07/26/2012 9:55AM

Hambletonian: Elimination favorites figure to have hands full at Meadowlands

Lisa Photo
Top Billing is the 5-1 fourth choice in his Hambletonian elimination on Saturday.

By all accounts the 2012 Hambletonian is a wide-open affair. While the names Uncle Peter, Stormin Normand and Archangel ring a bell in the heads of most diehard fans, more often than not a few horses that are under the radar perform well in the eliminations and find themselves with a chance to compete for the $1.5 million Hambletonian prize.

In the first of three $70,000 eliminations on Saturday at the Meadowlands, Uncle Peter has been installed the 2-1 morning-line choice. Along with Banker Volo and Possess The Will, we are left with an imposing trio that on paper seem like shoo-ins to advance to the final.

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Right on the fringe of the top three comes Money On My Mind. The son of Cantab Hall has only one win in five starts this year but beat Possess The Will two starts back at the Meadowlands and has held his own with the upper echelon of the division.

“He’s a very good horse,” said Andy Miller, who does the driving while his wife Julie handles the training. “I think he fits with these.”

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Money On My Mind could be his winning style. In each of his four wins the gelding has been on the lead by the time the field hit the three-quarter pole. With the more accomplished Uncle Peter comfortable on the lead, a front-end trip seems unlikely for Money On My Mind. Miller was not concerned.

“He has good tactical speed but he doesn’t need to be on the lead,” said Miller, who described Money On My Mind as very sound and a horse that could be good for several years.

With a 1:52 4/5 mark in 2012, Magic Tonight can't be called a hidden gem, but he is 8-1 on the early line. The Noel Daley trainee has displayed hints of superior ability in Pennsylvania Sire Stakes action, including the sub-1:53 mile. But he was badly beaten in his one true test in the Earl Beal Memorial at Pocono Downs.

In addition to the quintet mentioned above, longshots Lindys Jersey Boy, From Above, and Prestidigitator comprise the first elimination.

A horse must finish in the top three in his elimination or finish fourth and have the highest lifetime earnings to advance to the final on Aug. 4.

Perhaps the toughest of the three Hambo splits is the second elimination. It features top trotters like $591,202 earner Stormin Normand, Goodtimes winner Beer Summit, and the nearly perfect duo of Knows Nothing and Riccolo.

That covers the top four on the morning line. Then we have that all important second tier led by My MVP and Guccio.

My MVP has amassed a $169,048 bankroll in eight starts this year thanks to the lucrative PA Sire Stakes circuit. He took a shot in the Beal and was a solid third in his elimination. But he drew post nine in the final and could only get fourth. Since then he finished just one length behind Uncle Peter and posted a solid score at Pocono.

Trainer Tony Alagna, who is starting his first horse in the Hambletonian since going out on his own three years ago, has all the confidence in the world in My MVP.

“Given the right circumstance and trip, he can go with any of them,” said Alagna, who went on to speak about the horse’s progression. “He has come so far this year. We put him away the right way after Lexington last year and Mike (Lachance) has done a great job driving him. We haven’t seen his best yet.”

While Alagna is optimistic, he is also realistic.

“There is a lot of depth this year,” said Alagna.

Guccio has the look of the wise-guy horse entering his elimination. While the Jimmy Takter trained and driven colt has exhibited flashes of brilliance, he has also raced greenly in most of his starts. The Yankee Glide colt stormed home for second in the $153,000 Stanley Dancer after gapping around the final. Takter, who is a master at aiming for the biggest races, promised some equipment adjustments for this week.

Not to be left out and certainly in the mix are Lightning Storm and One In A Million. Each has shown strong early speed at times but remain as the least accomplished colts in the field.

The final elimination for the Hambletonian contains the lone nine-horse field. Little Brown Fox has earned favoritism on the strength of a 1:51 2/5 Dancer victory and Archangel is 7 for 8 this season with the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Yonkers Trot, on his résumé.

But have you heard of Top Billing?

The 5-1 fourth choice on the line is another Team Miller trainee. He has only six starts in his career, each coming this year. The Andover Hall colt began the year with two wins, had two setbacks and then took some time off.

“He didn’t have any stakes for five or six weeks, so we gave him a month off before qualifying,” said Miller.

Top Billing came back strong off the qualifier with a 1:53 4/5 win and Miller is hopeful that his colt has what it takes to make the final.

“He’s green and doesn’t have a lot of starts, but they are all quality starts,” said Miller. “I don’t think we have seen his best.”

Market Share and Gym Tan Laundry are the other middle-of-the-pack entrants in the third elimination. The former was perfect as a 2-year-old but has yet to step up in a big spot this year. Gym Tan Laundry put in his best mile in the biggest spot he has seen this year. At 161-1 in the Goodtimes he tried to go down the road and lost by just three-quarters of a length while third.

Big Chocolate, Delano, Solvato, and Appomattox are the other final hopefuls.

The Hambletonian eliminations are slated as races five, six and eight on the Meadowlands’ 11-race card, which also features standout fillies Check Me Out and Maven in two seven-horse Hambletonian Oaks eliminations.

Post time is 7 p.m.