Explosive Matter, Symphonic Hanover and Muscle Hill were victorious in a trio of $70,000 Hambletonian eliminations on Saturday (August 1) at The Meadowlands.
In the words of track announcer, Sam McKee, “Explosive Matter draws first blood in the Hambletonian eliminations,” and indeed the son of Cantab Hall crossed the finish line one and a half lengths ahead of second place finisher Hot Shot Blue Chip to win the first of three eliminations for the August 8 Hambletonian. The top three finishers, along with the fourth place finisher with the highest career earnings, advance to the $1.5 million final.
Citation Lindy and Ray Schnittker hit the first quarter in 27.3, but Explosive Matter (Ron Pierce) was soon in the hunt, making the lead before the 56 second half. Those two led the field to the 1:24.1 three-quarters, with Hot Shot Blue Chip in second. Explosive Matter held that lead and added to it a bit with a win in a career best 1:52. Hot Shot Blue Chip (Michel Lachance) was second and Reinsman Hanover (Brian Sears) was third. Those three all advance to the final. NF Quotable (David Miller) was fourth.
Explosive Matter was bred and is owned by Adam Victor and Son Stable.
Noel Daley noted that Explosive Matter had a traumatic day on the Friday prior to the eliminations in an accident on the way to his training center.
“Yesterday he spent an hour in a ditch in the trailer. The trailer went off the road and we couldn’t get him out, it took about an hour and a half to get him out and he was pretty hot when he came out.”
Daley noted the horse was not hurt. “Not at all, very lucky, he was pretty hot when he came out of there. He had a bit of a jog this morning to make sure he was all right. He doesn’t need to do much now, he’s there now, just keep his attitude good.”
Owner Adam Victor was joined in the winner's circle by his son, Adam Jr., and noted with pride, “This was the first mare (Fireworks Hanover) that Junior picked out. Turns out we have something special.”
With a rousing crescendo, Symphonic Hanover, at 15-1, beat the favourite (at 1-5) Federal Flex, wearing him down in the stretch to win the second elimination in 1:54.1 by three lengths.
Judge Joe (D.R. Ackerman) was first to the lead in 28.1, but Jody Jamieson and Federal Flex were floating on the outside of the leaders. Just past the quarter, Federal Flex trotted on to the lead and held that to the 56.2 half and on to the 1:25.3 three-quarters.
By the five-eighths-mile mark, Symphonic Hanover was off the rail in fourth place, looming on the outside to menace Federal Flex, and he trailed him to the three-quarter-mile mark. Those two trotted together for a few strides until Symphonic Hanover trotted away from the field for the win. Judge Joe was second, followed by Calchips Brute (Brian Sears) and Federal Flex, who was the fourth place finisher who advances to the final by virtue of being the fourth place finisher with the highest career earnings.
Symphonic Hanover is trained by Jonas Czernyson for the Symphonic Hanover Stable, which includes his former mentor Per Erikson, now living in Sweden.
“I got off fourth and didn’t hurry him any leaving out of there,” said driver David Miller. “I thought the only shot I had of making the final was to move him, even if I had to come first up. In the last turn, he was actually feeling pretty strong. Jody asked his horse and I didn’t want to let him get away from us, so I pulled the plugs and he trotted right on. We get to pick our post now and I still think the horse has a lot of ability. I don’t think you’ve seen the best of him yet.”
Symphonic Hanover was coming into the race off a qualifier on July 16 after a break in the Historic-Dickerson on July 3.
“We did a lot of work on him at home and tried to keep him happy, so things are going in the right direction,” said trainer Czernyson.
Per Eriksson, winner of three Hambletonians as a trainer (Alf Palema, Giant Victory and Prakas) proclaimed himself a, “very happy owner. I don’t have any advice for Jonas. I think Jonas and David Miller have been patient and done a very good job with this horse. I try to stay on the side and if he needs any help, I give him the help. Otherwise, I stay at home. This is unbelievable, I love this country and I'm happy to be back here.”
From a perspective he’s not often seen, Muscle Hill won his way into the Hambletonian from out in the middle of the track in 1:52.3, with driver Brian Sears keeping his whip stored over his right shoulder and the field two and three-quarter lengths behind him.
The colt, unbeaten in four starts this year, stayed out of the way of early breaker Big Bikkies and early leader Wuthering Hanover (Brett Miller), as that colt hit the lead in 27.2 with The Chancellor (Andy Miller) behind him. Muscle Hill was well back of the leaders as the field trotted toward the 55.1 half, with The Chancellor in the lead by that point.
When Triumphant Caviar (Luc Ouellette) tipped out to challenge the leader The Chancellor, Muscle Hill was right behind him in third. When the field went for home, Muscle Hill went three deep in the middle of the track to take the lead and he improved it from there, for the win by two and three-quarter lengths. Triumphant Caviar was second and The Chancellor third.
Sears was not concerned about Muscle Hill’s place well off the pace for most of the race.
“He was always good at that when we first started racing him last year. Last week, after leaving hard with him from the rail, he was a little aggressive early. I was glad to remind him that he can race off the pace and he did it well,” he noted.
There were two breakers in the race, as Braggart made a break approaching the three-quarters and ran inside the pylons next to Muscle Hill, who was outside of him, but Sears says his horse was unaffected.
“I didn’t want anything silly to happen and eased my way around there. Everything went well and I’m glad to be in the final next week. Explosive Matter was very good; there’s some nice trotters in there, it’s going to be a horse race, no doubt. He’s been good right along, a few adjustments here and there, but we’re very happy with him.”
Trainer Greg Peck seemed visibly relieved in the winner's circle.
“Yes, we’re ready to go,” he said with a smile. “Operation Hambletonian, as I’ve been calling it. It’s been trying at times, too, because we really wanted to get in tonight and we had until the last elimination. People would call me and ask me to talk to them about that. It’s still a horse race, as Brian said, you just never know, that is what sports is all about. You never know what the ending is going to be. It’s not like the movies where you know the guy is going to get the girl.”
Peck said he was not concerned about Muscle Hill’s off-the-pace trip.
“He’s very aware of what is going on, Muscle Hill is, and Brian, of course. He seems to be able to do whatever you want him to do. He’s very manoeuverable. As Brian has called him -- a sports car. He’ll have his normal work (this week), anywhere between 2:07, 2:08, 2:09, 2:10. Depends on the day, the track, the field, we’ll go from there. Nothing special.”
(Harness Racing Communications)