08/05/2011 10:52AM

Changing of the guard at 2011 Hambletonian

Deuce Photo
1. Broad Bahn. Driver: George Brennan. Odds: 4-1

There is a first time for everything.

In the 29-year Hambletonian run at the Meadowlands, the upper echelon drivers, trainers, owners and farms have, more often than not, experienced their moments in the sun hoisting the most coveted trophy in harness racing. They typically rein, train, purchase and breed the finest horses and thus go into the big dance with the favorites.

Well, welcome to 2011!

Only Pastor Stephen (Jimmy Takter/Ron Pierce) and Opening Night (Jim and John Campbell) sport a trainer and driver tandem who have won the Hambletonian before.


Manofmanymissions will be the clear chalk this year. He is listed at 9-5 on the morning line and will likely go to the post hovering around even money. His driver, Andy Miller, is a Meadowlands regular, but he has never won the Hambletonian and has fewer than a handful of starts in the rich final. Trainer Erv Miller, Andy’s brother, scored his best finish in the final with Classic Photo in 2005.

Manofmanymissions was bred by Kentuckiana Farms. The farm is hardly a mainstay in the Hambo winner’s circle, but they did breed a winner way back in 1990 with Harmonious.

Of the main owners, only Jerry Silva has enjoyed Hambletonian success, having his picture taken at least four other times. Jack Hood, Dennis and Kevin Lakomy were part of the ownership group on Classic Photo. Kenneth Jackson has nary a Hambo winner and Maurizio Biasuzzi had some previous Hambletonian starters but no winners.

Manofmanymissions burst on the scene as a two-year-old with a 10-length win in his career debut at Vernon Downs. It was his third career start in the $162,500 Kindergarten final at the same track, though, where Erv first felt he had something special.

“Last year when he went his first few starts and set a track record in 1:55.2 at Vernon, that is when [Hambo thoughts] started popping into my mind,” said Miller.

Despite multiple breaks in his elimination for the Breeders Crown, Manofmanymissions would make the final and win with a late surge.

Following a winter vacation Manofmanymissions made a break in his first qualifier.

“We had a real setback when we qualified,” said Miller. “He had popped an abscess out of his foot. Now we have that under control, we are back to the basics and he seems to like it.”

Manofmanymissions did throw in a break in his third start of the year, but he was back on the right foot in the Stanley Dancer Memorial with a huge 1:52.1 first-over mile.

“I think I have the fastest horse,” said Miller. “He doesn’t go the prettiest, but he has learned to work with that.”

Manofmanymissions followed up his dominant Dancer win with another uncovered win in his Hambletonian elimination.

“He was OK. He was a little bit stronger in the Dancer, but he was okay tonight, too,” said Andy Miller.

“He has his ups and downs a little bit,” Miller continued. “When he is on the top of his game, he is very good. When he is not quite there it still takes a good horse to beat him.

“I’m very confident in this horse. He always puts out a big effort.”

The connections of Manofmanymissions are not the only ones looking to win the marquee event in harness for the first time. Fellow elimination winner Broad Bahn (4-1 M/L) is sent out by top conditioner Noel Daley. Daley finished second in 2009 with Explosive Matter. Driver George Brennan has won titles at the Meadowlands and Yonkers in recent years but has never done better than third (Blue Mac Lad – 2006; Wishing Stone – 2010) in the Hambo final.

Their charge, Broad Bahn, is about as consistent as they come. He has never missed the board in seven starts this year and he has early zip that most in the final can only dream of.

“The one thing I do like about him is that ever since I started racing him he hasn’t been passed by a horse yet,” said Brennan. “Whether he was second, third or won, he never has been passed in the stretch yet. So, he is going in with a great attitude.”

The lure of Hambletonian glory is so strong that Brennan often gave up an entire card of drives at Yonkers to follow Broad Bahn from track to track.

“I believe in the horse and there is only one Hambletonian every year,” said Brennan.

Chapter Seven (7-2 on the Morning Line) will be the first ever Hambletonian starter for trainer Linda Toscano.

After a near bout with pneumonia, Chapter Seven has been in rush mode to even make the Hambletonian. Now healthy and on track with two strong efforts, Toscano has a real shot.

“The other horses have a hair of a conditioning edge over him,” said Toscano. “I’ve done everything I could, but he missed five weeks. Those five weeks he’ll never get back. We are trying to prep him for the biggest race in harness racing as quickly and effectively as we can without hurting the horse.”

Toscano might have an ace in the hole with driver Mike Lachance. Of the three standout horses mentioned, he is the only driver or trainer to have won previously, and he has done so a remarkable four times.

The 60-year-old Lachance quipped after finishing second with Chapter Seven, “As long as you don’t tell the horse my age, I’ll be okay.”

Others looking for their first shot at a Hambletonian final win are trainer Homer Hochstetler and driver Tim Tetrick (Whit), driver David Miller (Luckycharm Hanover), trainer Jonas Czernyson and driver Yannick Gingras (Fawkes), trainer Thomas Durand  and driver Randall Waples (Whiskey Tax), and trainer Tony Dinges (Magnum Kosmos).

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to e-mail me at dgiwner@drf.com­