08/05/2016 10:24AM

Hambletonian: Third time could be the charm for Gingras

Nikki Sherman
Yannick Gingras is hoping that Southwind Frank can help him earn his first Hambletonian trophy.

For whatever reason, the number three is ingrained in our culture. It is said that good and bad things come in threes. In Baseball, three strikes and you’re out. And for some reason, the third time’s the charm.

Driver Yannick Gingras is certainly hoping the last idiom works in his favor on the first Saturday in August when he’ll sit behind favorite in the second of two eliminations for the $1,000,000 Hambletonian at The Meadowlands. For Gingras, who ironically has a 3 in his Twitter name @Gingras3, 2016 will mark the third consecutive year he’ll go behind the gate with the favorite to win the most prestigious prize in Harness Racing.

Back in 2014, the 3-year-old trotting colt everyone was talking about heading into the Hambletonian was Father Patrick. He appeared unbeatable on paper and the public tabbed him as the 2-5 choice as the field lined up behind the gate. Gingras appeared on the verge of his first victory in the one race everyone wants to win. But as the popular TV reality show Big Brother slogan says, “Expect the unexpected.” Father Patrick broke as the gate swung open and Gingras was left dejected.

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“If I had to do it over again, I would do the same thing,” said Gingras on the moments behind the gate with Father Patrick that day. “The horse had never showed me anything like that. It’s not like he was a bad-gaited horse or an anxious horse. It’s very unfortunate that was the race he missed (lost), but that is the way life goes. It definitely stung right then, but you have to move on.”

Life went on for Gingras as he dominated the driver leaderboard in 2014, driving horses to earnings of $17,297,581 that year, more than $5 million more than his nearest competitor (Tim Tetrick). He even steered a pair of champion 2-year-old trotters in Pinkman (gelding) and Mission Brief (filly) that gave him high hopes for another chance at Hambletonian glory.

As luck would have it, both Pinkman and Mission Brief made it to the “big dance” the following year and were entered in separate eliminations. Both won with Gingras in the bike and he was forced to make the decision of his racing life. Should he drive Mission Brief for trainer Ron Burke or Pinkman for trainer Jimmy Takter? Of course he chose Mission Brief and she simply came up second best in the Hambo Final.

“I definitely made the right call,” said Gingras, defending his decision back in 2015 to choose the filly. “Sometimes you get beat. Brian (Sears, winning driver with Pinkman) got the jump on me and she was not quite as good the second heat as she was the first, which maybe in hindsight is to be expected with a high-strung filly versus a gelding. I really felt strongly about my decision when I made it. I promised both trainers I was going to go with the one I felt had the best chance after the elimination and that’s the one I felt had the best chance with.”

Despite the ill-fated decision, in the end Gingras once again led all drivers in earnings last year and found himself driving the champion 2-year-old trotting colt for a third straight year. A winner of 11 races in 12 starts as a freshman, Southwind Frank has continued his dominance in 2016 with a lone second-place finish to go with five wins in six starts.

While Southwind Frank has been winning, visually some of his victories have been less than flattering. That said, Gingras has all the faith in the world in the son of Muscle Hill-Flawless Lindy.

“Frank of the last two or three weeks, he has not been as good as he had been,” said Gingras prior to the colt’s 1:52 1/5 win in the slop at The Meadowlands on July 30, “but Ron (Burke, trainer) told me that he is back to normal and his blood is good. He said he trained really well this week. If he comes back to what he was a month ago, I’d be more confident with him than I was with the other two. Honestly, as much as I was confident with Father Patrick, post 10 did put a little stop to that. Mission Brief, yeah I was confident that I picked the best horse, but she is still Mission Brief. You are not going in thinking this is going to be a cakewalk. So, I am very confident with Frank even though right now, the last three starts, I’d say he was only max 75% in terms of ability. He is still beating them, though, and that is the bottom line. Hopefully Ronnie is right and he is back to himself. Then I would be really confident.

“Even if he races just okay I think I have a really good chance. I think he is just that dominant of a horse that even at 75% I wouldn’t trade him for anyone else in the race. “

Gingras was all smiles after Southwind Frank’s Reynolds victory on July 30 and added to his comments that “Frank” was close to 100% and that he didn’t even pull the earplugs out to ask him for more speed. “He was completely on his own,” said the driver.

Win or lose in the Hambletonian, Gingras is likely to walk away with some hardware and a few fat checks. He’ll drive strong contenders in the $294,450 Peter Haughton (Rubio), $306,500 Jim Doherty (Ariana G), $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks (All The Time), $188,350 Fresh Yankee (Hannelore Hanover), $235,950 Lady Liberty (Lady Shadow) and $75,000 Vincennes (Pinkman).

While attempting to stay politically correct and professing his affinity for all, Gingras did admit that aside from Southwind Frank, Hannelore Hanover was the one horse he was most looking forward to sitting behind on Saturday.

“I don’t know (what her bottom is), but it was pretty impressive (Friday, July 29) when she beat those horses the way she did it,” said Gingras on the mare’s record-equaling mile of 1:51 1/5 despite making a break past the opening quarter.

For Gingras, he doesn’t look back at the past and what could have been. He looks to the future and what can still occur. He realizes there were opportunities lost and hopes the stars will align for him this Hambletonian Day.

“Maybe 10 years ago it would have bothered me; maybe even five years ago,” said Gingras about his Hambletonian losses. “The last two years I actually had good days at the end even after both races. It’s just the way it goes. You have to forget about it and move on.”

“Yeah, I did. I’m not going to lie,” said Gingras on whether he expected to win the Hambletonian in 2014 and 2015. “I don’t know if expect is the right word, but I definitely was confident that I was going to win both days, but that’s the way it goes. Both days were probably two of the best days racing horses in my life. I had two tremendous Hambo days even though I got beat both times. Hopefully the third time’s the charm.”

The third time begins in race nine on Saturday when Southwind Frank will leave from post five in the second $70,000 elimination. The first five finishers in each nine-horse elimination will return in race 13 for the $1,000,000 Final and most coveted trophy in the sport.

[DRF HARNESS LIVE: Real-time coverage of Hambletonian Day & Live Video.]