by Chris Tully
For the 10 Standardbred riders going postward between the fourth and fifth races on Saturday, August 4 at the Meadowlands Racetrack, the 25,000-plus fans expected on Hambletonian Day may be the largest crowd to ever witness a racing under saddle event in North America. The race also boasts a number of other “firsts” in Standardbred racing.
Sponsored by Blue Chip Farms, Winbak Farm, Walnut Hall and Big D’s, the $15,000 purse is the largest prize ever offered in a North American race under saddle (RUS), or “monte” event.
The race also has the most (10) noses on the gate for a North American RUS event. All riders in the race are required to have U.S. Trotting Association riders’ licenses, and to have worked a horse under saddle in 2:25 or better, off the gate and before the judges.
Although it is a non-wagering event, it could be argued that it contains some of the fastest and richest trotters ever assembled in one occasion for riders. With combined harness earnings of $3,789,000 the field has average earnings approaching $400,000. In addition, 8 of the 10 starters boast records of 1:55 or faster.
Probably the most well-known trotter in the group is Trond Smedshammer’s Blacktuxwhitesocks 1:53.1 ($716,025). Owned by the Purple Haze Stable, the 5-year-old son of Credit Winner will be ridden by champion Norwegian rider Malin Berås. The duo will start from post 10.
The current North American overall record of 1:54.1 was set in a time trial at The Red Mile in 2000 with Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone riding the famed Moni Maker. Blacktuxwhitesocks’ trainer Smedshammer said that, “I think he’s got a shot of breaking the record. That’s kind of what I’m aiming to do. I want to go faster than Moni Maker.”
Considering that the current North American race record of 2:03.4 was set by Don Swick’s Preferential and rider Brooke Nickells at The Red Mile in 1995, it is safe to predict that the mile track race record will be broken on Hambo Day.
The resurgence of the Racing Under Saddle program follows a nearly two-decade hiatus from the former Boots and Saddles series era. Much of the recently increased interest and enthusiasm in RUS could be attributed to the efforts of Helene Gregory, the Swedish-born wife of prominent New York Sire Stakes driver Jeff Gregory.
Looking for a way to rejuvenate the sport she loves, Helene Gregory noted that, “Monte racing is doing great in Europe so why not try it here. It also gives the ladies in the sport more opportunity to compete.”
“We have a really good field of trotters and we are going to get a lot of exposure,” Gregory added. Having ridden Standardbreds her entire life, Gregory’s passion for RUS landed her a mount upon Master Pine. Trained by Julie Miller, he is a lifetime winner of $612,594 in harness, and scores from post five.
Also in the mix is the current North American record holder on a five-eighths mile track, Armbro Doyle 2:00.2f. The 9-year-old gelding scores from post nine with Jennifer Connor up. An administrative assistant at Blue Chip Farms, Connor hails from a harness racing family and was the captain of her equestrian team at the University of South Carolina.
Returning from a successful qualifier where he trotted under saddle in 2:00.1 at the Meadowlands last Saturday is Muscolo. The youngster of the group, he is a Ray Schnittker trainee, and was a 2012 Yonkers Trot starter. Karen Isbell returns from the winning qualifier to ride in the event, having also been in the winner’s circle while riding Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Quarter Horses and mules.
Riding the second highest money-winner in the event, Ripped, (1:52.3, $694,802), is Emma Peterson. No stranger to great trotters, she was the caretaker of 1999 Hambletonian winner Self Possessed. Currently with the Noel Daley Stable, Peterson was also the caretaker of 2009 Hambletonian runner-up Explosive Matter.
Fresh off her win on Hall of Fame Day at Goshen Historic Track, Leigh Nichol will saddle up Windsun Galaxie once again for the Hambo Day event, starting from the pylon position, post one.
Leigh was quick to point out her trepidation surrounding her Goshen triumph. “I knew going in that Grain of Truth and Cassis were very good trotters. Then to have Ray Schnittker himself inside of you was somewhat intimidating.”
The head coach for the equestrian team following her Master’s degree at Delaware State, Nichol was also the head of the English riding division at South Dakota State University, following a 3-year stint as the Marketing and Public Relations Director for Winbak Farm.
When asked to compare RUS with competitive riding Nichol noted that racing under saddle is a lot like jumping in that, “you have to look up. You have to feel a rhythm and stay out of their way.” Excited to have the inside post, she added that, “I just want to hold on and try to get the heck out of there!”
The field for the non-wagering race with a planned post time of 1:20 pm:
Post Horse Rider Trainer
1 Windsun Galaxie Leigh Nichol Tyler Raymer
2 Ripped Emma Peterson Gary Napierala
3 Muscolo Karen Isbell Ray Schnittker
4 Celebrity Playboy Maria Andersson Ron Burke
5 Master Pine Helene Gregory Julie Miller
6 Take My Picture Therese Lindgren Nikolas Drennan
7 Chinese Cuisine Tina Duer John Duer
8 Zuerest Susanne Kovacic Joseph Poliseno
9 Armbro Doyle Jennifer Connor Tracy Brainard
10 Blacktuxwhitesocks Malin Berås Trond Smedshammer
GERI SCHWARTZ PHOTO
Caption: Leigh Nichol cruises down the lane at Goshen Historic Track en route to victory on July 1 with Windsun Galaxie.
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