Atlanta doesn’t disappoint at Hambletonian

Photo of Atlanta doesn’t disappoint at Hambletonian

For Rick Zeron, it was an easy choice.

Horses who have a chance to win the Hambletonian don’t come often so the popular Oakville, Ont. horseman decided to enter Atlanta in the $1 million classic. And she didn’t disappoint.

The three-year-old trotter became the 14th filly in the 93-year history of the race to win harness racing’s most prestigious trot, taking the lead right at the start of the final and never looking back to win in 1:50 4/5 at the Meadowlands.

Driven by Zeron’s son Scott, who won the race with Marion Marauder in 2016, Atlanta left for the lead right at the start, getting to the quarter in 26 2/5 and the half in 55 2/5. She opened some daylight around the turn and had a clear lead in the stretch. It appeared like Tactical Landing and Crystal Fashion, who won elimination heats earlier in the day, might pose a threat but Atlanta maintained a safe margin over both. Mets Hall charged to grab second on the line.

There was some concern pre-race over what Atlanta may have had left after her elimination heat less than two hours earlier. In that race, she blazed three-quarters of a mile in 1:21 1/5 and slowed to a crawl in the stretch allowing Crystal Fashion to go by. But Scott Zeron was confident in his filly.

“I was not concerned about the actual speed and talent that she has,” Scott said. “It was more about the attitude of having to hit the bottom of her lungs for the first time.”

“She just got away from me (in the first heat). I regret the way that race went. But I said to myself she’s a champion and she’s going to bounce back. And she did just that.”

Though she is a New York-sired filly, Atlanta’s ownership group is mostly Canadian with Zeron sharing the win with Brad Grant of Milton, Ont., Holland Racing Stable of Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ont., and two American interests. The daughter of Chapter Seven was a modest four-for-10 as a two-year-old but she went to New Jersey with five consecutive tallies to start 2018. Rick Zeron decided to give her a two-week break after her last start but kept her routine the same.

“With good horses, you don’t change anything,” he said.

Manchego was sent to the front by driver Yannick Gingras and first held off a challenge by Plunge Blue Chip then a late surge by Phaetosive to win the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks in a stakes-record 1:50.

The daughter of Muscle Hill, part owned by John Fielding of Toronto, won her first 15 consecutive starts but lost a couple before bouncing back to win an elimination heat last week. Her win gave Gingras and trainer Takter their fifth consecutive Oaks victory.

Stay Hungry, co-owned by Grant, upset heavily-favoured Courtly Choice in the $281,000 Cane Pace. Driven by Doug McNair, the Tony Alagna-trained colt who was named Canada’s top juvenile pacer in 2017, turned into the stretch dead last of nine. However McNair found a path six wide and the son of Somebeachsomewhere gobbled his field to win by two lengths in 1:47 3/5. It was Stay Hungry’s ninth win in 17 career starts.

North America’s 2017 horse of the year Hannelore Hanover was defeated for the first time in seven starts this season in the $286,650 John Cashman Memorial, by 2016 trotting triple crown winner Marion Marauder, who is owned by Marion Wellwood of Stratford, Ont. and grandson Devil Keeling of Cambridge, Ont. … Scott Zeron had another stakes win when Western Joe swung off cover late and caught even-money favourite McWicked to win the $260,100 Sam McKee Memorial. It was the 18th career win for the son of Western Ideal … Woodbine Mohawk Park regular Dream Together scored a 50-1 upset over champion Ariana G in the $154,800 Dr. John R. Steele Memorial with Bob McClure driving for trainer Luc Blais … Shartin N won the $197,400 Lady Liberty with Tim Tetrick driving … Takter captured both major two-year-old stakes on the program. Don’t Let’Em, with Gingras on board, wired the field in the $422,350 Peter Haughton Memorial. The Ice Dutchess got a passing-lane steer from brother Johnny Takter to win the $357,450 James Doherty Memorial.

Diversify, with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard, took command early and dominated a sloppy renewal of the $1.2 million Whitney Stakes beating sprinting star Mind Your Biscuits.

Tiz Breathtaking with Eurico Rosa da Silva aboard, stormed from the back of the pack in the stretch to win the $125,000 Shady Well Stakes. It was the second win in three starts for the two-year-old Mike Doyle-trained daughter of Tiznow … Jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson, who suffered an arm injury in April, scored her first two winners of the season on Friday. She had returned to riding last weekend … Monday’s feature is the $100,000 Victoriana Stakes which features a field of seven mares going 1 1/16 miles on the turf. It is headed by defending champion Niigon’s Eclipse, who captured the Nassau Stakes earlier this year for trainer Rachel Halden, and Silent Sonet for trainer Nick Gonzalez.

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