Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Hambo Returns to Heat Format

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Hambo Returns to Heat Format

Article excerpt

CARLSTADT -- Even a harness racing institution like the Hambletonian is not immune to change.

Saturday's 88th edition of the Hambo at The Meadowlands will turn back the clock. For the first time since 1996, the most prestigious and lucrative race in the sport will be contested in a three-heat elimination format.

That means 23 colts will attempt to qualify for a 10-horse final that will include the top three finishers in each heat and the fourth-place finisher with the highest career earnings. Less than two hours after qualifying, the third-heat qualifiers must run in the final.

The return to the heats format is the brainchild of Jeff Gural, chairman of the New Meadowlands and a growing force in the industry. Gural also bred and is a co-owner of Hambo entrant Dewycolorintheline.

"I've been a big proponent of heats," Gural said Tuesday at the post-position draws at Il Villaggio Restaurant.

Most of the trainers and drivers seem unfazed by the return of heats.

George Ducharme, trainer of Royalty For Life, the 8-5 favorite in the first heat, says his horse is "big and stout" and shouldn't be affected by running twice in one day. Noel Daley, the trainer of All Laid Out, whom he describes as "a tiny little fella," thinks the heats format could be advantageous to smaller colts, especially if it's a hot day.

"It's a little bit like old times," said Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter, who has three horses in the field, including Corky, the 2-1 favorite in the third elimination.

Even Greg Peck, the trainer of Super Classic who isn't thrilled by the heat concept, has benefited from the return to elimination races. Super Classic qualified for the Hambo 11 days ago.

"If the eliminations were a week before, like last year, I wouldn't be in it with this horse," Peck said. "And now I have a horse who is coming into heat racing with an almost perfect foundation. He has enough starts under him, but he's made a lot of mistakes, so he's still fairly fresh. In his last race he was flat- out closing at the end of the mile. I took a leap of faith with this one."

At least Peck has a Hambletonian victory to his credit. Muscle Hill won in a stakes record 1:50. …

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