John Fielding is one of harness racing’s most successful owners. He has won numerous stakes races over the years, including 10 Breeders Crown trophies, which is good for second place in the history of the series, and was named the sport’s owner of the year in 2011 by the U.S. Harness Writers Association.
He is still seeking, though, his first win in the Hambletonian. Of course, any victory in trotting’s premier race for 3-year-olds would be memorable, but a triumph in Saturday’s $1.5 million final at the Meadowlands Racetrack by Uncle Peter would be even more special.
The horse is named in honor of Fielding’s late brother Peter Fielding, who passed away from leukemia 10 years ago.
“We buy probably 30 yearlings a year – and we picked this one to name after my brother,” said Fielding, who has had nine previous Hambletonian starters, including Pastor Stephen in last year’s race. “Sure enough, he’s the one. It’s unreal. It’s exciting. It’s a great tribute to Pete.”
Fielding, who lives in Toronto, played junior hockey in Canada before playing professionally in Germany for several years. He later made his mark in the business world, in both the cosmetics industry and real estate. He has owned horses since the mid-1990s with trainer Jimmy Takter, with whom he has had stars such as divisional champions See You At Peelers, Pastor Stephen, Ken Warkentin, and Solveig.
Takter trains Uncle Peter as well as Hambletonian finalist Guccio – another horse in which Fielding shares ownership.
“Hopefully it’s a great race,” Fielding said. “It’s the highlight for our sport so I’m just really happy we have two (horses) in the final and have a legitimate chance of winning it.”
Uncle Peter has won eight of 12 career races, including last year’s Breeders Crown at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, and earned $533,967. He is a son of Cantab Hall and the first foal out of the mare Victory Treasure. He was purchased for $60,000 at the Lexington Selected Sale, under the name Pick Up The Tab.
Fielding said they settled on the name Uncle Peter because his brother was beloved by his many nieces and nephews. Also sharing in ownership of the colt are Fielding’s brother Jim, Christina Takter and Goran Falk.
“It really was for the kids that we named him Uncle Peter,” Fielding said. “They all completely loved him. He was a great guy and a very good uncle.”
Uncle Peter, driven by Ron Pierce, brings a three-race win streak to the Hambletonian final. He won his Hambletonian elimination race last weekend by 1-3/4 lengths over Money On My Mind in 1:53.3 over a track labeled “good” because of earlier rain.
Pierce positioned Uncle Peter third going around the first turn before moving to the lead on the backstretch. Banker Volo immediately trotted forward to take the top spot from Uncle Peter as the field reached the halfway point in :55.3, at which point Pierce moved from second and reclaimed the advantage at the top of the stretch.
“I thought he raced well,” Takter said. “He had to move a couple times … but he finished within himself so I was very pleased with him. It was a good race. Hopefully we have a little better weather this Saturday. That’s going to be an important factor.”
Takter is a two-time Hambletonian winner, having captured the race in 2010 with Muscle Massive and in 1997 with Malabar Man. The 1997 Hambletonian was the first to be contested using the eliminations-final format rather than heats and in the 15 years with that system Takter has had at least one finalist 11 times.
In fact, this year’s Hambletonian marks the sixth time Takter has had multiple finalists in the race.
“It’s a big honor,” said Takter, who was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y., on July 1. “There are 10 horses in the field and you have two of them; that’s 20 percent. How can you complain? Especially when you have two horses that did a good elimination performance. Of course I’m very happy.”
Guccio, who is owned by Christina Takter and John and Jim Fielding, was a late-charging second to Knows Nothing in his Hambletonian elimination. Jimmy Takter drove Guccio, who has won two of 14 career starts and earned $170,647. Prior to the Hambletonian elim, Guccio was second to stablemate Little Brown Fox in a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial.
“It’s not going to be a walk in the park for anyone in there,” Takter said about the Hambletonian final, which will be aired on CBS Sports Network from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday. “I could see four or five horses winning that race. But I like my chances with both of my horses. I think they’re as good as anyone out there. We’ll see.
“The Hambletonian is the Hambletonian. It’s tough to win the final. I’ve been in a lot of finals and I’ve been very fortunate to win two of them. But it’s not easy. Things have got to go your way. At least we have a ticket to be excited about.”
Fielding and his family are excited as well.
“A lot of the troops will be down there,” Fielding said. “My mom and dad are excited. I’m not sure of everyone that’s going yet, but it will be a lot of fun.”
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