Handicapper Blog

Posted by Ken Warkentin on Thursday, August 13, 2015 10:18 AM

2015 Meadowlands Meet Highlights

While familiar names like Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke and Jimmy Takter continued to dominate the headlines at the Meadowlands Racetrack in 2015, two horses, emerged with the opening of the season.  Both geldings, a four-year-old trotter and a three-year-old pacer, pretty much carried the mail right through the first seven months of the season.


JL Cruze, the rags-to-riches $37,000 purchase, developed into a giant force, gathering steam in series action with wins in the Super Bowl, Charles Singer Memorial, Shiaway St. Pat and Graduate.  The son of Crazed, trained by Eric Ell and driven by John Campbell, capped off the first half of the 2015 season with a 1:49.4 world record in the Graduate Final, the fastest trotting mile in Meadowlands history.  He followed up with a 2:04.2 world record for a mile and one eighth in the Hambletonian Maturity.  JL Cruze had piled up 16 wins in18 starts in 2015, and earnings of $612,788.


The other big gun that caused perhaps the biggest buzz at the Big M and beyond was Wiggle It Jiggleit, a lightly-raced son of Mr. Wiggles, who put George Teague, Jr. back in the spotlight.  After just one late start as a freshman, Wiggle It Jiggleit stormed into East Rutherford, NJ with rousing victories in the Buddy Gilmour Memorial and Simpson, before returning to dominate the Meadowlands Pace in a world record equaling 1:47.4.  Montrell Teague became the youngest driver at age 24 to hoist the pace trophy.  Wiggle It Jiggleit would get roughed up and finish fourth in the Cane Pace on Hambletonian Day, only his second loss in 17 career starts.


Veteran trainer Steve Elliott enjoyed a renaissance season, thanks mostly to a contingent prolific four-year-old pacers.  Rockeyed Optimist won finals of the Sonsam and Clyde Hirt, plus a division of the Graduate.  His stablemate Doo Wop Hanover swept that series, and Art History reeled off a six-race winning streak.  Elliott also unveiled a promising two-year-old pacer in NJSS named Boston Red Rocks.


The Brett Miller breakout party continued in 2015 with a top four finish in the driver standings.  In addition to being a nightly-presence, Super Brett notched major wins in the Delvin Miller Memorial Miller with the ill-fated Spirit To Win and in the Miss New Jersey with Wicked Little Minx.


Once Meadowlands Pace Night rolled around on July 18, Yannick Gingras and Ron Burke had settled into their familiar spots on top of the standings, and both eventually wrapped up their fourth-straight titles at the Big M.


Team Burke’s Mission Brief, ranked number one in the Hambletonian Winterbook Book Top Ten, started her season on a winning note, yet had to work her way through back issues.  The daughter of Muscle Hill was narrowly denied by 48-1 longshot Spirit To Win in the Delvin Miller Memorial on Pace Night.


Meanwhile, Jimmy Takter’s Hambletonian battalion was just warming up, finishing first and third in both Stanley Dancer Memorial divisions.  Yannick Gingras won with Pinkman in 1:52.2 and Takter drove The Bank to a season’s fastest 1:50.4.


Under sunny skies, Hambletonian Day kicked off with the inaugural Jim Doherty Memorial, and Broadway Donna, a Fashion Farms homebred daughter of Donato Haover, out of their Oaks champion Broadway Schooner, held on to remain an undefeated six-for-six with Dave Miller driving for trainer Jim Campbell.


The Lady Liberty showcased the revived four-time Dan Patch Award winner, Anndrovette.  It was the second straight mile and one eighth stakes win for the eight-year-old by Riverboat King, who had also pulled a 36-1 upset in the Golden Girls for Tim Tetrick and Jeff Bamond, Jr.


In a wide-open year of free for all pacers, State Treasurer has been one of the more consistent performers for Dr. Ian Moore.  In the US Pacing Championship, the six-year-old Real Desire stallion rallied to a world record of 1:47 with Dave Miller in the sulky.


The John Cashman, Jr. Memorial offered a field of 12, and stretched out to a mile and one eighth, and when the dust settled a Quebec bred son of Kadabra, Flanagan Memory, had posted his second straight win at the Big M.  Fresh off a 1:51.4 career best in the TVG Series, the TVG points leader and O’Brien Award winner thundered home with a 9-1 upset in 2:05.4 with Brian Sears driving for trainer/co-owner Rene Dion.


Team Burke once again have permission to dream Hambletonian after Southwind Frank cruised in the Peter Haughton Memorial with Yannick Gingras.


In the first Hambletonian elimination heat, Team Takter finished one-two as Pinkman and Yannick Gingras overcame post ten and nailed stablemate The Bank in a world record equaling 1:51.2.


Gingras swept both eliminations and Mission Brief would serve notice with an easy win in 1:51.3, while Takter added two more finalists, French Laundry and Uncle Lasse.


So, the stage was finally set, and the Gingras decision on who to drive in the Hambletonian Final was revealed.  The Green Hornet opted for the filly, yet even more drama ensued when Brian Sears bailed on his two finalists for Pinkman.  The Explosive Matter gelding gained the tactical advantage and outmuscled a gallant Mission Brief with another world record of 1:51. 


It was the third Hambletonian for The White Knight and former Big M driving champion.


Jimmy Takter finished first, third and fourth and has now trained four Hambletonian winners. 


Wild Honey and Gingras also took the Oaks, giving Takter the Oaks and the Hambletonian in back-to-back years.




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Ken Warkentin has been a member of the award-winning broadcast team at Meadowlands Racetrack as the Track Announcer and television commentator for 25 years. Ken has appeared on national television networks such as ESPN, called 15 editions of the $1 million Hambletonian, and worked as a member of the broadcast team for NBC Sports and CBS Sports.

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