The fact that trainer Nancy Johansson will make her Hambletonian debut against her dad, Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter, is one of the big storylines entering Saturday’s race.
And while Johansson understands and appreciates the interest, it’s not something that’s really on her mind. Especially since, hey, there will be other trainers there too!
“It’s no different to race against him than anybody else,” said Johansson, who trains Hambletonian starter Resolve, adding with a laugh. “It’s a horserace, there has to be other horses in there. He’s one of the top trainers with one of the biggest barns, so I expect him to be there.”
The two have teamed up for previous Hambletonian success, as Nancy was the caretaker for Takter’s 2010 winner, Muscle Massive. She grew up learning the trade under Jimmy, who also won the 1997 Hambletonian with Malabar Man, having said in the past “I tell people that from going to my dad’s ‘school’ I got a PhD in training.”
But neither wants to mix business with pleasure, especially when it comes to head-to-head competition.
“We don’t talk about it,” Nancy said. “When we have family time, we talk about grandkids or other stuff.
“But we’re both very competitive. I think deep down inside, if somebody beats him he would want it to be me. But it’s really deep down because he really wants to win first himself.”
And Takter has a good chance this year with favorite Father Patrick, along with two other highly regarded horses in the race – Trixton and Nuncio.
This won’t be the first time father and daughter pitted their Hambletonian horses against each other. On July 19, Resolve finished second to Nuncio in the Reynolds Stakes.
Resolve has won two of seven races this year and hit the board six times. He has four wins in 19 career starts, earning $45,950.
The horse is owned by Hans Enggren, who won the 1985 Hambletonian with Prakas. Enggren is looking for another shot at Hambletonian glory, which is why he bought Resolve just a few weeks ago.
“He was pretty much purchased with the idea he was going to race in the Hambletonian,” Johansson said. “Hans is getting up in age and he wants another go at the Hambletonian. He had seen the horse last year and liked him.”
Enggren saw him again early in the spring and liked him just as much, if not more, but Resolve was not for sale. When he was put on the market, Hans made his move.
“We knew that if he raced good in the Reynolds he was going to the Hambletonian,” Johansson said. “I didn’t really expect him to race that good, so that was a good surprise. He’s been solid all year.
“He’s a nice horse. I think he’s going to mature into a nice older horse. He’s not staked to a lot this year, so he’s going to have a kind of low-key 3-year-old season.”
Winning the Hambletonian would certainly turn the key up a notch, and Johansson is happy with drawing the No. 1 post. But she was unhappy to see her dad’s top horse get stuck in the difficult 10 hole.
“The draw helped us, but I didn’t like to see Father Patrick draw bad,” Johansson said. “He deserves to win the Hambletonian because he’s just such an extremely fine animal. With post 10, anything can happen.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if things shake out differently than expected, too.”
One of Takter’s trademarks is trying new things with a horse entering a final. Nancy is unsure if that will be necessary with Resolve.
“I don’t know yet. We’ll see,” she said. “We changed a lot on the horse already. I think you have to be careful how much you change in a short amount of time.
“I feel pretty confident we have him the way we want him. He trained absolutely fantastic (Wednesday) morning. I couldn’t ask for a better training session than he had (that) morning. I don’t really feel like there is anything we need to take care of. Everything feels very even keel right now. It’s a good situatioAnd, as far as Johansson is concerned, a situation like any other when it comes to the trainers she will be facing in this race.
Harness Racing Communications, USTA