08/05/2011 11:57AM

Toscano ready to write her Hambletonian chapter

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Chapter Seven is at 7-2 on the morning line for the Hambletonian.

Saturday, July 30, marked a new chapter in the training career for Linda Toscano. The 56-year-old Brooklyn native started Chapter Seven in the Hambletonian eliminations that night, her first Hambo starter in her 27-year career.

The road to the Hambletonian for Toscano and Chapter Seven was anything but smooth.

Chapter Seven had a brilliant 2-year-old season where he won seven of eight starts and banked $211,549. He won the Matron final at Dover Downs in mid-November and all appeared perfect.

Chapter Seven went on the usual winter vacation that all rookies take before preparing for their sophomore season. When he was ready to return to training a major issue developed.

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“Very shortly after he came back from his vacation he had a dry hacking cough that just kept persisting and persisting,” said Toscano. ”Finally we did a tracheal wash on him and it turned out he was borderline pneumonia. He spent 17 days at the Atlantic Equine clinic where Dr. [Rodney] Belgrave did an incredible job and got him healthy for us.”

Behind the eight ball and five weeks behind schedule, Toscano’s dreams of the Hambletonian seemed to be in doubt.

“I’d be lying to say yes,” said Toscano about whether she thought Chapter Seven would be ready in time for the Hambo. “You hope, you dream. This is not an easy place to get to. Credit goes to the owners, because an awful lot of people in this business would push you hard to get him here. All they ever told me was to take care of the horse. That is so unique in the business right now. It is so hard to get an owner to realize that. They were the ones that gave me the freedom to do what was right by the horse.”

While most 3-year-old trotters return to the races in mid to late May, Chapter Seven made his first 2011 qualifier on June 30. He followed that up with a second qualifier on July 7 before entering his first race of the year nine days later in the Stanley Dancer Memorial, a key prep for the Hambletonian.

Racing in the second division of the $166,000 Dancer, Chapter Seven amazingly won in 1:53.1. Clearly the colt was back on the right track, but a decision had to be made on whether to get another start into him or wait and attempt to race in the Hambletonian eliminations with only one start on the year.

Toscano elected to give Chapter Seven a break and it paid off. The colt was behind bad cover in his Hambletonian elim but swung wide off the final turn and charged home to be second, beaten three-quarters of a length.

“I recognize that last week (July 22) he probably needed that Sire Stakes race,” said Toscano. “The owners and I discussed it and I said, ‘Don’t be surprised if I recommend that he gets the week off,’ only because I’ve leaned on him to get him to this point. When I heard in the weather forecast that they were predicting 110 degrees, and I knew he had gone two qualifiers and the Dancer, I couldn’t see how it benefitted him to come back in six days for the Sire Stakes. I would have to believe a week off would make more of a difference and I believe it did. He was trotting the strongest of them all at the wire [in his Hambo elim].”

Chapter Seven was steered in his only two starts this year by Hall of Famer Mike Lachance. The two hooked up in the Matron last year. Now the colt’s regular pilot, he will seek his fifth Hambletonian while in the process putting Toscano in the record books as the first woman to train a Hambo winner.

“I expected to have a trip like that,” said Lachance on his path to finishing second in the elim. “My horse had even more trot than I thought he would. He had a lot of ground to make up, but I was mostly concerned with getting into the final.”

Chapter Seven displayed good early speed as a freshman and may need that trait if he is to win Saturday.

“I know he has more speed than he has shown, but he is not really a horse that you can send right to the front from behind the gate. You are at the mercy of the trip,” said Lachance.

Toscano, however, felt Chapter Seven might be ready to pick up his game by 3:43 pm when the finalists are sent on their way.

“He is ready, but he’s not ready,” said Toscano after the eliminations. “We’ve done everything in our power to get him to this point. He was not ready to trot at both ends of the mile; hopefully next week he will be. So, we had to make a decision, do we want him to trot at the end of the mile or in the beginning? “

Toscano, who trains a stable of about 50 and only a handful of trotters, has trained her share of top horses, many on the New York Sire Stakes circuit for her top owner Ken Jacobs. She trained Giant Mermaid to Trotting Mare of the Year honors in 1995 and conditioned millionaire Jet Laag during his career.

Past stars aside, Toscano would be well on her way to a career year should Chapter Seven find the wire first. Her horses have earned over $25 million through the years and her best season came in 2009 when her charges banked $3,052,160. A win on Saturday would push her yearly total over $2.1 million with nearly five months still to race.

For Toscano it would certainly be sweet to capture the Hambletonian.

“When people think of races they want to win in their career, it is the Hambletonian and I think the Little Brown Jug. That is what we go back to; they’re our roots,” said Toscano, who quipped about Chapter Seven, “These are not like bananas, they don’t come in bunches.”

Win or lose on Hambo day, Chapter Seven will always hold a special place in Toscano’s heart.

“He always seems to reach down and find it,” said Toscano. “He’s just an unbelievable horse. I’ve never, ever, ever trained a horse with that kind of determination and guts before.”