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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By Ken Weingartner, USTA — Domenico Cecere might not be thrilled with the post position for Winner’s Bet in Saturday’s second of two $100,000 Hambletonian Stakes eliminations at The Meadowlands, but the trainer is quite pleased with the way his colt has returned to action this season as he heads to the sport’s premier event for 3-year-old trotters.

Winner’s Bet, who won last year’s William Wellwood Memorial, is 2-for-2 this year for Cecere and driver Dexter Dunn. The son of Walner-Side Bet Hanover opened his campaign with a 1:52.2 victory in a division of the W.N. Reynolds Memorial on July 1 and followed it with a 1:51 triumph in a Stanley Dancer Memorial split two weeks later.

He captured both races at the Big M by a half-length, the first over Air Power, who is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s second Hambletonian elimination, and the other over 2022 Peter Haughton Memorial champ Kilmister.

Winner’s Bet will start his Hambo elimination from post 10 in the 10-horse field. He is 4-1 on the morning line, the third choice behind Air Power from post six with driver Orjan Kihlstrom and MGM Yonkers Trot winner Up Your Deo (7-2) from post three with trainer-driver Ake Svanstedt.

The top-five finishers from each 10-horse elimination will advance to the $1 million Hambletonian final Aug. 5. Elim winners draw for post positions one through five followed by the remaining finalists receiving their posts in an open draw.

“It’s not a great number, but somebody had to get that number, and he got it,” Cecere said, referring to the post position for Winner’s Bet. “Him and Dexter will figure it out together. Of course, we need a little bit of luck, but he’s ready. It’s a lot of good horses, and we respect all the horses in the field, but I’m sure (Winner’s Bet) will do his best and Dexter will do his best too.”

Winner’s Bet, whose family includes 2016 Trotting Triple Crown winner Marion Marauder, has hit the board in nine of 12 career races, with five wins and $427,617 in purses. He is owned by Lindy Farms of Connecticut and Robert Rudolph. Lindy Farms co-owner Frank “The Elder” Antonacci was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame earlier this month.

Lindy Farms and its affiliates have had four Hambletonian winners — Lindy’s Pride (1969), Probe (1989), Harmonious (1990) and Victory Dream (1994). Winner’s Bet will try to add his name to the list after an offseason of maturing in Florida.

“He’s a totally different horse,” Cecere said. “He’s bigger, stronger, more relaxed. Last year, he could get a little bit hot. We’re very happy with his mentality this year. That’s what you really need when you go into a race, a horse that is relaxed and smart. The whole package together.”

Cecere said the plan was to ease Winner’s Bet into this season as he prepared for the Hambletonian.

“We took it easy with him for his mentality and let him grow,” Cecere said. “It looks like it’s worked out well. It’s very exciting. This is the dream. If you don’t dream, you don’t get it. I’m very happy with how he is and how he’s handled the racing. This is the third start for him. Let’s go.”

Another horse that will look to overcome an outside starting spot is 2022 Breeders Crown and O’Brien Award winner Gaines Hanover. The gelding will leave from post nine with driver Louis-Philippe Roy in the first Hambletonian elimination.

Gaines Hanover, trained in Canada by 10-time O’Brien Award-winning conditioner Richard Moreau and in the U.S. by Claude Cadieux, has hit the board in four of five races this year. He has one win, which came in his elimination of the Goodtimes Stakes at Woodbine Mohawk Park on June 9. He finished second in the final, beaten a nose by Southwind Coors.

For his career, Gaines Hanover has hit the board in 10 of 13 starts, with five victories and $429,927 in purses for owner Gestion J Y Blais Inc.

“He hasn’t changed much since last year,” Roy said. “He’s a relaxed guy that can race any way you want him to do it. He can fly home off a trip, he’ll give a good fight to anyone coming to him if he cut the mile, or he’ll even put in a nice effort if he has to work first-up.”

Gaines Hanover will try to join 2019 Hambletonian champ Forbidden Trade as a returning O’Brien Award winner to take home the Hambo trophy. He heads to his elimination off a ninth-place finish in a Dancer Memorial division two weeks ago, when he went off stride in a race for only the second time in his career.

“He just took one bad step,” Roy said. “That was very uncharacteristic.”

Oh Well, one of four horses in the Hambletonian elims for trainer Marcus Melander, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the first group. He heads to the race off a 1:51.2 win in his division of the Dancer and will start Saturday from post two with driver Tim Tetrick.

The Hambletonian is the second jewel in the Trotting Triple Crown, following the Yonkers Trot and ahead of October’s Kentucky Futurity.

Saturday’s card at The Meadowlands also includes two $40,000 eliminations for the Hambletonian Oaks for 3-year-old female trotters.

Post positions for the Hambletonian and Oaks finals will be drawn Tuesday, Aug. 1.

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