by Mike Farrell for Meadowlands Media Relations
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J _ Pinkman and Mission Brief, last season’s divisional champions, headline the 3-year-old trotting stakes Saturday night at Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment.
With the $1 million Hambletonian on Aug. 8 looming large on everyone’s calendar, the two divisions of the Stanley Dancer and the $187,000 Delvin Miller for fillies offer the final chances for meaningful tune-ups over the track.
The Dancer and the Miller are among the supporting events on the 14-race card topped by the $706,000 Crawford Farms Meadowlands Pace. First post is 7:15 p.m.
Pinkman, 4 for 5 this season for trainer Jimmy Takter and current Hambletonian favorite, tops the first $157,225 Dancer division.
That lone loss was a half-length defeat in the Beal eliminations at Pocono Downs.
“He was justly slightly anemic for the race,” Takter said. “His red blood count was a little bit low. We had to change his vitamin program, and we got him back in good order.”
Pinkman was in good health for the $500,000 Beal final, winning in 1:51 3/5 _ a world record for a 3-year-old trotting gelding on a five-eighths mile track.
“He came out of that race fantastic,” Takter said. “He’s feeling great. He’s always a contender. He’s probably the most consistent of my 3-year-olds.”
This will be Pinkman’s return to the Big M after five starts this season on smaller tracks in Pennsylvania.
“I think that’s going to help him,” Takter said of the mile oval. “I don’t think it’s any disadvantage for him at all.”
Pinkman has post 2, one slot inside of Takter’s Capena Hanover who had a night to forget in the Goodtimes final at Mohawk Raceway last month.
The colt headed into the race on a roll, having won the New Jersey Sires Stakes final at The Meadowlands by 3 1/2 lengths and a Goodtimes elimination in an 11 1/2 length romp.
It blew up when the 1-5 favorite made a break just as Yannick Gingras steered him to lead down the backside.
“I’m really not sure what happened,” Takter said. “He’s not an easy horse. When he’s on his right day, he’s as fast as anything. He’s probably the fastest of my group, but he’s a little bit tricky.”
Capena Hanover hasn’t raced since the Goodtimes final on June 20, so Takter is using this race to sharpen the colt.
“I trained him in 1:55 on my farm two weeks ago,” he said. “I don’t expect him to be up to Pinkman’s condition right now but my goal, of course, is to have him as good as I can for the Hambletonian.
Takter has trained three Hambletonian winners, including Trixton last year.
The main threat to the Takter duo in the first Dancer division is Habitat, trained by Ron Burke.
“He’s a very nice horse,” Burke said. “He’s made the quietest almost $800,000 of any horse I’ve ever had. I just don’t know if he can trot fast enough to beat the very best colts. I don’t know if he can trot in 1:51 on the mile tracks, because that’s what it takes.”
Muscle Diamond, Billy Flynn and Cruzado Dela Noche complete the field.
Takter has three more Hambletonian prospects in the second $159,725 Dancer division: French Laundry, The Bank and Whom Shall I Fear.
After Capena Hanover’s miscue in the Goodtimes final, Takter was still sitting pretty as French Laundry made a bold move for the lead turning for home.
And then he jumped off stride.
“The track was a little funny that night,” Takter said. “I don’t think he got a 100 percent hold of that track. He lost his footing but until then, he was, for sure, the winner.
“He’s a top horse. He’s very game and he rarely puts in a bad performance.”
Even after two breakers, Takter was still in the Goodtimes hunt as long shot The Bank came rolling late to get second money.
The Bank returned to action last week at The Meadowlands, losing by only by a length after cutting the fractions against older rivals.
“He’s ready for a good mile,” Takter said. “He may be a notch below the other horses we’ve mentioned, but he’s not a bad horse. He could be a sleeper in this spot.”
Burke sends out Crazy Now, a nice closing third in the Beal final.
“I have all the confidence in the world in him,” Burke said. “I really expect a big mile from him Saturday. He was very good at Pocono and we didn’t get the trip we wanted. He was full of trot at the finish and I look to be ultra-aggressive Saturday.”
Centurion ATM, Donatomite and Iron complete the lineup in the second Dancer division.
Turning to the fillies in the Miller, the discussion starts with Mission Brief.
She has won 11 of 15, including the Merrie Annabelle and the Breeders Crown here last year.
She has raced only twice this season, taking a leg and the final of the New Jersey Sires Stakes on May 30
Mission Brief has qualified twice since then, making a break in the first effort while on a huge lead.
Burke equipped her with trotting hobbles for the second qualifier on July 3, and she responded with a safe mile.
She will retain the hobbles for the Dancer.
“She trained very well this week,” Burke said. “I’m not sure she’s perfect yet. We don’t think the hobbles are a big difference. We’re trying to give her a little bit of confidence. Gait-wise, she’s fine. She’s had a little bit of a back issue and I’m trying to get her over it. I think I’m getting there.”
After her stellar freshman season, speculation swirled that Mission Brief would take on the boys in the Hambletonian instead of facing fillies in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks.
Burke himself helped fuel the Hambo fever. Now he has backed off just a tad.
“I’ve said all along: It’s Hambletonian or bust,” Burke said. “We’re wavering a little bit. I’ve got to get her sound, otherwise it would be stupid to go there.
“But you only have so many chances to win the Hambo, unless you’re Takter, and you hate to pass it up.”
Saturday will go a long way to making that decision.
Takter sends out Wild Honey in the Dancer, hoping for the best against the Dan Patch winner.
“If Mission Brief is herself, she’s in a class all of her own,” Takter said “Wild Honey comes in off a great qualifier. She’s a good filly in a good spot.”
Bee The Queen, Livinthefastlane, Spirit To Win, Magic Marker, Lady Winona and Lock Down Lindy complete the Miller field