EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Trainer Jimmy Takter exudes confidence in his trio of trotters heading into the $1 million Hambletonian on Saturday at Meadowlands Racetrack.
There is plenty of reason for optimism.
Takter sends out the first three choices in the stakes for 3-year-olds, starting with Father Patrick, the 4-5 favorite.
Should Father Patrick, the winner of 15 in a row, unexpectedly falter, Takter is well fortified with Trixton, the 7-2 second choice, and Nuncio at 9-2.
All that horsepower has Takter thinking big.
“I have the three best horses, and I would be extremely disappointed if I don’t win the Hambletonian this year,” Takter said. “The Hambletonian is the biggest race in our sport, and it’s something you work hard to win.”
Takter has won the race twice, with Malabar Man in 1997 and Muscle Massive in 2010. The Hall of Famer from Sweden could become the second trainer to finish 1-2-3 in the Hambletonian.
The Takter trio led by Father Patrick swept the first three spots in the Stanley Dancer Memorial, the final Hambletonian prep race in July.
With a repeat of that performance, Takter would join Walter Cox (1929) as the only trainers to thoroughly dominate the famed trotting race.
In fact, Cox had the first four finishers in his year.
Father Patrick is 16 for 17 in an already brilliant career. He has been untouchable since losing his second career start.
“He’s the best horse I’ve ever developed,” Takter said. “He’s just different. He has all the things I like in a horse. You can’t find any fault with him.”
Yannick Gingras, looking for his first Hambo win, will drive Father Patrick from post No. 10.
“When I made the move to the Meadowlands, I made it to drive great horses,” Gingras said. “He’s definitely the most talented horse I’ve driven.”
Father Patrick is named for the Rev. Patrick McDonnell, the pastor at St. Anthony Padua Roman Catholic Church in Hightstown, N.J.
Hall of Famer John Campbell, the record holder with six Hambletonian victories, handles Nuncio while Takter will drive Trixton.
“They are all training really good,” Takter said. “All three are coming into this race the best I can have them.”
The strength of the Takter trio discouraged the competition. The 11 entrants are the fewest since the filly Continentalvictory beat 10 rivals in 1996.
This will be the first time in the 89-year history of the Hambletonian that the field advances directly to the final without heats or elimination races.
The Hambletonian is the first leg of the trotting Triple Crown. The series continues with the Kentucky Futurity on Oct. 5 in Lexington, Ky., and concludes with the Yonkers Trot on Oct. 25.