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Free-Legged: Muscle Mania

Wednesday, August 05, 2009  By: Dean A. Hoffman

 

Columbus, OH --- Yes, I think Muscle Hill win will the Hambletonian. Yes, I think if he goes to Du Quoin for the World Trotting Derby he’ll trot the first sub-1:50 mile in history over that sun-baked oval. (And, yes, I have been wrong before.)


I’ve been a charter member of the Muscle Hill Fan Club from the first time I saw him last year. There are a lot of colts that trot fast, but few do it with the ease and élan that Muscle Hill demonstrated from the get-go.


Of course, because he beat up his foes last year like King Kong terrorizing Manhattan didn’t mean that he’d return to dominate this year. Remember Crysta’s Best, Royal Strength, and Giant Chill? Maybe you do; maybe you don’t. They were juvenile trotting champions that were unable to sustain their superiority.


Last fall Muscle Hill’s trainer Greg Peck called me because I’d written about the careers of two trotters in his colt’s family that stood out as juveniles and stood in the shadows as sophomores.


The primary example was Diesel Don, an older brother of Muscle Hill. He earned $202,992 as a freshman and got sharp late in the season. In my estimation, that boded well for his sophomore campaign, particularly when you added the fact that his trainer was Chuck Sylvester and his driver was John Campbell. They were those wonderful folks who brought us Muscles Yankee and they know how to prep one for the Hambo.


But Diesel Don didn’t buy into the Sylvester-Campbell plan and won only once and earned only $44,125 as a 3-year-old. He’s now in Finland breeding mares.


Many years ago, T V Yankee by Speedy Crown astonished the sport when he whirled through a 1:56 win as a freshman at The Red Mile with Tommy Haughton in the bike. No baby trotter had ever gone such a speed and he looked to be a force in the Hambo and other classics in 1983. But T V Yankee had health problems and was thinner than the plot of a Harlequin romance for much of his sophomore season.


Peck knew about the history of these colts and he was determined to give Muscle Hill the prep necessary to make sure the same disappointments didn’t befall Muscle Hill. So far, so good.


While I love Muscle Hill and can’t see him getting knocked off in the Hambo, I’ve said similar words -- much to my regret -- about other horses and other races. That’s the reason they give the trophy after the race and not after the post parade.


If anyone thinks the race is a foregone conclusion, I have two words for you: Well Said. Remember him? He was the 2-5 favorite in last Saturday’s Adios who finished third.


I know darn well that Federal Flex is a better colt than he showed in the Hambletonian elims and I fully expect that the real Federal Flex will show up in the Hambletonian final. I don’t know if even his best is enough to make Muscle Hill work up a sweat, but you can toss out Federal Flex’s last race. He’ll be back. Of course, he drew out in never-never land with post nine, so that makes things tough for him.


Many people on both sides of the Atlantic will be rooting for Jonas Czernyson and his entry of Symphonic Hanover and Hot Shot Blue Chip. Symphonic Hanover won his elim and is owned in part by Czernyson’s old boss Per Eriksson, a masterful trotting trainer with three Hambo wins to his credit before he was 32. Hot Shot Blue Chip is owned by Tom Dillon of Maine, who went with us on my tour to the Prix d’Amerique in January. Tom’s put a lot of cash into the business and the champagne would be flowing if his horse wins.


Lots of people would love to see the Ackermans in the winner’s circle. They’ve carved out a remarkable record relying on hay, oats, water and horsemanship, but methinks Judge Joe simply isn’t enough stock to earn a trip to the winner’s circle. He’s a steady Eddie type who always gets a check, but this company might be a bit deep for him.


Alas, he drew post 10 -- a terrible burden. It’s the Ackerman jinx as the stable’s superstar Chocolatier drew the same post in the Hambo a few years ago.


Jean-Pierre Dubois, perhaps the most accomplished all-around horseman in the racing world, owns Reinsman Hanover, another Hambo hopeful. I know it would be the crowning achievement of his career in North America to win the Hambletonian.
Chris Beaver from Ohio sends out Triumphant Caviar. He’s had some unfortunate post position draws this year, too, but gets post five with all the power inside of him, so maybe he can work out a trip with live cover that will get him into winning position.


Despite Muscle Hill being an overwhelming favorite, this year’s Hambo should be a dandy race.


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