The 2020 Hambletonian takes center stage in the horse racing world this Saturday. Held at the Meadowlands, the event pits ten of the best trotters in the world against each other in search of a $1 million prize. Year in and year out, it is considered to be the top event in the offshoot of horse racing known as harness racing, attracting a worldwide audience of fans and bettors.
Just as the Kentucky Derby is considered to be the top race each year in the thoroughbred part of horse racing, the Hambletonian, which enjoys its 95th edition this year and takes place at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, stands atop the standardbred racing world. Standardbreds are the horses that compete in harness racing. Harness racing features drivers guiding their horses from a bike-like wheeled contraption called a sulky behind pulled behind the animal, as opposed to the thoroughbreds, who have a jockey on top of them.
Like just about every other sport you can imagine, harness racing was thrown into disarray in 2020. Luckily, the sport, in America anyway, holds many of its top events in the heat of summer. That means that events like the Hambletonian didn’t really have to change the actual race plans too much.
But what the layoff did affect was the experience level of the trotters involved. It’s safe to say that most of the ten competitors in the race would have had more races under the belt were it not for the three months or so when there wasn’t any racing in the United States. That could lead to a somewhat more unpredictable race on Saturday.
The 2020 Hambletonian Brings About a Change
The 2020 Hambletonian also stands out for a change in the way the race is run. In past years, the Hambo was raced in heats on the same day. Two eliminations were held and then the final took place later that afternoon.
But because heat racing has gone the way of the dodo bird for the most part in the sport, it was decided that the practice should be put out to pasture. As a result, the eliminations to set the field for the 2020 Hambletonian actually took place last Saturday. It gives bettors much more of a chance to study the horses instead of having to bet on the fly.
One thing that never changes about the Hambletonian: it is as thrilling as it gets in the sport of harness racing. That long stretch drive at the Big M is only a matter of seconds but it can seem like an eternity when those horses are striving to capture the biggest prize of the year. Bettors know that feeling as they try to will their chosen horse home to the finish line.
We’re here to help you pick your favorite with this 2020 Hambletonian betting preview. First, we’ll take you through each of the ten hoses in the race and talk about their strengths and weaknesses. And then we’ll give you our choices for who we think is going to come out on top in this prestigious.
2020 Hambletonian Details
Where: The Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey
When: Saturday, August 8, 2020, post time approximately 4:30 PM Eastern Time
Who: 10 three-year-old trotters
How long: 1 mile
How much: $1 million purse
2020 Hambletonian Contenders
1 – Ready For Moni (Yannick Gingras, Nancy Takter), 3-1
Trainer Nancy Takter should have a real chance to pull out her first ever Hambletonian victory to match the three that her father Jimmy picked up. Ready For Moni was outstanding in his elimination victory last Saturday, carving out the mile and holding up well under pressure. The colt is now 2 for 2 in 2020.
This would also be a breakthrough victory for Gingras, who is still looking for his first ever Hambo win but is generally regarded as one of the best in the sport. Great as a 2-year-old, Ready For Moni has looked even better this season and is making his third start of the year, generally a good time for a performance spike. If he gets spike, it will be tough to deny this budding champion.
2 – Back Of The Neck (Scott Zeron*, Ake Svanstedt), 4-1
In the trotting world, no one gets as much as respect as trainer Ake Svanstedt. And it always seems like he sneaks up with horses that aren’t getting as much attention as everybody else. That’s exactly what happened three years ago when he scored a victory with Perfect Spirit in an upset.
Driver Zeron also has Hambletonian success in his recent rear-view mirror, winning the race in both 2016 and 2018. It should be interesting if he chooses this horse and, if he does, if he pushes Back Of The Neck for the lead again as he did in the elimination. Surviving a speed duel with Ready For Moni seems like it could be a difficult task, one that could leave both horses worse for wear when the stretch drive arrives.
3 – Hollywood Story (Tim Tetrick*, Marcus Melander), 15-1
This is the first of three Marcus Melander entries in the race, all of which are going off at 15-1 odds. Melander has horses seemingly everywhere in the two and three-year-old ranks, and he’d love to add the Hambletonian to his overstuffed trophy case. But he doesn’t seem to have the power this year, at least not at first glance.
Hollywood Story did well to sneak into the finals from a tough post position last week. And, in Tim Tetrick, he gets one of the most decorated of all drivers (if Tetrick, as expected, does choose this horse.) Tetrick would love to add a second Hambo to his ledger; he won the race back in 2012 with Market Share and is in a spot where he might be able to grab good cover and get a beneficial trip behind early speed.
4 – Big Oil (Andy Miller, Julie Miller), 15-1
Here is another colt who, most likely, is going to want to go out there and be a part of the chase for the early lead. That might not be the right tactic to take with the speed of Ready For Moni and Back Of The Neck also winging on the front end. As a result, Big Oil might have to attempt a different strategy.
