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By Ken Weingartner, USTA — A total of nearly 30 Hambletonian or Hambletonian Oaks hopefuls will be in action Saturday (July 9) at Vernon Downs when the upstate New York oval hosts Dr. Harry M. Zweig Memorial stakes for 3-year-old male and 3-year-old female trotters.

All nine male trotters in the $310,000 Zweig Open Main Event and five of six in the $53,410 Zweig Open Consolation are eligible to the $1 million Hambletonian at The Meadowlands on Aug. 6. Among the female trotters, all nine in the $123,000 Zweig Filly Main Event and six of seven in the $25,620 Zweig Filly Consolation are eligible to the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, also Aug. 6.

Eliminations for the Hambletonian and Oaks are scheduled for July 30.

Branded By Lindy, No. 4 in the “Road to the Hambletonian” rankings produced by Meadowlands announcer/analyst Ken Warkentin, is the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the Zweig Open Main Event. He will start from post one with driver Yannick Gingras. The colt has a win and a second in two starts this season and has captured nine of 13 races lifetime, earning $304,619.

“I’m very happy with how he is coming back this year,” said Domenico Cecere, who trains Branded By Lindy for breeder/owner Lindy Farms of Connecticut. “He’s bigger, more muscle, more powerful. He always showed last year that he was powerful, but he was more baby. Now he is a colt, he knows what is going on. He still thinks sometimes he’s a kid, but when the wings open up, he knows what it’s all about.”

Last year, Branded By Lindy won one of his first three starts before reeling off seven in a row, including divisions of the Bluegrass and International Stallion stakes and his elimination of the Breeders Crown. He finished third in the Breeders Crown final, which was his last start of the season.

This year, he has raced exclusively at Vernon Downs, winning a New York Sire Stakes division and finishing second in the Empire Breeders Classic, when he got boxed in and lacked room until late in the stretch.

“His gait has gotten better from last year,” Cecere said. “At the beginning of last year, he was a little clumsy gaited. When he goes fast, he is much better gaited than when he goes slow. I guess he likes to go fast. But he needs to go fast anyway.

“He trained good Tuesday and he looks good. We’re going into the race Saturday in good shape.”

Cecere hopes the Zweig is another good step toward the Hambletonian for the son of Chapter Seven-The Lindy Label.

“That is our dream,” Cecere said. “That is what we’re looking for. Of course, we have to take it race by race, so now we think about Saturday and then we go from there. We’ve tried to lay out everything good for him race wise and training wise. We need to keep him in good shape until the big day, and after that too because there are so many races the rest of the year. But, of course, everybody’s dream is the Hambletonian.”

New Jersey Sire Stakes champion Pretender is the 7-2 second choice in the Zweig Open Main Event, followed by Goodtimes Stakes winner Fast As The Wind at 4-1.

The three-horse entry of Testing Testing, Wallet, and Tachyon is the 4-5 favorite in the Zweig Open Consolation, which also includes returning Dan Patch Award winner King Of The North.

The 2-1 favorite in the Zweig Filly Main Event is Jiggy Jog S, who last week won the New York New York Mile at Yonkers Raceway for driver Dexter Dunn and trainer Ake Svanstedt. Her stablemate Baptism, who won a Reynolds Memorial last week, is the 5-2 second choice.

In the Zweig Filly Consolation, the two-horse entry of returning Dan Patch Award winner Venerable and Brickhouse Babe is the 6-5 favorite.

Seasonal earnings determined whether a horse qualified for a Main Event or Consolation.

Racing begins at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Vernon Downs. For the card’s complete entries, click here.

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