07/28/2015 10:59AM

Giwner: The Hambletonian decision

Geri Schwarz
Yannick Gingras has a difficult Hambletonian decision coming his way.

With Mission Brief officially announcing her intention to race in the $1,000,000 Hambletonian against the boys on August 8 at the Meadowlands, many began to speculate what driver Yannick Gingras will decide. Last year’s leading money winner has been the regular driver for both Mission Brief and male divisional leader Pinkman.

According to published reports, neither Ron Burke (trainer, Mission Brief) nor Jimmy Takter (trainer, Pinkman) will force Gingras into a decision until the necessary. But when will that time come?

Ultimately there are a couple of factors at play, starting with whether eliminations are necessary. If there are no eliminations, something that seems unlikely according to numerous industry insiders, Gingras would obviously need to make a decision on which 3-year-old to drive prior to Hambletonian Day.

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Should more than 13 horses enter for the Hambletonian eliminations, it mostly comes down to simply math. The placement of horses in elimination races for the Hambo is derived from a formula. Here it is:

“Horses will be sorted in the order of total money earnings based on the following formula: Total career money earnings will be considered -- but monies accumulated through the date of declaration during their three-year-old year and in their last six starts would be weighted twice as much as the monies earned during the two-year-old season. For example, if a horse earned $100,000 as a two-year-old and $200,000 as a three-year-old and $150,000 in his last six starts, his assigned value would be $800,000 ($100,000 + (2 x $200,000) + (2 x $150,000) = $800,000). These earnings would be based on USTA official money earnings at the time of declaration. 2. Horses will be assigned a rank (group) based on the above formula and the number of elimination heats. For example: If there are eighteen horses, there will be two elimination divisions. The horses with the highest and the second highest money earnings as calculated above will be assigned rank #1; horses three and four would be assigned rank #2; horses five and six would be assigned rank #3; down to horses seventeen and eighteen who would be assigned rank #9. Beginning with the 1st rank, at least half the field of each elimination division (five of nine horses in this example) will be determined by randomly sorting the horses of each group into a separate division. The remainder of the divisions will be determined by lot.”

The only addition to the above rule is that common ownership or trainers would be split if possible.

The bottom line is that Pinkman and Mission Brief qualify as #1 seeds in the formula and would automatically be split into separate divisions. If my math is right, Habitat (assuming he is entered) and Uncle Lasse would be #2 seeds, meaning that Mission Brief and Uncle Lasse would seemingly face-off while Pinkman will tackle Habitat.

Here is what I came up with for the top 5 in the point system as of 7/27/15:

Pinkman 2,986,917
Mission Brief 2,417,460
Habitat 1,383,202
Uncle Lasse 1,378,861
Muscle Diamond 857,909

So, in theory, if both Mission Brief and Pinkman qualify for the Hambletonian final, Gingras will have just a few minutes after the second elimination to collect his thoughts and make what could be one of the most important decisions of his racing career.

“I hope one of them steps up big in the first heat and makes my decision easy,” said Gingras, who wasn't tipping his hand as to whether he was leaning to one horse or the other.

The 35-year-old (he’ll turn 36 on August 4) sat behind Father Patrick in last year’s Hambletonian as a heavy favorite when the colt unfortunately made a break behind the gate. Now he has a second chance.

From an outside perspective, Pinkman would appear to be the safe play having finished worse than second only once in 15 career starts. But a filly winning the Hambletonian is a rare accomplishment that would hold a special place in history.  

Countless drivers in the past have made the wrong call and watched a horse they could have driven win major stakes. Will Gingras choose properly? Time will tell.