishers, New Zealand trained. Is The Hambletonian a big race down in New Zealand, too?
MARK HARDER: Absolutely. People are going to be watching this as much as The Meadowlands Pace.
BOB HEYDEN: If you win this race, 20 years from now, what is going to be the highlight of your summer, winning The Hambletonian or getting married?
MARK HARDER: My wife is here, Bob (laughter).
BOB HEYDEN: Let's head over to Ken Warkentin.
KEN WARKENTIN: The trotting guru, maybe you don't like that, going for your fourth Hambletonian, six years since Self Possessed hit that stakes recorder. Strong closer in Post 8 with Muscle Bound. Give us your impressions on the post, how the race sets up. Maybe you were right, Ken Warkentin was too small for the first Saturday in August.
RON GURFEIN: You had to quote me on that, didn't you? I didn't want to see Jimmy get out of the race like that, though. That's the furthest thing from my mind. That was my opinion of the horse when he was a baby. The horse evidently showed he was a wonderful horse. I feel terrible for Jimmy. So let's not go there. As far as drawing the 8 hole, I'm not a happy camper about that. My horse seems to have developed into a one-dimensional horse. We tried to use him a couple times early in the Sire Stakes. He just didn't have much punch finish than if we used him early. We've changed our tactics. We've raced him from off the pace. The last two starts, he's been awesome. I figure if I had the rail or the 2 hole or something like that, I'd have an excellent shot. Now we have to go back to the drawing board and take some other chances.
KEN WARKENTIN: Maybe not disclosing your secrets, but what do you do equipment-wise, shoeing-wise, to get more umpf punch out of him in the stretch?
RON GURFEIN: I lighten the colt up, like Jimmy did. This is the time of year you start taking weight off. Went the speed route rather than the very normal route that I usually take trying to get by doing things in a simple fashion.
KEN WARKENTIN: You've been there before. Can you tell some of the ones that haven't what it is like in a nutshell to win The Hambletonian just once?
RON GURFEIN: There's nothing like it. Absolutely nothing like it, except maybe having your first child born or something like that. But I would equate it with that. Some are more exciting than others, but they're all exciting.
KEN WARKENTIN: Being a longshot or an outsider, drawing Post 8, how satisfying would it be to pull off an upset here?
RON GURFEIN: Just winning is always wonderful. I've always had the favorite. I've never gone into the race with a rank outsider like this. It would be just as much fun as when it was Self Possessed.
BOB HEYDEN: No one has won this more than John Campbell. John, tell us, first of all, about your choice here. You had Mr. Dream OM and Northern Ensign.
JOHN CAMPBELL: I thought Northern Ensign was going into the race a little bit better shape. Mr. Dream OM had some problems early in the week. I believe he's going to get better; I just don't know if he's going to get better for this week.
BOB HEYDEN: Tell us about Northern Ensign's last week, finishing a solid second.
JOHN CAMPBELL: He raced very well. Used him hard to keep the two hole filled, following Jack Moiseyev around the first turn. He got out ahead of the stretch. Wasn't a match for Classic Photo, but I was very happy with the race. If you look at his card, it's really the first good mile he's had in about three weeks. I think he's going to improve off that race.
BOB HEYDEN: Pretty effective here early on this season, too.
JOHN CAMPBELL: He won two or three in a row, then went to Canada, won an Ontario gold sires. As Mark alluded to, he had a few problems with his heels. I thought he was trotting better than he had all year the other day in the elimination race.
BOB HEYDEN: Any similarities between Angus Hall, the father and son here?
JOHN CAMPBELL: Not really. Two different horses. Angus Hall was a big, strong horse, hard to drive, behind the gate a little. Wasn't near as handy as this horse. This horse is actually more professional than his father was.
BOB HEYDEN: All five of your Hambletonian wins here were the favorite. Would there be extra satisfaction if Post 6 won?
