By Ken Weingartner
AUG 2, 2019—Nancy Johansson is fond of her Hambletonian contender Don’t Let’em, even if the colt is not always the best student.
“He would be the kid in the classroom that’s always in the corner, the class clown,” Johansson said with a laugh. “But I’ve liked him since the first time he ever set foot on the farm. You know why? He’s always so happy.
“I think that’s why he gets himself in trouble,” she added, laughing again.
Don’t Let’em is the 4-1 second choice in Saturday’s second of two $70,000 Hambletonian Stakes eliminations at The Meadowlands. Greenshoe, this year’s fastest 3-year-old trotter with a mark of 1:50.1, is the 4-5 choice.
The top-five finishers in each elimination return for the $1 million final later in the day.
The Hambletonian and $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks will be aired live as part of a 90-minute broadcast on CBS Sports Network beginning at 4 p.m. (EDT). The Hambletonian Day card starts at noon.
Don’t Let’em is in his first year with Johansson’s training stable after spending his 2-year-old campaign with her father, now-retired Jimmy Takter.
Last year, Don’t Let’em dazzled on Hambletonian Day, winning the Peter Haughton Memorial in a stakes-record 1:51.4. He ended the season with four wins and a second (by a nose) in 10 starts. He went off stride in all five of his off-the-board finishes.
This year, Don’t Let’em has gone off stride once in four races. He has two wins and a second (again by a nose) and heads to the Hambletonian off a career-best 1:50.2 victory in the Reynolds Memorial last week at The Meadowlands.
“He’s fast,” Johansson said. “I don’t know if he’s as fast as Greenshoe, but we’ll see. If he can just behave, he can be right there. And he’s strong too.
He was parked the entire mile in the Reynolds; he never saw the rail until the stretch. So, he’s got all the tools. It’s just all the puzzle pieces need to be put together in the right spot Saturday.”
Johansson, who was the caretaker of 2010 Hambletonian winner Muscle Massive, started her own stable in 2013. She was harness racing’s Rising Star Award winner in 2014, when she trained Horse of the Year JK She’salady.
She trained two Dan Patch Award recipients in 2018 and both will be in action on Hambletonian Day: Captain Crunch in the Cane Pace for 3-year-old pacers and 4-year-old Kissin In The Sand in the Lady Liberty for female pacers.
Her best finish in the Hambletonian came in 2014, when Resolve was fifth.
Don’t Let’em, a son of Muscle Hill-Passageway, is owned by breeder Brittany Farms, Christina Takter, John Fielding, and Herb Liverman. All are past winners of the Hambletonian.
The most recent horse to win the Peter Haughton Memorial at age 2 and come back the following year to win the Hambletonian was Muscle Hill.
Johansson will go into the Hambletonian with an outlook to mirror her colt’s sunny disposition.
“I don’t really have any expectations because I can just be happy then,” Johansson said.
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Per Engblom is making his Hambletonian debut with his own stable, but is no stranger to the race after spending the past six years as the top assistant to now-retired Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter. Engblom was part of two Hambletonian victories during that time frame, with Trixton in 2014 and Pinkman in 2015.
The 39-year-old Engblom will send two horses into the Hambletonian, 15-1 Osterc in the first elimination and 10-1 Super Schissel in the second. Osterc was the 2018 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion and Super Schissel won the 2018 Matron Stakes. Both were trained by Takter last season.
“So far, we feel good,” Engblom said. “I try to do what we always did here, taking it easy and don’t step too much out of the line. We try to follow the routine and do what we always do. Hopefully the program we put together for the horses will have them peak at the right time.
“I’ve been around enough to know we’re not going in as favorites. I know we’re going in to try to make the best we can.”
Osterc, a son of Cantab Hall-Oh Oh Hereshecomes, has won three of eight races this year including the Dexter Cup for breeders/owners Goran Falk and Christina Takter.
He went off stride in two of his past three races, but Engblom attributed the miscues to shoeing. The colt enters the Hambletonian off a fourth-place finish in a division of the Tompkins-Geers on July 20.
“We went back to the old shoes and away we went,” Engblom said. “He’s a little tight gaited and if his timing is not right it makes a big difference for him. I think we’ve got him back on track. He’s just a great racehorse to be around. He always tries his heart out.
“The (Tompkins-Geers) turned into a sprint. He came home in :27 and that’s about as fast as he can come home, but he can take a lot of air. If the race sets up with different fractions, he’s going to benefit from that.”
Super Schissel, who has a conditioned win among six starts this season, heads to the Hambletonian off a third-place finish in last week’s Reynolds Memorial, when he started from post 12 in a 12-horse field and was timed in 1:51.4.
Engblom plans to race the colt, a son of Uncle Peter-Bavarde owned by Al Libfeld and Perry Soderberg, barefoot on Saturday.
“We saved that all year, now it’s time,” Engblom said. “That’s going to clean him up (gait-wise) a little bit. If we take his shoes off, he can trot a little bit faster.
He can leave the gate a little bit faster and be a little more in the game. He trotted (1):51.4 with a little road trouble so if we can make him five or six lengths better, he can pick up a check.”
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Cantab Fashion got a late start to his 2019 campaign, making his seasonal debut on July 20 with a third-place finish in a division of the Tompkins-Geers at The Meadowlands. He returned to action last week and was fourth in the 12-horse Reynolds Memorial.
“He unfortunately got stuck behind a 100-1 shot, but I thought he raced really good,” trainer Jim Campbell said about Cantab Fashion’s most recent effort. “He showed some good trot getting out of there and held his own finishing after getting backed up a little bit.”
No 2-year-old trotter was faster than Cantab Fashion last season. Cantab Fashion put together a five-race win streak, including two stakes victories at Lexington’s Red Mile, during his seven-start campaign and tied for the season’s fastest time with a 1:51.4 mile.
Campbell won the 1995 Hambletonian with Tagliabue and the 2009 Hambletonian Oaks with Broadway Schooner. Both trotters were owned by the wife-and-husband team of Arlene and Jules Siegel. Jules Siegel was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2018.
Siegel’s Fashion Farms is the breeder and owner of Cantab Fashion, a son of Cantab Hall-Defiant Donato.
“I was happy (with the first race) and I think he was better and stronger last week,” Campbell said. “It’s not the ideal situation, but it is what it is. I think he’s got enough into him.
“It’s going to be an interesting day. There are a lot of good trotters out there. I guess it’s all going to depend how everything sets up.”
In addition to Cantab Fashion in the Hambletonian, Campbell will send Millies Possesion (also undefeated, with eight wins) to the Hambletonian Oaks, Real Cool Sam into the Peter Haughton Memorial, and Crystal Fashion (last year’s fourth-place finisher in the Hambletonian) into the John Cashman Memorial.