07/28/2015 1:33PM

Meadowlands: Spirit To Win aims for Hambletonian Oaks win

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Fred Hertrich III was disappointed Spirit To Win failed to sell at the 2013 Standardbred Horse Sale, but the breeder-turned-owner of the 3-year-old trotting filly has been nothing but pleased with her performance on the racetrack.

Spirit To Win, who in her most recent start defeated Mission Brief by a nose at 48-1 odds to capture the Delvin Miller Memorial, was among 16 horses entered Monday for the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks for 3-year-old female trotters at Meadowlands Racetrack. The field was split into two eight-horse $35,000 eliminations Saturday at the Big M, with Spirit To Win drawing post eight in the second division.

The top five finishers in each elimination advance to the Hambletonian Oaks final Aug 8. Posts for the final will be drawn Monday, Aug. 3, with elimination winners drawing for posts one through five while all other finalists are part of an open draw. Posts for the $1 million Hambletonian, open to 3-year-old trotters regardless of gender, also will be drawn that day.

Stakes-winners Smokinmombo from the stable of trainer Chris Beaver and Wild Honey from the stable of trainer Jimmy Takter are this year’s top money-earners in the first Oaks elimination. Spirit To Win’s division includes Julie Miller-trained stake-winner Livininthefastlane and Takter’s Sarcy.

Spirit To Win is a daughter of stallion Cantab Hall and first foal out of the mare Celebrity Spirit, who is a half-sister to Dan Patch Award winners Master Lavec and Housethatruthbuilt. Spirit To Win, who saw her 2-year-old campaign abbreviated by a fractured pastern bone that required four months of stall rest, has won four of 10 races in her career, hitting the board a total of nine times, and earned $168,130.

“We were kind of disappointed that we didn’t get her sold,” said Hertrich, who shares ownership of the filly with the Noblock Racing Stable of Ontario. “She was the first foal out of one of our mares and we thought she would bring substantially more than what ended up being the final bid on her ($35,000). We’re always happy to take fillies out of our good mares or our new mares. If we have to race them, we’ll race them.

“She was such a good foal. You like the ones that never have a problem. We were more than happy to retain her at that number. She’s gone out and done very well.”

Dustin Jones liked Spirit To Win as a yearling and approached Hertrich about training the filly. Hertrich sent Spirit To Win home with the Ontario-based conditioner. Last season, Spirit To Win won the Pure Ivory Series and finished second to Stubborn Belle in a division of the Champlain in a stakes-record 1:54 2/5 mile.

“As a 2-year-old we were really high on her,” Jones said. “I expect her to race good (Saturday). She’s raced good every race this year. She came out of her last race good and I’m happy with the way she is right now.”

Spirit To Win’s victory in the Delvin Miller Memorial was her first win in four starts this season. She finished second by a neck against older rivals in her seasonal debut and then was third by a neck in a division of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. She entered the Miller off a third-place finish in another division of the PaSS, this time at Harrah’s Philadelphia.

“If she had gotten through in the passing lane (at Pocono) I think she would have won,” Jones said. “At Philly, she just wasn’t handling the track good. But if she’s close, she always wants to pass another horse.”

Her desire to pass horses was on display in the Miller, where Spirit To Win rallied from third place with a :26 final quarter-mile to nip Mission Brief at the wire. It was the first time in her career that Mission Brief was defeated in a start in which she did not go off stride.

“She’s got an awful lot of ability, which everyone was able to see,” Hertrich said. “Now it’s just a case of going forward with that. Dustin seems to think we’re in a very good place. It should be a lot of fun.

“When you can get a trotting filly that can finish in a mile in 26 (seconds) flat, that’s pretty special. She can kick to another gear and accelerate through the wire. It’s going to take a good filly to beat her. You better be able to come at the end of the mile or she’s going to come and get her.”

Spirit To Win will not have to face Mission Brief in the Hambletonian Oaks. Mission Brief, who was last season’s Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old female trotter and trotted the fastest mile in history by a 2-year-old when she won in 1:50 3/5 at the Red Mile, will be entered in the Hambletonian. She will try to become the first female trotter to capture the grand prize since Continentalvictory in 1996.

Mission Brief, trained by Ron Burke, was making her first start in seven weeks in the Miller Memorial and rebounded from that setback with a 1:51 4/5 triumph Sunday in the Dr. Harry M. Zweig Memorial Filly Trot at Vernon Downs.

“We all have watched Mission Brief,” Hertrich said. “The Burke team has done a great job getting her back. She was so good last year at 2 it was scary. If she keeps progressing she’s going to give the boys all they want. It’s great for the sport.

“Kudos to Ron Burke and the other owners, they’ve done something great for the game. They understand this could be something special.”

Following are the elimination fields in post order for the Hambletonian Oaks with listed drivers and trainers:

Race 6-HN-Horse-Driver-Trainer

1-Lady Winona-Andy Miller-Julie Miller     
2-Cocoacabana-John Campbell-Frank Ingrassia     
3-Lock Down Lindy-Tim Tetrick-Tony Alagna     
4-Smexi-Corey Callahan-Jimmy Takter     
5-Bright Baby Blues-David Miller-Bob Stewart     
6-Gatka Hanover-Yannick Gingras-Ron Burke     
7-Wild Honey-John Campbell-Jimmy Takter     
8-Smokinmombo-Aaron Merriman-Christopher Beaver 
 
Race 7-HN-Horse-Driver-Trainer
1-Rules Of The Road-Corey Callahan-Janice Connor     
2-Sarcy-Johnny Takter-Jimmy Takter     
3-Speak To Me-Scott Zeron-Jimmy Takter     
4-Magic Marker-David Miller-R. Nifty Norman     
5-Katniss-Ake Svanstedt-Ake Svanstedt     
6-Livininthefastlane-Andy Miller-Julie Miller     
7-Classical Annie-Aaron Merriman-Jim Arledge Jr.    
8-Spirit To Win-Brett Miller-R. Dustin Jones    

-Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com