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Fastest Hambletonian of all time?
Bob Hackett
August 28, 1961
With opinion divided about everything but the caliber of the contestants, the 36th renewal of America's classic trotting race should see a record race for a prize of $150,000
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August 28, 1961

Fastest Hambletonian Of All Time?

With opinion divided about everything but the caliber of the contestants, the 36th renewal of America's classic trotting race should see a record race for a prize of $150,000

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THE TOP 10 CANDIDATES

HORSE

BEST TIME

1961 STARTS

1ST

2ND

3RD

CALEB

1:58 3/5

11

4

4

0

MATASTAR

2:00 1/5

10

5

3

0

DUKE RODNEY

2:01 3/5*

12

7

1

2

SPECTATOR

2:02 4/5*

7

2

1

2

ORBITER

2:02 3/5*

8

3

1

0

CLAIRE SAMPSON

2:00 3/5

12

7

4

0

HARLAN DEAN

2:04*

6

1

2

1

MEADOW FARR

2:00

19

9

3

3

GYPSY KID

2:06 2/5*

15

5

3

4

SPEEDY PRINCESS

2:06 1/5*

13

2

2

1

*Half-mile track

Next Wednesday afternoon on the hard mile track at Du Quoin, Ill. the fastest and probably most exciting of all Hambletonians will be trotted. For the past two months America's top 3-year-olds have shown so much style in preparing for the Hambletonian that nearly 35,000 people will attend the race—even though it will be contested 75 miles from a city of any size, even though the temperature will be around 100� and even though the race is conducted without pari-mutuel betting.

The recent races leading up to this 36th Hambletonian indicate that it will outshine any previous harness race of this season. Last week at Springfield, Ill., for example, Johnny Simpson sent Caleb through two one-mile heats that made everyone concede him the favorite's position but made no one concede him the race. In the first heat Caleb came off the pace and swung four horses wide in the stretch to win in 1:58 3/5. The time tied Elaine Rodney's world race record for 3-year-old trotters. In the second heat Simpson pushed Caleb right to the front and the colt had enough left to spin off a last quarter mile in 28, a fraction good enough to win most Hambletonians.

Before Caleb's performance, Duke Rodney was considered the logical favorite. The Duke had beaten Caleb in the Yonkers Futurity on Aug. 10 for the second time this year. After the Yonkers race the Duke's 29-year-old trainer, Eddie Wheeler, decided to give his colt a rest. 'This is the kind of horse," says Wheeler, "that does not have to race to keep fit." By the time the field parades to the gate Wheeler will have put two stiff works over the Du Quoin track into Duke Rodney, and this should not hurt his chances. One must remember that the Yonkers Futurity was a mile and one-sixteenth, and the Hambletonian is raced at a mile. At Yonkers, Caleb had ample opportunity to beat Duke Rodney but couldn't quite do it. Many feel, though, that Caleb has improved tremendously in the last three weeks.

All along, one of the top selections of the horsemen has been the shifty little Matastar from the Arden Homestead Stable. Matastar has won his last five in a row, and in a single dash race last week he defeated aged trotters in 2:00 1/5, no small accomplishment. Matastar will be driven by Harry Pownall Sr., who has had more Hambletonian drives than any of this year's participants. Pownall believes that "this is by far the best Hambletonian colt I've had since Titan Hanover." Titan Hanover won the race easily in 1945 when it was held at Goshen.

Simpson, Wheeler and Pownall are not so naive as to believe that they have the winner's share of this Hambletonian among themselves. Del Miller, who is unsurpassed at getting a horse up to peak form for a major stake, has been moving Harlan Dean along slowly. Miller also has Meadow Farr ready for the race, and Meadow Farr, a Kimberly Kid filly, was the very best of last year's young trotters. She has the zip but lately has shown a tendency to break at the wrong time. Claire Sampson, another filly in the race accorded a good chance of winning, is steadier than Meadow Farr.

Ralph Baldwin, who trained Diller Hanover to straight heat victories in the 1959 Hambletonian, has an excellent chance this year with not one but three possible starters. Of the three, Spectator is the best, although he developed a quarter crack in his left front hoof recently. "If he starts," says Baldwin, "the rest will not win it cheap. He's every bit as good as Diller at this stage if that foot holds together." Of the other two, Orbiter is the better with Behave not too far behind.

No Hambletonian field would be complete without Joe O'Brien, the quiet little man from Shafter, Calif. O'Brien won last year's Hambletonian with Blaze Hanover. This year he has Frostbite, who has yet to beat the best but is consistently in the money. Going into last year's race Blaze had not won a single race as a 3-year-old. But he won the one that counted. It's always wait and see with Joe O'Brien, and everyone is truly waiting to see.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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