07/31/2014 3:12PM

Meadowlands: Father Patrick could propel Gingras to career year

Derick Giwner
Father Patrick has a 16-for-17 career record. He starts from post 10 as the 4-5 morning line favorite in the Hambletonian.

When the gate swings open for Hambletonian 89, Father Patrick will be the heavy favorite. The onus will be on driver Yannick Gingras to avoid trouble and steer the nearly undefeated son of Cantab Hall-Gala Dream into the record books.

The $1,006,125 Hambletonian, raced as a one-dash for the cash event for the first time (there were no eliminations in 1996 but winning two heats was required), is the crown jewel on a 15-race August 2 program at the Meadowlands that features most of the upper-echelon of the North American Standardbred community. It is the one race that horsemen only dream of winning. The race which helps them get through the sometimes dreary winter months with the hopes that they'll have a Hambo contender come the first Saturday in August.

For Gingras, who has seen his star rise over the last handful of years, everything is coming together in what potentially could be the most incredible year of his career to date. The Quebec native has risen to the top of the money-winning leaderboard ($5,789,768 earned by his horses as of 7/27) for perhaps the first time in his career and has a prime opportunity to extend his advantage on Hambo Day behind Father Patrick and a host of other contenders.

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Gingras only has three career starts in the Hambletonian final and has never finished higher than seventh. But for the top driver, who will turn 35 just two days after the Hambletonian, the stars have aligned to pair him up with Father Patrick.

“It would mean a lot to win (the Hambletonian),” said Gingras. “All the big races mean something, but the history of this race is huge.”

Gingras could not have achieved his current level of success without building strong relationships along the way. His pairing with trainer Ron Burke, for whom he drives Foiled Again and Mission Brief on Saturday, and with Father Patrick’s conditioner Jimmy Takter, has proven invaluable.

Those relationships have been huge,” said Gingras of working for Burke and Takter. “There are probably 10-15 great drivers out there who can all do the job and I’m very fortunate. A lot of it is being lucky and in the right place at the right time. Look at He’s Watching and Tim (Tetrick), it just worked out that he didn’t have another horse to drive (in the North America Cup Final) and he was available.”

While most in the harness world know Gingras by the nickname, “The Green Hornet,” a play on his driving colors, Takter affectionately calls him “Cookie”. Derived from the Sesame Street character Cookie Monster, who is rarely satisfied with just one or two cookies, Takter says Gingras has an innate desire to win every race he competes in.

“I don’t really like the name, but in a way it is right. I want to win every race. Jimmy might be more of a Cookie Monster than me because he wants to finish first, second and third in every race,” joked Gingras before getting serious. “You need to be hungry in this sport.”

Derick Giwner    Father Patrick with trainer Jimmy Takter.

While Gingras has sat behind some of the top horses in the sport over the last 10 years, he has garnered a special appreciation for Father Patrick in the 16 times (17 career starts) he has sat in the bike.

“He’s a Cantab Hall and a lot of them have quirks. He doesn’t have many, but even the way he shook his head as a baby and seeing him grow from two to three makes (the success) twice as good,” said Gingras.

Even with a perfect record in six starts this year, Father Patrick has yet to be truly asked for his best effort. Gingras didn’t even pull the colt’s ear plugs in the Stanley Dancer, a race he felt “we could have went around again and they weren’t going to catch me.” In fact, he only recalls calling on Father Patrick for all he had once in his career—his Breeders Crown elimination as a 2-year-old.

“We’ve been prepping him all year,” said Gingras. “Everything we have done has been with this race in mind.

“He’s in great shape and his qualifier was vicious. I don’t think he could have been any better,” said Gingras on Father Patrick’s 7/26 effort at the Meadowlands.

A member of the 5,000 win club and having driven horses to earnings over $100 million, Gingras’ job became more difficult when Father Patrick drew the outside post 10 in the 11-horse field. Despite the bad draw, the colt was still installed as the 4-5 morning line favorite on Saturday. While still confident in a victory for Father Patrick, he listed stablemate Trixton (post 7) as his stiffest competition and was quick to point out Datsyuk (post 4) as a horse that has been pointing for this race all year.

Hambletonian aside, Gingras has an all-star lineup of horses to drive on the Hambletonian card. With a big day he could be well on his way to unseating perennial earnings leader Tim Tetrick atop the standings when 2014 comes to a close.

Gingras comments on his other drives

Hambletonian Oaks - Lifetime Pursuit – “She is not the strongest mentally but has a lot of ability. With the right trip she can win, but she can’t come first up or move three deep early.”

U.S. Pacing Championship – Foiled Again – “He is really sound, but just not as dominating as in the fall.”

Cashman Memorial – Archangel – “I don’t think [Sebastian K] is invincible, but I’ve never seen a horse as handy as he is. I really think we can beat him but I don’t know if we can make him work hard early and still win.”

Lady Liberty – Rocklamation – “She’s such a sweet mare but maybe not as tough as Anndrovette. I’m hoping we can get her over the $2 million mark (earnings) on Saturday.”

Haughton Memorial – Canepa Hanover – “He has a lot of ability. Jimmy (Takter) has been working on his shoeing and wanted to go with him himself last time. I think he may finally put it all together this week.”

Merrie Annabelle – Mission Brief – “Last week she let me do what I wanted and she kicked home with plenty left. She was pretty close to perfect.”

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