By Ken Weingartner, USTA — Four trainers will head into Saturday’s Hambletonian Day card at The Meadowlands with the opportunity to win both the Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks, a feat accomplished previously by only three conditioners.
Just one trainer in Saturday’s group is in his first year at the helm of a stable, Canadian Matt Bax. The 34-year-old, who has taken the leading role with the family stable from his father John, will send out Southwind Coors in the $1 million Hambletonian, the sport’s premier event for 3-year-old trotters, and Righteous Resolve in the companion $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks for sophomore female trotters.
Along for the ride — literally — will be James MacDonald, Canada’s Driver of the Year the past two season. MacDonald will drive both of Bax’s horses as he attempts to become only the third driver in history to sweep the Hambletonian and Oaks on the same day. It will be MacDonald’s first time racing on Hambletonian Day.
“Just to come down and race against the best on Hambo Day, it’s a thrill and dream come true,” MacDonald said. “(The Hambletonian) is a race that every kid dreams of racing in. It means everything to get the opportunity.
“It looks like a wide-open bunch, both the Hambo and Oaks. That being said, it’s great horses, great trainers and drivers. It’s real exciting just to be a part of it.”
Southwind Coors, who won the Goodtimes Stakes on June 17, advanced to the Hambletonian final with a fifth-place finish in his elimination this past weekend. He was beaten by 1-1/4 lengths in the race, which was captured by Point Of Perfect in 1:51.2.
Righteous Resolve, the 2022 O’Brien Award winner for best 2-year-old female trotter, reached the final of the Oaks with a third-place finish in her elimination. She was 1-1/4 lengths behind winner Hearts On Fire, who won in 1:51.2 as well.
“It’s definitely special,” Bax said about getting his two horses to Hambletonian Day. “Something was a little off with (Southwind Coors); the effort wasn’t there like it usually is. Maybe it was the travel, or the heat. But I guess it’s a good feeling that he made the final and he wasn’t a hundred percent. If we can get him to a hundred percent, we’ll be in good shape for the final.
“The same with Righteous Resolve. The travel maybe affected her a little bit. But she’s been racing great, tough, and is a little stronger this year. Hopefully, we have some luck in the draw and she should be good in the final.”
Southwind Coors, a son of Walner-Southwind Cabaret, has hit the board in 12 of 18 lifetime races, winning four and earning $191,613 for owners Bax Stable, Glengate Farms, David Hudson, and Craig Wilson. He had three wins and two seconds in his five starts prior to the Hambletonian eliminations.
“He keeps getting stronger every start and gets a little more maturity,” Bax said. “He’s very quick, he’s got high-end speed.”
Added MacDonald, “Having a week down there (in the U.S.) and getting acclimated to his surrounds, I think people are going to be surprised at the effort he puts out on Saturday. He’s a hard-trying horse. He puts his head down and he wants to go forward. He’s rock solid and will do anything you want. It’s one less thing I have to worry about Saturday.”
The Bax Stable has had one previous Hambletonian finalist, Duke Of York in 2002. The colt, an O’Brien Award winner at age 2, finished third.
Righteous Resolve, a daughter of Resolve-Motown Muscle, has finished in the top three in all 13 of her career races, winning nine and earning $533,003 for breeders/owners Bet Max Stables and Benenati Inc., both of Michigan. Her victories last year included the Peaceful Way Stakes and Ontario Sire Stakes championship.
She raced twice in the Ontario Sire Stakes this year before her Oaks elimination. In her elim, she was second behind pacesetter Bond through fractions of :25.4, :53.4, and 1:22.4.
“I thought she raced great,” MacDonald said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a first quarter in :25.4 on the trot, especially a trotting filly. I asked her to do quite a bit early and she still had a little bit left to fight down the lane.
“If she draws OK and gets a nice trip, I have to think she’s as good as any of them in there. I’m excited for her chances, and I was really proud of how she hung in there off those big fractions.”
Added Bax, “She always had the tools (to be a good horse) but it wasn’t until she got to the track for her first start that you said ‘Wow.’ You just didn’t know that she had that extra gear. It wasn’t until she had to do it that she did it.
“She can just kind of do anything. She can leave, she can sprint at the end, and she’s a professional on the track. She also has a little extra fight in her, that extra grittiness, that all the good horses have.”
The three trainers to complete a same-year Hambletonian/Hambletonian Oaks sweep are Jan Johnson (1988), Jimmy Takter (2014 and 2015) and Jim Campbell (2022). The drivers to do it are Brian Sears (2009 and 2013) and George Brennan (2011).
Other trainers in position to accomplish the feat this year are Ron Burke, with Celebrity Bambino and Point Of Perfect in the Hambletonian and Railee Something in the Oaks; Marcus Melander, with Oh Well in the Hambletonian and Heaven Hanover, Kayleigh S and Secret Volo in the Oaks; and Ake Svanstedt, with Up Your Deo in the Hambletonian and Bond in the Oaks.
Post time for the Hambletonian Oaks is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday. The Hambletonian is slated for 4:45 p.m.