Perfect Spirit

Race Summary

What began as a perfectly normal, even routine edition of the 92nd Hambletonian, transformed in the last few strides into an historic event – as the horse first across the wire,  What The Hill, was disqualified for interference with another competitor and Perfect Spirit became the first Hambletonian winner to be placed first because of an infraction.
 In the fourth year of the restored same-day heat formats, 19 hopefuls entered for two evenly-matched elimination fields.
 One important contender was not entered, certainly taking some luster from the day by his absence. The 2016 Dan Patch divisional champion Walner had dominated his freshman crop with nearly half a million in earnings and a mark of 1:51. 3, making him the fastest two-year-old in history. However, the blazingly fast son of first crop sire Chapter Seven struggled to put together a string of consistent races as a three-year-old, but finally took an overnight race in early July in an eye-popping 1:51.1, followed a week later with a victory in a $159,000 Stanley Dancer Memorial division in 1:50.2. Though an improbable run-up to a race of this importance, it seemed likely Walner would be headed for a Hambletonian victory.
However, a few days before the entry box closed for the Hambletonian, his trainer, Linda Toscano, the first woman to win the Hambletonian with Market Share in 2012, announced Walner had suffered an injury and would not be entered.
The sophomore crop of trotters had not quite sorted themselves out by the first Saturday in August, but Julie and Andy Miller’s Devious Man entered the race as the favorite off wins in $252,000 Empire Breeders Classic final and the $500,000 Beal Memorial on the road to the Hambletonian.  Co-owned by the Millers and Stroy Stable, Devious Man was the soul of consistency, and probably represented the best chance the Millers had to date to win a Hambletonian title.  With more than $750,000 in earnings, his bank overshadowed that of any other sophomore colts in the race.
 In the first elimination, International Moni, winner of his Goodtimes elim and the $182,230 final in Canada, as well as an overnight prep race for the Hambo, entered off a scorecard of four wins in four starts on the year. He was rightfully sent off the 3-5 favorite, and held off Bill’s Man by a nose in 1:52.3 to win the first of two $100,000 Hambletonian elimination.
 Scott Zeron, fresh off his 2016 Hambletonian win driving Marion Marauder, steered the three-year-old son of French stallion Love You, out of two-time Horse of the Year and 1996 Oaks winner Moni Maker, for trainer Frank Antonacci and the Moni Maker Stable of Enfield, CT.
International Moni paid $3.40, $2.80, $2.20.  Bill’s Man returned $5.00, $3.20.  Victor Gio It, (another foreign-sired son of the famous Ready Cash) was third, and paid $3.60.  
 Also advancing from the first elimination to the $1 million Hambletonian final for three-year-old trotters, were Guardian Angel AS for first time driver Jordan Stratton and Giveitgasandgo, fourth and fifth respectively.
 In the second elimination, Devious Man was favored, but Marcus Melander, the nephew of Stefan Melander, who won the 2001 Hambletonian with Scarlet Knight, scored a mild upset with his trainee Enterprise. Tim Tetrick guided Enterprise ($13.80) to the Chapter Seven colt’s fifth win in seven starts this year for Melander and owner Anders Strom, who races as Courant Inc. of Delray Beach, FL.  Devious Man ($3.80, $3.20) was second best with Andy Miller at the lines.  Perfect Spirit ($6.40) was third with Ake Svanstedt.
 Also advancing  were What The Hill and Dover Dan in the 1:52 mile.
 Fourth place-finisher What The Hill was trained by Ron Burke, and represented the mega-stable’s current hope to win the Hambletonian, after finishing second twice in the last two years – by a nose to Marion Marauder with Southwind Frank in 2016, and second again to Pinkman in 2015 with the world champion filly Mission Brief.
 The Hambletonian is one of the very few races in in the sport that had eluded both What The Hill’s trainer and his driver, Hall of Famer, David Miller. Rumors swirled from the paddock that Burke had pulled the shoes on What The Hill and was ultra-confident in his colt’s chances in the final.  
 As the ten finalists made their way to the gate, Devious Man was again the favorite, off his consistency alone. However it was Perfect Spirit, driven by 58-year-old expatriate Swede Ake Svanstedt, who left and took command of the field, as the rest of the pack vied for position behind him. Victor Gio IT, driven by Yannick Gingras crowded then interfered with International Moni in the first turn, causing that one to go off stride and lose all chance.
