8/2/2013 5:45 AM
By By Tom Canavan AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - The $1.2 million Hambletonian is reverting to a single-day heat format and the head of trotting's most prestigious race hopes the change creates more excitement and betting.
"We definitely wanted to create a better experience for the fans," Hambletonian Society president and chief executive Tom Charters said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Thursday. "We were unanimous on that. This is a spectacle like no other in sports and with the information we have now, I think we can maximize the wagering opportunity both on-track and off."
The return to heat racing certainly got owners and trainers interested. Twenty-three 3-year-olds were entered on Tuesday. They will compete in three heats early on Saturday's card. The top three finishers in each heat and the fourth-place finisher with the most earning will advance to the final, where it is winner take all.
Royalty For Life, Wheeling N Dealin and Corky have been made the favorites in the three eliminations.
Charters said the Hambletonian Society will re-evaluate heat racing after the race at the Meadowlands, but he clearly favors it.
The Hambletonian switched to a single dash for the championship in 1996, deciding to hold eliminations a week earlier to determine the field of 10 for the final.
Charters knows some animal rights activists are opposed to having a horse race twice on the same day.
"I get the feeling that animal rights people who feel that way might even feel the same way about racing itself," he said.
Charters said the society asked two veterinarians and a few trainers for their advice before making the changes. Among the differences from the early days of the Hambletonian, the horses will get a couple of hours to recover before the final. In the past, they had to race in heats roughly 25 minutes apart, he said.
Driver John Campbell, who has driven a record six Hambletonian winners, said the change will influence drivers.
"It's always going to be in the back of your mind: 'How much do you use your horse,'" said Campbell, who will drive Possessed Fashion in the third heat. "You want to save you horse as much as possible because you know you're going to have to ask him again. Every driver knows as long as I get in the final, I have a chance."
Campbell, whose last Hambletonian win came with Glidemaster in 2006, said the drivers with the top horses will be looking to avoid problems, while those in the middle of the pack might have to work harder to make sure their horses get every chance to advance to the final.
Royalty For Life is the 8-5 favorite from post 8, the outside slot, in the first heat. He won the Stanley Dancer at the Meadowlands this month and has captured his last two races.
Wheeling N Dealin, last season's champion 2-year-old trotter, is the 2-1 favorite from the rail in the second elimination with eight starters. Sylvain Filion will be in the sulky for trainer Dustin Jones.
Seven line up for the third heat where Corky, winner of the Beal Memorial at Pocono Downs, is the 2-1 favorite. The colt will start from post No. 5 with David Miller driving for trainer Jimmy Takter, who will be looking for his third Hambletonian win.
Here are the fields from inside to outside for the Hambletonian heats with horse and driver:
Heat 1: Punxsutawney-Tim Tetrick; Smilin Eli, Tim Tetrick also named to drive; Dewycolorintheline, Ray Schnittker; High Bridge, Yannick Gingras; Super Classic, Sears; Dreams Of Thunder, George Brennan; E L Rocket, Gingras also named and Royalty For Life, Sears.
Heat 2: Wheeling N Dealin, Filion; Aperfectyankee, Jim Oscarsson; Your So Vain, Andy Miller; Jacks To Open, Jim Morrill, Jr.; Celebrity Maserati, Tom Jackson; Caveat Emptor, Steve Smith; Dontyouforgetit-, Gingras and Creatine, Mike Lachance.
Heats 3: Possessed Fashion, John Campbell; Murmur Hanover, Randy Waples; Banco Solo, Ron Pierce; All Laid Out, Tetrick; Corky, David Miller; Spider Blue Chip, Pierce also named; Lauderdale, Corey Callahan.
The final is scheduled for 4:45 p.m. on Saturday.