05/06/2017 12:51PM

Harness: Walner makes 2017 qualifying debut in style

Derick Giwner
World champion Walner took his first step towards the Hambletonian in Saturday morning's qualifier

After a long winter of Hambletonian dreaming, Walner, last year’s 2-year-old trotting colt champion, made his first charted appearance on the track Saturday morning (May 6) at The Meadowlands.

Starting from post five in the first of eight qualifiers, Walner was kept slightly off the gate by regular driver Tim Tetrick and settled in mid-pack through fractions of 28 1/5 and 56 3/5 before angling to the rim. The pair would idle in fourth, looming a threat until the stretch when the colt by Chapter Seven hit stride and exploded home with a 26 3/5 final quarter somewhat aided by the wind.

“That was planned,” said trainer Linda Toscano about staying away from the gate. “The gate was going fast, and we wanted to race him from the back if possible. He hasn’t been on the gate at all this year, so why take a chance of getting him stirred up for no reason. He was very well behaved; I was happy about that.

“His plugs were still in and Timmy (Tetrick) was smiling when he came back and said his whip was still tucked.”

Owned by Kenneth Jacobs, Walner won seven of eight starts in 2016 while earning $484,037. His qualifier was the first step on the trail to the $1,000,000 August 5 Hambletonian at The Meadowlands.

Toscano confirmed that Walner will qualify at least one more time before his first start of the year in the Empire Breeders Classic eliminations at Vernon Downs on June 9. Whether that qualifier will be next week or the week after is still up in the air.

“I gave myself two extra weeks,” said Toscano. “I’ll see how he comes out of it (qualifier) and if he needs another week we’ll give it to him.”

While a schedule has been mapped out for Walner in 2017, Toscano was holding her cards close to her chest.

“We have a schedule but I’m not ready to share it yet,” chuckled Toscano. “All roads lead to that first Saturday in August.”​