08/02/2015 9:39PM

Bergman: Jacksons Minion has Hambletonian aspirations

Chris Gooden
Jacksons Minion is on a three race winning streak entering the Hambletonian.

Every owner that nominates a horse to the Hambletonian is dreaming. The sport of trotting is filled with eternal optimists and why not. There are no givens when it comes to putting a trotter on the racetrack. Timing means everything and all too often no matter how much time trainers are afforded to have their trotters ready, something goes wrong and disappointment sets in.

Coming into this past Saturday, there was an “A” list of horses guaranteed to be in the box on Monday morning for the draw for the 90th edition of the Hambletonian. Saturday’s $1 million event at the Meadowlands already has an interesting flavor with the filly Mission Brief facing the boys. But over the last weekend there were races contested and some horses were able to rise up just enough to earn a spot in the field for Harness Racing’s biggest event.

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Jacksons Minion was not among those worthy of consideration heading into last Saturday afternoon’s races at The Meadows. The 3-year-old gelding had been embarrassed when finishing up the track in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes action in May at Harrah’s Philadelphia. So much so that his owners chose to put him in the weaker Stallion Series.

According to part-owner Howard Taylor, who we spoke with on Sunday, he and trainer Tom Jackson, also a co-owner, were on the fence not about the Hambletonian, but about whether to send Jacksons Minion to the Meadowlands for the Townsend Ackerman.

Heading into Saturday’s $32,771 Arden Downs division, the son of Explosive Matter, a $17,000 yearling purchase, was in improving form, but against much tougher competition than he had been facing. So it really wasn’t that surprising to see the horse go to post at nearly 10-1.

Quite surprising was the incredible effort he put forth in capturing the event, in stakes and track record time of 1:53 1/5, two seconds faster than the best race in his 15 start career. Jackson not only left the gate hard through a 27 4/5 opening quarter, but then pushed his horse to the front in what appeared to be taxing 56 1/5 half. From there the pair seemed rather comfortable trotting a 28 1/5 third quarter before cruising to the wire with a final 28 4/5 panel.

“I was near Atlantic City,” said Taylor. “Ron Burke called me up right after the race and told me that it was an incredible mile. He said that the track was kind of dull at that time of the day.”

Two races earlier Suit And Tie, a horse with obvious Hambletonian aspirations, had won his Arden Downs division in 1:56, nearly three full seconds slower.

The transformation of Jacksons Minion has been nothing short of miraculous, but Taylor did shed a bit of light on it.

“They did an operation and removed a polyp from his throat,” said Taylor.

And since the operation Jacksons Minion has won four of five starts and gained enough traction to enter the Hambletonian.

“I thought he was a Hambletonian horse when I staked him,” said Taylor. “We have to give him a shot.”

Taylor, his mother Judith, and Jackson own the horse that earned his name in an interesting way.

“When my father (Jerry) passed away a few years back, Tom came over to the house for Shiva,” said Taylor. “He was going to leave at around 4:30 p.m. At the time there weren’t enough men in the house (10 are necessary) and I told him that the Rabbi was going to be coming at 6:00 p.m. I opened up a bottle to help pass the time and was able to convince him to stay for the Minyan.”

“After that, I told Tom we should look for a horse to buy and name it Jacksons Minion on honor of my dad. Unfortunately I misspelled it,” said Taylor.

Clearly the spirit of Jerry Taylor lives on through the horse and those associated with him. In a year where Takter has been the dominant trainer and Mission Brief the horse to beat, those on the fringe hardly looked as if they were in the running for this year’s main event.

“What’s interesting is that some of the horses that everyone expected to be there don’t seem to be as sharp as they were earlier in the year,” said Taylor. “Hopefully we’re coming into the race as good as we can be.”

The 52-year-old Jackson actually will not be making his Hambletonian debut on Saturday. He was a catch-driver in the 2013 edition behind Celebrity Maserati, a horse that made a break in an elimination won by Creatine.

What’s always great about the Hambletonian is not that it brings out the biggest in the sport but that at times it brings those who work just as hard but don’t get the recognition. Looking through Jacksons Minion’s maternal line you find the impressive S Js Photo. While that champion in the U.S. and abroad didn’t race in the Hambletonian, he did in fact sire a Hambletonian winner in the 2005 champion Vivid Photo. For those with a shorter memory, Roger Hammer put in the drive of his life that afternoon defying expectations by many and racing Vivid Photo from off the pace to the winner’s circle. It was a reaffirming point for many that proved that Hambletonian winners could come from anywhere and with any driver-trainer attached.

Tom Jackson will be bringing Jacksons Minion from the same Pennsylvania tracks Vivid Photo raced on before arriving in New Jersey.

Ten years ago Vivid Photo had never been on a track larger than five-eighths before shipping to the mile oval in East Rutherford.

Through his 16 lifetime starts, Jacksons Minion has never been on a track other than five-eighths through his career.

With less than a week until the big race, it’s impossible to tell just how many seconds faster Jacksons Minion can pick up over the big track. However, anyone that witnessed his stunning performance at The Meadows this past Saturday recognizes that he earned a right to attend the Hambletonian as a participant and not a spectator.

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