By Ken Weingartner, USTA — Elimination winner Celebrity Bambino drew post one for Saturday’s $1 million Hambletonian Stakes final at The Meadowlands and was established as the 2-1 morning-line favorite as he seeks to give trainer Ron Burke and driver Yannick Gingras their first wins in the trotting classic for 3-year-olds.
The event’s draw and press conference were held Tuesday at Hogan Equine. Elimination winners Celebrity Bambino and Point Of Perfect, both trained by Burke, drew for posts one through five followed by the remaining finalists in an open draw.
Burke, a Hall of Famer who is the sport’s runaway leader in career wins and purses, had a three-year string of near misses in the Hambletonian beginning in 2015 when elimination-winning filly Mission Brief finished second by three-quarters of a length to Pinkman.
He was second again in 2016 with Southwind Frank, who was beaten by a nose by eventual Trotting Triple Crown winner Marion Marauder. The following year, What The Hill crossed the finish line first but was disqualified for interference in the stretch.
Gingras, also in the Hall of Fame, has finished second in the Hambletonian on three occasions. In 2015 he drove both elimination winners, Mission Brief and Pinkman, and stayed with the filly in the final. In 2016, he was second with Southwind Frank and in 2020 he was runner-up with Ready For Moni.
Celebrity Bambino battled sickness last year but won five of 12 races and finished second in the Breeders Crown. He has raced six times this year, winning two of his three most recent starts, including his Hambletonian elimination in a career-best 1:50.4.
“This year, he’s been good every start,” Burke said. “It’s just not always worked out the way we wanted, but the whole time this was the goal, to have him ready for this week and have him sharp. So, up to now, the plan has worked to perfection.
“I thought he was super (in his elimination). He was never stressed. I just didn’t want him coming into the final tired.”
Point Of Perfect, who won the first of last week’s two eliminations, will start Saturday from post five with David Miller in the sulky. He is 6-1 on the morning line. Point Of Perfect was winless in 15 starts as a 2-year-old but has won three of seven this season. The most recent horse to win the Hambletonian after not having a victory at 2 was Tagliabue in 1995.
Point Of Perfect won his elimination in a career-best 1:51.2.
“He’s probably not as good as he’s been in his last three or four, and he’s probably not as bad as he was when he was 0-for-15,” Burke said. “We’ve always believed in him. The horse has incredible ability, he’s out of a sister to Southwind Frank, so it’s always been there. David will fit him. He’s going to need an aggressive drive and David will be up to the task.”
Oh Well and Winner’s Bet, who each won a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial on July 15 at The Meadowlands, are the second and third choices, respectively, on the morning line.
Marcus Melander-trained Oh Well, last year’s Mohawk Million winner, will start from post two for driver Tim Tetrick and is 7-2. He finished second to Point Of Perfect in his elimination.
Winner’s Bet, last year’s William Wellwood Memorial champ, will leave from post four with Dexter Dunn driving for trainer Domenico Cecere and is 4-1. He was parked on the outside from post 10 in his elimination and finished fourth in the split won by Celebrity Bambino.
“It’s funny, usually I can pick horses in the race that don’t belong, and this may be the first time I’ve ever thought that in a 10-horse field any horse could win the race,” Burke said. “There is nobody that is really that much worse than anybody and there is nobody yet that has proven they’re that much better than anybody. So, it’s going to be a wide-open race, which I think leads to a lot of movement because people are going to take shots.
“I don’t think my horses are at the top of their games yet. I think Bambino, for sure, has more left. And the other horse hadn’t been that fast. They’re both speed-tested now. I couldn’t be happier with mine. And I’m sure there are a lot of people with the way their horses raced that will feel the same.”
The Hambletonian will be race 12 with a post time of 4:45 p.m. (EDT). The companion $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks is race 10 and will go at 3:38 p.m. Racing will begin at noon. For free program pages, visit The Meadowlands website here.
Following is the field for Saturday’s $1 million Hambletonian in post-position order with drivers, trainers and morning-line odds.
1. Celebrity Bambino – Yannick Gingras – Ron Burke – 2/1
2. Oh Well – Tim Tetrick – Marcus Melander – 7/2
3. Osceola – Doug McNair – Gregg McNair – 12/1
4. Winner’s Bet – Dexter Dunn – Domenico Cecere – 4/1
5. Point Of Perfect – David Miller – Ron Burke – 6/1
6. Up Your Deo – Ake Svanstedt – Ake Svanstedt – 15/1
7. Southwind Coors – James MacDonald – Matt Bax – 20/1
8. French Wine – Andy Miller – Julie Miller – 12/1
9. Ghostly Casper – Brian Sears – Benoit Baillargeon – 10/1
10. Tactical Approach – Scott Zeron – Nancy Takter – 15/1