There are a lot of red flags with this colt in this race, especially considering that both of his wins in 2020 have come on 5/8-mile ovals in Pennsylvania. Big Oil might not have the right style for the one-mile track at the Meadowlands. As respected as Andy and Julie Miller might be, this might not be the race for them, at least not this year.
5 – Ramona Hill (Andrew McCarthy, Tony Alagna), 5-2
Unlike in the thoroughbred world, where it is very rare for a female horse to beat the boys in a Triple Crown-style race, fillies have had decent success in the Hambletonian. Just two years ago, Atlanta became the 14th filly to win the race, doing so in pretty dominant fashion. After winning her elimination, Ramona Hill wants to add her name to the list.
If you watched her elimination from last Saturday, you probably thought that Ramona Hill was hopelessly out of it at about the halfway point of the race. But her incredible kick in the late stretch was something for the ages, and it’s something that should scare everybody in this race. The 2019 Breeders Crown champion for her division, Ramona Hill certainly has what it takes to beat the boys.
6 – Threefiftytwo (Scott Zeron, Luc Blais), 6-1
We don’t how Scott Zeron will choose to drive in this race; based on morning-line odds, it might be wiser to go with Back Of The Neck. However, it was just a year ago that the Canadian trainer Blais won this race in a surprise with Forbidden Trade and Bob McClure doing the driving. Maybe that recent history will sway Zeron in his thinking.
Regardless, Blais has proven he knowns how to knock off the bigger names. Threefiftytwo showed his mettle in the elimination by finishing a close second despite it being his first race in from Canada. Can he follow a similar path to his stablemate on Saturday and surprise the American favorites for a Hambletonian victory?
7 – Capricornus (Tim Tetrick, Marcus Melander), 15-1
Capricornus was one of the bigger surprises on Elimination Saturday, sneaking into a third-place finish at long odds in the split won by Ready For The Moni. While he never threatened for the win, it was still a better effort than the oddsmakers thought he had in him. Having Tetrick aboard would be a boost, but there are capable drivers on the sideline would could fill in and do a nice job if Tetrick chooses to go with Hollywood Story.
As a winner of just three of 15 lifetime starts, Capricornus might not be one who has a great shot here. He won’t be able to ride the pylons and sneak up late for a minor award either, considering the tougher post position. This is one you can probably throw out when you make your deliberations on the 2020 Hambletonian.
8 – Rome Pays Off (Mattias Melander, Marcus Melander), 15-1
One more from the Melander barn, this time with his brother Mattias doing the driving. Mattias Melander is relatively new to these high-stakes racing wars, although you could argue that he knows Rome Pays Off better than any other driver here knows their horse. Maybe that familiarity can give him the same kind of edge last year that Bob McClure had with Forbidden Trade.
Rome Pays Off was coming off back to back wins heading into the elimination last week, where he snuck in with a fifth-place. And in that race, he did show something with a gutsy first-over move that he wasn’t able to sustain. Most likely, though, he’ll be up the track late while the winners battle it out.
9 – Sister Sledge (Brian Sears, Ron Burke), 12-1
The second filly in the race is named after the disco band famous for “We Are Family.” Speaking of family, the Burke family has dominated this sport from their trainer’s perch for the last few decades. Yet amazingly, neither father Mickey Burke or son Ron Burke, who took over from his Dad several years ago, have ever won this race.
The #9 post won’t make it easy for Sister Sledge for sure, especially because she prefers to leave for the front end. Still, she is just two starts removed from a scorching mile at the Meadowlands, proving she has the ceiling to get it done here. It’s just a matter of her getting the breaks, which is where Sears, a three-time Hambletonian winner, can really help matters.
10 – Amigo Volo (Dexter Dunn, Nifty Norman), 12-1
Last year as a freshman, he beat several of these horses in the Breeders Crown championships for two-year-old trotters. And it feels like he is only now rounding into shape in 2020. Despite a troubled journey, he managed a third-place finish in the elimination won by Ramona Hill.
The key here will be whether or not Amigo Volo can adapt his style to the speed in the race and lay back early. Driver Dexter Dunn has been a revelation in the sport since arriving from New Zealand last year. Perhaps he can find the right journey for Amigo Volo to peak in the biggest race of his career.
2020 Hambletonian Pick
You should remember, when you go to make your wager on Saturday’s race at a top horse racing site, that so much of who does well in a particular harness race comes down to styles. In this race, it just seems like there is way too much speed for any horse to expect to get an uncontested lead and rate the pace. As a result, it would seem like the 2020 Hambletonian sets up better for those coming off the pace.
And that leads right into the wheelhouse of Ramona Hill, who should become the second filly n the last three years to win the race. Look for Amigo Volo to put together a big effort for second while Hollywood Story sneaks in for the show and Ready For The Mini rounds out the superfecta.
Jim Beviglia joined Gamblingsites.org as a staff writer in 2018, parlaying his years of freelance writing into contributions on a number of different topics. He handles the sport of horse racing for GamblingSites.org and the intersection between the worlds of cryptocurrency and online gambling in a weekly blog.
For his full-time job, Jim handles the television and track announcing duties at a h ...
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