 Svanstedt was able to steal a somewhat pedestrian half of :56 flat, as Stratton and Guardian Angel AS advanced on the leader providing cover flow. What The Hill, pinned down along the rail had David Miller licking his chops at the perfect trip and fresh horse he felt in his hands. As Perfect Spirit tired and drifted out, and Devious Man made a late rush in the stretch, Miller squeezed What The Hill out and powered past everybody to the wire in 1:52.3. The jubilation was short-lived as the inquiry light began to blink and the judges considered whether Miller had clearance or had struck Guardian Angel AS in his haste to vacate the pocket spot.
 After an agonizing wait, What The Hill’s number came down, and Perfect Spirit’s number went up. A roar from the crowd marked the unprecedented incident in harness racing’s most storied event – a first in 93 years.
 What The Hill was placed ninth by the judges, behind the contestant he bothered.
 Trainer-driver Ake Svanstedt and Perfect Spirit, were second across the wire, beaten a half-length, but were placed first in the official order of finish, giving Svanstedt his first Hambo trophy. Owner Lennart Agren of the SRF Stable had purchase Perfect Hanover for $75,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale in Harrisburg, PA as Grill Hanover.
 “I didn’t like the name... so we changed it,” Agren said. “I had another proposal for the name Free Spirit, but that was taken already, so we went with Perfect Spirit:
The official order of finish was Perfect Spirit first, 2-1 favorite Devious Man second and Enterprise third. Perfect Spirit paid $17.00 to win and now has seven wins in 16 lifetime starts and sports a bankroll of $646,419.
The Hanover-bred son of Andover Hall – Good Common Cents, by Kadabra gave the Pennsylvania nursery their record eleventh winner of the Hambletonian.
What The Hill proved his dominance during the remainder of 2017. He was voted Dan Patch sophomore colt champion off his wins in Canadian Trotting Classic, an elimination of the Kentucky Futurity, the Breeders Crown and finally the $350,000 TVG against older trotters. He was subsequently retired to stud in Ohio at the end of his three-year-old year.
Perfect Spirit did not win another race in 2017, and in fact only started twice more in this country. He has developed into one of the best four-year-olds in Sweden of his owner and trainer Daniel Reden, and has amassed a serious international bankroll.
In October, Walner reinjured his suspensory, and was permanently retired by owner Ken Jacobs, to a lucrative stallion deal. He stand in New Jersey at Southwind Farm as did such breed-changing sires as Valley Victory and now Muscle Hill.
Devious Man, the Rodney Dangerfield of his crop, also did not win another race after July, but earned more than $1 million, the most of any male sophomore trotter that year. He was sent to stud in New York as a four-year-old.
ARIANA “GRANDE” IN OAKS: Ariana G brought her “A” game in the Hambletonian Oaks for 3-year-old trotting fillies, and as a result, the rest of the field had no chance.
The daughter of Muscle Hill toyed with nine overmatched foes in the $500,000 sister event to the Hambletonian, putting on a dazzling display as she sped clear of the field through the stretch to win by 4¾ lengths over Magic Presto. Dream Together was third.

As the heavy favorite, Ariana G returned $2.40 to win and upped her lifetime stats to 15 wins in 18 starts, good for earnings of just over $1.2 million.
 For the team of driver Yannick Gingras and trainer Jimmy Takter, it marked their fourth consecutive victory in the Oaks.  She also went on to divisional honors, and earned more than any sophomore trotter, with $1.1 million. The ownership of Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld planned to bring Ariana G back to the races in 2018.
 As for the historic disqualification, it went to  the courts, with the ownership of What The Hill (Burke racing, Our Horse Cents Stable, J&T Silva Stable and Deo Volente Farms) as well as driver David Miller appealing the judge’s actions. That case, like the dead-heat of 1989, entered the court system and was recently resolved in March, with no change to order and the diqualification of What The Hill upheld.
 Attendance for the Hambletonian Day card was 18,356. … All-source wagering totaled $5,788,870. … Takter trained five winners on the card while Gingras drove four. Svanstedt trained and drove three to victory lane.

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