08/01/2013 2:18PM

Hambletonian: Three qualifying heats will determine the 10 finalists

Derick Giwner
Wheeling N Dealin, last year's 2-year-old trotting champion, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the second of three Hambletonian qualifying heats.

An old wrinkle will provide a new dynamic as heat racing is welcomed back to the prestigious Hambletonian on Saturday at the Meadowlands. Twenty-three hopeful trotting colts will line up in three eliminations races to determine the 10 participants in the rich $1,000,000 final.

The top three finishers from each elimination plus the fourth-place finisher with the highest career earnings will advance to race 12, the Hambletonian final. This will be the first time since 1996 that same-day qualifying heats will be held for the Hambletonian.

Post time for the 15-race card at the Meadowlands on Saturday, which features guaranteed pick five pools of $20,000 and $50,000, plus pick fours promised at $30,000 and $100,000, is slated for 11:50 a.m.

The first eight-horse elimination (race 7) is headlined by 8-5 morning line favorite Royalty For Life (post 8). The erratic George Ducharme trainee sports the fastest trotting mile of the year by a 3-year-old colt at 1:51 3/5. But the son of RC Royalty has broken stride in three of his five starts in 2013.

Brian Sears, who drives the 2-5 favorite Bee A Magician in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks (race 11), drives Royalty For Life.

Smilin Eli (5-2) was the toast of the town early in the season before recent sickness issues caused him to miss four weeks of action prior to his last start on July 27 at the Meadowlands.

“He just got over being sick on [July 23],” said trainer David M. Smith. “You should have seen the stuff that was coming out of his nostrils.”

Smilin Eli starts from post 2.

Two-year-old champion Wheeling N Dealin was installed as the 2-1 early choice in the second eight-horse elimination from post 1. Despite an 0-for-3 record this year, trainer R. Dustin Jones remains confident.

“He has never gone a bad training mile in his life and he has actually never gone a bad race in his life,” said Jones. “I think the speed is there and I’m confident that when he is in position, he’ll give a good effort.”

Wheeling N Dealin’s main competition will likely come from Aperfectyankee (5-2), winner of his last two starts, and Don’tyouforgetit (7-2), who is coming off a good fourth-place finish in the Yonkers Trot despite getting badly interfered with on the second turn.

The final elimination is the smallest with only seven going behind the gate for race 9. Two-time Hambletonian-winning trainer Jimmy Takter sends out morning-line favorite Corky (2-1) from post 5. Takter is trumped in Hambletonian wins by Spider Blue Chip’s (5-2, post 6) trainer Chuck Sylvester, who seeks his fifth trophy on Saturday.