By Ken Weingartner — Ramona Hill rallied from the back of the pack to defeat Back Of The Neck in the first of Saturday’s two $50,000 Hambletonian Stakes eliminations at the Meadowlands and Ready For Moni rolled to victory in the second as the stage was set for next week’s $1 million final.The Hambletonian is harness racing’s premier event for 3-year-old trotters. The top-five finishers from each elimination advanced to the Aug. 8 final at the Big M.
Joining Ramona Hill (Andrew McCarthy) and Back Of The Neck (Scott Zeron) in the final from the first elim were, in order of finish, Amigo Volo (Dexter Dunn), Big Oil (Andy Miller), and Hollywood Story (Tim Tetrick). Joining Ready For Moni from the second elim were Threefiftytwo (Zeron), Capricornus (Tetrick), Sister Sledge (Brian Sears), and Rome Pays Off (Mattias Melander).
Ramona Hill and Sister Sledge are fillies. This was the first time multiple fillies took on the boys in the Hambletonian since Act Of Grace and Continentalvictory in 1996, and only the second time since 1983.
Marcus Melander, the 2019 Trainer of the Year in the U.S., has three of the finalists: Capricornus, Hollywood Story, and Rome Pays Off. Threefiftytwo is trained by Luc Blais, who won last year’s Hambletonian with Forbidden Trade.
As elimination winners, Ramona Hill and Ready For Moni got to draw for posts in positions one through five. Ready For Moni, who was randomly selected first to draw, got post one and Ramona Hill got post five. Posts two through four went to Back Of The Neck, Hollywood Story, and Big Oil, respectively. Starting outside Ramona Hill in posts six through 10 will be Threefiftytwo, Capricornus, Rome Pays Off, Sister Sledge, and Amigo Volo.
In the first elimination, Ramona Hill, the 2019 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old filly trotter, was last in the eight-horse field and forced three-wide around the final turn before flying home and besting Back Of The Neck by a half-length in 1:51.2. Her last quarter was timed in :25.4.
Andy McCarthy drove Ramona Hill, the 6-5 favorite, for trainer Tony Alagna. Ramona Hill, who captured the Del Miller Memorial on July 18 in 1:50.3 at the Meadowlands, has won two of three starts this season.
“She’s been great,” Alagna said. “She was a very immature 2-year-old and she was still able to get the job done. We were so happy with how she came back (in the winter) in Florida. Her first start, she raced super off the pace and two weeks ago she was sparkling and tonight she’s even better.”
Alagna was patient with Ramona Hill last year, giving the filly a midseason break in a campaign that culminated with a win in the Breeders Crown from post 10 at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
“I knew what we had, we just had to do the right thing,” Alagna said. “We waited on her when she needed it and she paid us back.”
Ramona Hill is a daughter of Muscle Hill out of Lock Down Lindy. She is owned by Brad Grant, Crawford Farms Racing, Robert LeBlanc, and In The Gym Partners. She was bred by Crawford Farms. For her career, she has won eight of 10 races and $556,865.
Alagna said the decision to enter Ramona Hill in the Hambletonian rather than the all-fillies Hambletonian Oaks was made last Sunday.
“I think as a group we all kind of knew what we were all thinking in the back of our minds, but we all waited to pull the trigger at the same time,” Alagna said. “We were all willing to give it a shot. The big decision was the fact they don’t go two heats on one day.”
In the second elimination, Ready For Moni took the lead at the half-mile mark and never looked back on his way to victory by three-quarters of a length over Threefiftytwo in 1:51.3.
Yannick Gingras drove Ready For Moni, the 6-5 favorite, for trainer Nancy Takter. Ready For Moni is 2-for-2 this year, winning a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial in 1:51.4 on July 18 at the Meadowlands in his seasonal debut.
“The way the schedule has been this year, it’s been a little difficult to find races,” Takter said. “We didn’t want to have him over-raced going into the Hambletonian, so he had a couple nice qualifiers to kind of let him get into his own and hopefully he’ll take this race in the right way and be even sharper for next week.
“There are a lot of small parts to the puzzle that need to be put together in the right spot for everything to go perfectly on Hambletonian Day,” Takter added. “But with the win here we get post-position relief, so that will be a big help. But there are a lot of things that need to go right.”
Ready For Moni is a son of French star Ready Cash out of the mare Nothing But Moni. He is owned by John Fielding, Lindy Farms of Connecticut, Herb Liverman, and Bud Hatfield. The colt was bred by Moni Maker Stable.
For his career, Ready For Moni has won six of 10 races and $374,020. He joined Takter’s stable this year.
“Ready For Moni was trained down in Florida with Lindy Farms through his winter training and came to me a few weeks ago, right before he was getting ready to qualify,” Takter said. “So, they did all the heavy lifting with him, we’ve just kind of done the fine-tuning to get him a little bit sharper for the races. They did a great job with him and they get a lot of credit for how the horse is right now.”
$1 Million Hambletonian Final Draw
- Ready For Moni (Yannick Gingras, Nancy Takter), 3-1
- Back Of The Neck (Scott Zeron, Ake Svanstedt), 4-1
- Hollywood Story (Tim Tetrick, Marcus Melander), 15-1
- Big Oil (Andy Miller, Julie Miller), 15-1
- Ramona Hill (Andrew McCarthy, Tony Alagna), 5-2
- Threefiftytwo (Scott Zeron, Luc Blais), 6-1
- Capricornus (Tim Tetrick, Marcus Melander), 15-1
- Rome Pays Off (Mattias Melander, Marcus Melander), 15-1
- Sister Sledge (Brian Sears, Ron Burke), 12-1
- Amigo Volo (Dexter Dunn, Nifty Norman), 12-1
$600,000 Hambletonian Oaks Draw
- Crucial (Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke), 15-1
- Next Level Stuff (Tim Tetrick, Jim Campbell), 9-2
- Reba Blue Chip (Verlin Yoder, Verlin Yoder), 20-1
- May Baby (James Yoder, James Yoder), 10-1
- Tricky Sister (Corey Callahan, Andrew Harris), 20-1
- Whose Blues (Daniel Dube, Luc Blais), 20-1
- Sorella (Yannick Gingras, Nancy Takter), 7-2
- Fortune Starlet (No Driver, George Ducharme), 15-1
- Solsbury Hill (Scott Zeron, Rick Zeron), 12-1
- Ab’sattitudexpress (Tim Tetrick, Lucas Wallin), 20-1
- Panem (Dexter Dunn, Nancy Takter), 6-1
- Hypnotic AM (Brian Sears, Marcus Melander), 5-2
Elimination winners Romona Hill (top) and Ready for Mini (below) are Lisa Photos