06/15/2015 11:01AM

Bergman: Team Takter marching towards the Hambletonian

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Canepa Hanover will likely be a heavy favorite in the Goodtimes final on June 20 at Mohawk.

With less than eight weeks remaining until the Hambletonian, the sport’s most prestigious race, the stage is being set for a major record to be broken. That’s the feeling I got upon watching Canepa Hanover cruising effortlessly around the Mohawk oval on Saturday night while winning an elimination of the Goodtimes. The sub-1:52 clocking has been the norm this season and as the calendar says, it’s still June!

No one has more top quality sophomores than Jimmy Takter and the trainer is clearly focused on the prize. “I think I’ll have four or five for the Hambletonian,” he said on Saturday (June 13), with a caveat. “Maybe you should ask me this question on Sunday after the (Sire Stakes) races at Pocono?”

The year 2015 seems to have arrived with a confluence of incredibly bred talent that has broken speed barriers well in advance of the big dance. Takter’s Uncle Lasse looked invincible winning a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes in 1:51 4/5 a few weeks back and then saved a little on Saturday with a 1:52 2/5 effort.

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“Did you see him at The Meadows?” Takter said, referring to the effort of the Donato Hanover colt. “He was wide a long way and still had plenty left.”

But Takter knows there are only so many big miles in any of these horses and he’s kind of happy that he’s been able to spread his stock in Sire Stakes events and other Grand Circuit contests without having them run into each other. That is likely to change as the races become more meaningful and the purses begin to rise.

The fastest Hambletonian to date was captured in 2009 by Muscle Hill (1:50 1/5). Now a stallion, his son Trixton captured last year’s edition and Canepa Hanover, another fabulously bred son of Muscle Hill, is likely among the favorites for this year’s version.

“I can definitely see Sebastian K’s record being broken this year,” said Takter, not necessarily referring to the Hambletonian as the race it would happen. But it would certainly not be a surprise given how fast these horses are traveling in June if we could see our first Hambletonian winner shade 1:50 or even 1:49.

“Hey, to win a non-winners of 2 race you have to go in 1:52,” said Takter.

There has been an evolution of speed in the sport, but for a long time it appeared as if trotters were lagging behind pacers. This year we’ve seen trotters, especially 3-year-olds, go faster right out of the gate than ever before.

“You have to be ready with these horses when you send them out. You have to train them to be ready,” said Takter, whose stable has been on fire since the stakes season began.

Canepa Hanover’s 1:51 3/5 mile on Friday was his second straight sub-1:52 outing with Yannick Gingras in the bike. The colt had nine starts with Takter educating him and the training wheels came off with the arrival of one of the sport’s best catch drivers. Gingras suggested after Friday’s contest that Canepa Hanover could’ve gone much faster if he needed to. Takter echoed those sentiments.

On paper, at least the breeding line of the program, it would appear that Muscle Hill’s brilliance on the racetrack is being carried down through his genes and we are seeing a faster group of horses. Takter suggests it’s not as easy at it appears.

“With the Muscle Hill colts you have to work to get them to do everything right. Canepa has such a big stride in his hind end and that’s where they get their speed from,” Takter said. “It’s taken me a very long time to get him to this point.”

Takter suggested that Cantab Hall, the sire of Father Patrick, throws perhaps a better horse to train and develop.

Team Takter captured the other Goodtimes elimination with French Laundry, a son of Muscles Yankee, also likely heading to the Meadowlands for the Hambletonian. And we haven’t even discussed Pinkman, the 2-year-old champion from 2014.

“Pinkman never gets the credit he deserves,” said Takter about last year’s Breeders Crown winner that may have captured the race last fall at the Meadowlands, but lost the headlines for the night to the filly Mission Brief. Pinkman has been flawless this year winning three straight Pennsylvania Sire Stakes events with ease, including Saturday’s 1:53 walk-in-the-park at Pocono.

The precision which the Takter stable has shown in developing top horses doesn’t come easy. “It’s a lot of work,” said Takter. “I got back from Toronto at 3:00 a.m. and had to be at baby races (Meadowlands next morning) and then we’re off to Pocono. You have to stay on top of everything. Not just me but the other trainers as well.”

What Takter has been able to do over the last two years with a barn filled with high-profile stock is get them prepared for the major races. While Father Patrick was expected to win last year’s Hambletonian, it wasn’t a major surprise when Trixton captured the classic after the favorite broke stride. This year Takter has what appears to be a broader array of talent and in Canepa Hanover a half-brother to the 2006 Hambletonian winner Glidemaster.

Takter reported that sidelined Hall of Fame driver Ron Pierce helped him train a few horses earlier in the week. “He’s coming along and I think if all goes well he should be back in about three weeks,” said Takter. A healthy Pierce will return to the sulky to drive Uncle Lasse when he’s ready.

Despite the upset of Father Patrick in the second leg of the Graduate, Takter mentioned that the 4-year-old is doing just fine. He also believes that Shake It Cerry, a winner in the slower of the two divisions of the Armbro Flight Friday at Mohawk, is getting closer to her peak. “It’s a difficult transition with 4-year-olds racing older horses,” Takter said. “Look how long it took Bee A Magician last year.” Shake It Cerry will meet Bee A Magician in the Armbro Flight final on Saturday at Mohawk.

At this point, 2015 looks to be the Year of the Trotter and if the weather is right on August 8 (Hambletonian Day), records will be broken.

No, shattered!