Award winners lead Hambletonian, Hambletonian Oaks eligibles

By Ken Weingartner

Award winners On A Streak and Venerate lead a group of 82 colts and geldings eligible to August's Hambletonian Stakes, harness racing's premier race for 3-year-old trotters, at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Hambletonian Oaks, the event's filly-restricted companion race, attracted 90 eligibles, with award recipients Anoka Hanover and Donna Soprano at the top of the list.

Fillies have the option of competing in the Hambletonian rather than the Oaks. A filly has won two of the three most recent editions of the Hambletonian, with Ramona Hill accomplishing the feat last year and Atlanta in 2018. A total of 15 fillies have won the Hambletonian, which began in 1926.

The $1 million final of the 96th Hambletonian and $500,000 final of the 51st Hambletonian Oaks will be Aug. 7 at the Meadowlands. Eliminations for each race, if necessary, will be July 31.

Venerate was last season's top earner among 2-year-old trotters, banking $772,914, and received the Dan Patch Award for best 2-year-old male trotter. Venerate had five wins and three thirds in 10 starts, with his victories including the inaugural Mohawk Million and the Kentucky Sire Stakes championship.

Julie Miller trains Venerate, by Love You out of Peaceful Kemp, for owners Pinske Stables and Andy Miller Stable. Venerate is ranked No. 1 in Meadowlands announcer/analyst Ken Warkentin's Hambletonian winter book Top 10.

"I really think toward the end of last year he showed a lot of maturity," Julie Miller said. "To do what he did, with the travel, I think he really developed a professional attitude. He handled every circumstance pretty well.

"I'm looking forward to getting him ready. Hopefully, he decides to really sparkle that first week in August. He's full of himself. He knows that he's special, that's for sure. He's definitely got that personality."

On A Streak was the O'Brien Award winner in Canada for best 2-year-old male trotter. His wins included the Breeders Crown and William Wellwood Memorial and he ranked second to Venerate in earnings, with $740,947. Luc Blais trains On A Streak, by Cantab Hall out of Habit's Best, for owner Determination.

"I'm very happy with how he has come back," Blais said. "He's a very laidback horse, not tough on himself, and I think that's his best quality."

Determination and Blais also team up with Hambletonian Oaks eligible Donna Soprano. A daughter of Donato Hanover out of Windsong Soprano, she was the O'Brien Award winner for best 2-year-old filly trotter and counted the Peaceful Way among her five wins last season. She challenged the boys in the Mohawk Million, finishing second to Venerate.

"She is feeling good," Blais said. "She's a special character, but she's got a lot of speed and talent."

Blais and Determination, who also have Grand Circuit winning colt Macho Martini among their Hambletonian hopefuls, won the 2019 Hambletonian with Forbidden Trade.

Dan Patch Award winner Anoka Hanover was last season's richest 2-year-old filly trotter, with $587,758 in purses, and the fastest, with a mark of 1:52 3/5. Her 10-win campaign included a seven-race win streak to end the season and her multiple triumphs on the Grand Circuit included the Goldsmith Maid.

Noel Daley trains Anoka Hanover, a daughter of Donato Hanover out of Aunt Mel, and shares ownership with Caviart Farms, Crawford Farms Racing, and L.A. Express Stable.

"She looks good and I'm very happy with her demeanor," said Daley, who won the 2011 Hambletonian with Broad Bahn. "She's got a good attitude, which is always good. She wasn't perfect gaited last year, but she knew how to win. The fact she ended last year on such a good note gives me confidence she will come back good."

Among the remaining colts and geldings eligible to the Hambletonian is Southwind Tyrion, who won in 1:51 1/5 last year to become history's fastest 2-year-old male trotter. He is trained by Ake Svanstedt, who won the 2017 Hambletonian by disqualification with Perfect Spirit.

"Southwind Tyrion is a real racehorse," Svanstedt said. "He has the whole package. He has a big heart, the speed, and he is a strong horse."

Svanstedt's stable also includes Hambletonian-eligible colts Captain Corey and Delayed Hanover, who both were winners on the Grand Circuit last year.

Other Grand Circuit winning males eligible to the Hambletonian include Peter Haughton Memorial champ Zenith Stride, Valley Victory winner Bee Forever, and Matron Stakes winner Type A, as well as Arnold N Dicky, Cuatro De Julio, Dancinginthedark M, Lucky Rascal, and Take All Comers.

Other Grand Circuit winning fillies eligible to the Hambletonian Oaks include Breeders Crown champion Lady Chaos, Jim Doherty Memorial winner Darlene Hanover, and Matron Stakes winner Illuminata, as well as Beautiful Game, Dicentra, Flawless Country, Hello I Love You, Insta Glam, Iteration, Presto, Pub Crawl, and Shirley Goodness.

The Hambletonian is the second leg in this year's Trotting Triple Crown, following the Yonkers Trot on July 2 and preceding the Kentucky Futurity on Oct. 10.

This season's first Grand Circuit event for 3-year-old trotters is the Dexter Cup. Eliminations, if necessary, will be Saturday (April 24) at Freehold Raceway with the final on May 1. Entries for the Dexter Cup close 9 a.m. (EDT) Wednesday.

For the complete list of Hambletonian/Hambletonian Oaks eligible horses, click here. Last year, 79 colts and geldings were eligible to the Hambletonian and 99 fillies were eligible to the Hambletonian Oaks.