08/02/2016 11:50AM

Meadowlands: Takter aims for Hambletonian three-peat

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Top Hambletonian contender Bar Hopping and trainer Jimmy Takter.

It is no secret that trainer Jimmy Takter has enjoyed great success in the Hambletonian Stakes.

The 55-year-old Hall of Famer has won the race four times, including each of the past two years, and would become the first trainer in history to three-peat with a win on Saturday. A victory would also give Takter a record-tying fifth triumph, putting him in the company of Stanley Dancer, Billy Haughton and Ben White in that elite club.

But what is the secret to his success?

[DRF HARNESS LIVE: Week-long coverage of Hambletonian Day + real-time insights & Live Video on Saturday from the DRF Harness team.]

“The secret, I think, is to stick with what you normally do,” Takter said. “Most trainers, including me when I was younger, start thinking about it and changing stuff and doing things differently. People start over-doing things, train the horses maybe a little harder, or whatever. I don’t think that’s smart. I think that’s where experience comes in.

“The horse has no clue it’s the Hambletonian. The driver and trainer, yes. But the horse has no clue.”

Takter will send five horses into Saturday’s $1 million Hambletonian for 3-year-old trotters at the Meadowlands Racetrack: Bar Hopping, Lagerfeld, Love Matters, Jimmy William, and Reigning Moni.

The Hambletonian format calls for any eliminations to be contested the same day as the final. A total of 18 horses entered this year’s event, requiring two eliminations from which the top five finishers in each division advance to the final. The winner of the final is the Hambletonian champion.

Bar Hopping is regarded as Takter’s top contender and holds the distinction of being the only horse to win a race in which Southwind Frank competed. Bar Hopping won a division of the New Jersey Sire Stakes last year when Southwind Frank went off stride and in June defeated Southwind Frank by a neck in their elimination for the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial.

Southwind Frank, who has won 16 of 18 lifetime starts and earned $1.20 million for trainer Ron Burke, is the expected Hambletonian favorite.

Bar Hopping, who missed nearly two months of action last year because of sickness, has won three of 17 career races and hit the board a total of 12 times. He heads to the Hambletonian off a win in the Dr. Harry M. Zweig Memorial Main Event on July 24 at Vernon Downs.

“At least we know he’s challenged (Southwind) Frank,” Takter said. “He beat him fair and square earlier this year. Maybe (Southwind) Frank wasn’t at his best. Last year I thought he was very outstanding. But Ronnie is a professional and knows what he is doing. I’m sure he is going to have his horse ready as a contender.”

Lagerfeld was last year’s Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion. Jimmy William was limited to one start last season and Love Matters joined Takter’s stable late in 2015. Reigning Moni punched his ticket to the Hambletonian with a 7-3/4 length win in 1:52 4/5 last Friday in a conditioned race at the Meadowlands.

“This year I had a bunch of 3-year-olds that I liked early as 2-year-olds, but every single one of them got sick,” Takter said. “It was a disaster year with the 2-year-olds. I never had a 2-year-old group get sick so much.”

Takter won his first Hambletonian with Malabar Man in 1997. He won again with Muscle Massive in 2010, then Trixton in 2014 and Pinkman in 2015. He also was the driver of Trixton.

“The Hambletonian is the biggest race we have,” Takter said. “No matter how many times you win it, you get that kick out of it. I love to win the big races. Those are my moments.

“But it’s also a heck of a race for a horse’s resume. Pinkman was a gelding, but it was huge for Trixton and Malabar Man and Muscle Massive. You’re set as a stallion if you win that race.”

The $225,550 U.S. Pacing Championshjp, $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks and $1 million Hambletonian will be featured during a live 90-minute broadcast on CBS Sports Network from 4-5:30 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday. Hambletonian Day post time is noon.

Below are the fields for the two Hambletonian eliminations:

$70,000 Hambletonian Elimination 1
Race 8 – Post time 2:58 p.m.
PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-Morning Line
1. Bar Hopping–Tim Tetrick–Jimmy Takter–9/5
2. Lagerfeld–Yannick Gingras–Jimmy Takter–12/1
3. Make Or Miss–Joe Bongiorno–Ron Burke–20/1
4. Milligan’s School–Andy Miller–Julie Miller–10/1
5. Brooklyn Hill–David Miller–Jonas Czernyson–3/1
6. Mavens Way–John Campbell–Ake Svanstedt–6/1
7. Tight Lines–Jeff Gregory–Jeff Gregory–25/1
8. Iron Mine Bucky–George Dennis–Greg Haverstick–15/1
9. Reigning Moni–David Miller–Jimmy Takter–4/1

$70,000 Hambletonian Elimination 2
Race 9 – Post time 3:25 p.m.
PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-Morning Line
1. Jimmy William–Tim Tetrick–Jimmy Takter–20/1
2. The Royal Harry–Ake Svanstedt–Ake Svanstedt–20/1
3. Sutton–Andy Miller–Julie Miller–6/1
4. Marion Marauder–Scott Zeron–Paula Wellwood–3/1
5. Southwind Frank–Yannick Gingras–Ron Burke–4/5
6. Hollywood Highway–John Campbell–Staffan Lind–30/1
7. Dominion Beach–Bjorn Goop–Nancy Johansson–30/1
8. Love Matters–Brett Miller–Jimmy Takter–12/1
9. Waitlifter K–David Miller–Andrew Harris–10/1

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