By Ken Weingartner/Harness Racing Communications/USTA
Mission Brief was the 2014 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old female trotter and has won 12 of 17 career races and earned $791,417. She also holds the world record for the fastest time for any 2-year-old trotter in history, 1:50.3.
This year, she has won three of four races while dealing with back woes, which have improved in recent weeks thanks to chiropractic work. She enters the Hambletonian off a 1:51.4 win in the filly division of the Zweig Memorial on July 26 at Vernon Downs.
“She’s got a good chance,” said Campbell, who has won the Hambletonian a record six times. “She’s going to race well, I think. Her last race at Vernon was very strong.
“But it’s a tougher competition. There’s no question the colts are tougher than the fillies this year. It kind of depends on how much she improves for this next race, that’s another unknown. It’s going to be tougher for her to get to the front than it was at Vernon. But ability-wise she’s right there with the colts.”
Campbell, who did not require surgery for his injury, is uncertain when he will return to action but expects to be sidelined for at least three weeks. He has earned $2.97 million in purses this year, which ranks 16th among all drivers in North America, despite having the fewest starts of any driver in the top 50. His top horses have included Doo Wop Hanover, JL Cruze, Melady’s Monet, Muscle Diamond, The Show Returns, and Wild Honey.
“The year had been going extremely well up to this point,” Campbell said. “I had some really good horses to race in the stakes coming up this weekend and going forward through the rest of the year. I was really looking forward to that. We’ll have to re-evaluate, reassess, and hopefully I get some of those mounts back or pick up new ones when I get back to work.”
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Jimmy Takter sends out five horses in the Hambletonian -- Pinkman, The Bank and Canepa Hanover in the first elimination and French Laundry and Uncle Lasse in the second elimination -- as he tries for his fourth win in the race as a trainer. Billy Haughton, Stanley Dancer, and Ben White share the record of five training wins. Chuck Sylvester is next on the list with four.
Takter also is bidding to become the first trainer since Per Eriksson in 1991-92 to win the Hambletonian in consecutive years. The only other trainers to accomplish the feat are Haughton (1976-77), Frank Ervin (1966-67), White (1942-43) and Henry Thomas (1937-38).
In addition, Takter, who drove Trixton to victory in last year’s Hambletonian, could become the first trainer-driver to repeat in the race since Haughton. Campbell is the most recent driver to win in consecutive years, in 1987-88.
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Mission Brief is the 161st filly to start in the Hambletonian, but only the fourth since Continentalvictory’s win in 1996. Pampered Princess, who finished seventh-placed-sixth in the 2007 final won by Donato Hanover, was the most recent.
Thirteen fillies have won the Hambletonian, but only Continentalvictory and Duenna (1983) have accomplished the feat since Kerry Way in 1966.
The Hambletonian Oaks, solely for 3-year-old filly trotters, began in 1971.
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Broadway Donna is the 3-5 morning line favorite in Saturday’s $389,450 Jim Doherty Memorial (formerly the Merrie Annabelle) for 2-year-old female trotters. The Jim Campbell-trained filly has won all five of her races this season, with a combined margin of victory of 23-1/4 lengths. She won her Doherty elimination in 1:53.3, which is the fastest time of the season by a 2-year-old trotter.
“I’m not going to talk her up,” said David Miller, who has been her driver in every start. “I’ll just let her do the talking.”
Miller also has the morning line favorite in the $215,400 U.S. Pacing Championship for older male pacers. State Treasurer, who is the 2-1 pick, starts from post five. The field also includes JK Endofanera, Doo Wop Hanover, and harness racing’s all-time richest horse Foiled Again.
“He’s in good shape,” Miller said. “He’s been here all week and that’s definitely a plus instead of shipping in a couple days out (from the race). He usually gives a good account of himself. He’s easy to get along with. He’s a good horse and he shows up to work every time. You can’t knock him.”
Among Miller’s other Hambletonian Day drives, Wind Of The North drew a tough assignment in the $301,500 John Cashman Jr. Memorial for older male trotters. Wind Of The North will start from post No. 10 in a 12-horse field going 1-1/8 miles. Market Share is the 3-1 morning line favorite followed by Elitloppet winner Magic Tonight at 4-1.
“That’s about as bad as you can draw,” Miller said about Wind Of The North, who is 6-1. “Either way you do it, if you take back or you leave, it’s going to be a tough trip. There’s some speed inside of me. He can leave too, but you’ve got 11 horses inside of you that you’ve got to get around. And they’re going to keep coming and removing. Unless you get absolutely lucky, it’s a tough spot.”
Miller will drive Fashion Creditor in the first of the day’s two Hambletonian eliminations and Uncle Lasse, the 5-2 second choice to Mission Brief, in the second elimination.
He also has Bright Baby Blues in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks. She is 8-1 from post three. Wild Honey is the 5-2 favorite.
“She raced really well in her elimination,” Miller said. “I was happy to see her draw inside. It gives me a few options depending how the race unfolds. She’s coming into the race in good shape. She’s a bit of an outsider, but I think that race is pretty wide open. I think it could work out good.”
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Southwind Frank is the 8-5 morning line favorite in the $349,850 Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-old male trotters. The Ron Burke-trained colt has won three of four races this season, including the New Jersey Sire Stakes championship in 1:53.4.
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Anndrovette, who won the Golden Girls at the added distance of 1-1/8 miles on July 18 at the Meadowlands, is back for another extended distance try, this time in Saturday’s $251,250 Lady Liberty for older female pacers. Anndrovette is the 5-2 morning line favorite in the 11-mare race, which also includes defending champion Rocklamation.
The victory in the Golden Girls was only Anndrovette’s second win in 17 races at the Meadowlands. Her previous triumph came in the 2012 Overbid final.
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Bee A Magician, who has won eight of nine races this season, is the 4-5 favorite in the $181,450 Fresh Yankee for older female trotters. The race attracted 11 horses and will be contested at 1-1/8 miles. Bee A Magician was the 2013 Horse of the Year and is joined in the field by Dan Patch Award winners Classic Martine and Shake It Cerry.
Hall of Fame driver John Campbell will be on the sidelines for the Hambletonian for the first time since 1982, ending his record streak of 32 consecutive years of participation in harness racing’s top race for 3-year-old trotters, but he remains intrigued by this year’s event.
Saturday’s $1.2 million Hambletonian features numerous plotlines, starting with filly Mission Brief attempting to become the first female trotter since Continentalvictory in 1996 to win the race. Mission Brief is the 6-5 morning line favorite in the second of two $100,000 eliminations. Pinkman is the 8-5 choice in the first division despite starting from post No. 10.
The top five finishers from each elimination advance to the $1 million final, scheduled for approximately 5:15 p.m., at Meadowlands Racetrack. First race post time for Hambletonian Day is 12 noon and coverage of the Cane Pace, Hambletonian Oaks and Hambletonian will air from 4-5:30 p.m. on cable’s CBS Sports Network.
“Pinkman has been the most consistent and best colt so far and he’s drawn (post) 10. That’s an unknown,” said Campbell, who suffered a broken wrist in an accident during qualifiers on July 31 at the Meadowlands. “Mission Brief going against the boys is an unknown. She drew well. I think she’s going to be a factor.
“But just those two things right there are going to make it intriguing. There are a lot of variables going into it.”