JOHN CAMPBELL: I don't think anybody's looking at their odds. If you win the race, doesn't matter what you pay. As Ron alluded to, it's what we all strive for in this industry. Every one of the entrants here are happy to be here, excited to be here. It's a thrill to be in this race each and every year. If you're fortunate enough to win it, it's just the pinnacle of what we strive for in this industry.
BOB HEYDEN: John Campbell set for his 21st final. Let's head over to Ken and Paula Wellwood.
KEN WARKENTIN: Just the fourth female trainer to have a horse in The Hambletonian, Paula Wellwood from Canada. The horse tied up in his elimination, did he not? Can you give us a status on his health?
PAULA WELLWOOD: He's improving every day, getting his numbers down, changed his routine a little bit. Hopefully we'll be all right for the race.
KEN WARKENTIN: Have you made any changes equipment-wise? How is he going into the final?
PAULA WELLWOOD: I'm going to treat him a little different. I'm going to do a shoeing change, like everybody else, lighten him up a little bit. Otherwise basically treat him the same as I've been treating him, but maybe a little more aggressively.
KEN WARKENTIN: He unleashed a 56.2 middle half of the start before. That really showed that he definitely has the speed, but maybe needs to ration it out.
PAULA WELLWOOD: Yeah, he does. He needed to be controlled a little bit in that race. He definitely has ability. He just hasn't stepped up to the highest level yet.
KEN WARKENTIN: Post 9, obviously a tough draw. How do you see the strategy here? Obviously, you leave that up to Paul. Do you try to kick home?
PAULA WELLWOOD: Try to kick home. That's the best you can do out of Post 9. We've been in that route before.
KEN WARKENTIN: Good luck with Gettingdownanddirty. Paul MacDonell pulled off the biggest upset in Breeders Crown history. See if he can do it again.
BOB HEYDEN: Lou Domiano is here. I thought I was busy until I talked to Lou. Any final in the next four days that you and your ownership and partners are not in here?
LOU DOMIANO: We didn't make it in the Woodrow Wilson.
BOB HEYDEN: You've been here before in The Hambletonian. What is the feeling like for you going in with not the favorite, but you got a couple of shots, Strong Yankee and Muscle Bound?
LOU DOMIANO: We've been in this race before with not favorites. It's just exciting to be here. There's a lot of horses bred every year. To get down to the final 10 to put your nose on the gate, that's just an excitement we all dream for.
BOB HEYDEN: Both (inaudible) Yankees. Your impression of him as a sire?
LOU DOMIANO: I think he is a terrific sire. Any of the Valley Victory descendants seem to be doing very well. Self Possessed is very good also.
BOB HEYDEN: Jerry Silva also along for that ride.
LOU DOMIANO: He's the greatest partner. Love him to be with me.
BOB HEYDEN: Lou, good luck to you with two shots, Muscle Bound and Strong Yankee.
DAVE JOHNSON: It's an exciting afternoon in store for us on Saturday afternoon. The Hambletonian, the race, the undercard, all of these great events that happen during the week, they just don't happen, it's a great team that puts it together. But our team has wonderful leadership. Carl Goldberg slipped away before I could recognize him. I'd be remiss if I didn't at least point out one of our great leaders, the vice president of racing, operations, for the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority. He doesn't want to make a speech. Won't you just thank Chris McErlean for making the game, our sport, The Meadowlands and this race so good. Thank you, Chris. Here is the Morning Line for The Hambletonian: From the rail, Muscle Memory, 10-1. Racino 2, 20-1. Strong Yankee, Post 3, 8-1. Northern Ensign, 8-1. The favorite at 6-5 from Post 5, Classic Photo. The second choice alongside, Vivid Photo from Post 6 is 7-2. No. 7, Self Professed at 10-1. Muscle Bound, No. 8, 5-1 Morning Line. Gettingdownanddirty from Post 9 starts at 30-1. Completing the field, Mr. Dream OM 20-1 from the outside. We hope that you'll all have a wonderful week. Thanks very much. Have a great Hambletonian week here at The Meadowlands.
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