Muscle Hill carries a formidable 11-race winning streak into the Hambletonian eliminations on Saturday, August 1. The top three finishers in each elimination, plus the fourth-place finisher with the highest overall earnings, will advance to harness racing's most prestigious event for 3-year-old trotting colts, worth $1,520,333, on August 8. The eliminations are carded as races seven, eight and nine on the card, which also features a record four eliminations for the $783,042 Hambletonian Oaks for fillies. Post time is 7 p.m.
Muscle Hill reached millionaire status in his final prep for the Hambletonian with a career best 1:52.1 score in one of two $185,250 Stanley Dancer Memorial divisions on July 17. The 2008 Two-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year is a perfect three-for-three this season and counts the $200,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes Championship among those wins.
The son of 1998 Hambleotnian winner Muscles Yankee is vying to become the third freshman Dan Patch champion in as many years to win the Hambletonian. Both Donato Hanover (2007) and Deweycheatumnhowe (2008) were able to duplicate their freshman success and win the Hambletonian on their way to Trotter of the Year honors.
Greg Peck trains Muscle Hill for Jerry Silva and Muscle Hill Racing of Long Beach, NY; TLP Stable of Kearny, NJ and Southwind Farm of Pennington, NJ. Along with stablemate My Back Pages, he is one of two colts Peck will start in Saturday's $70,000 Hambletonian eliminations. Muscle Hill will leave from post two in the last of the three tests with Brian Sears in the sulky.
"Every time Muscle Hill does something special it surprises me, and that gives you more of a sense of confidence," noted trainer Greg Peck. "But everybody is looking at him as the measuring stick, and they're not giving up for sure. One of the best qualities my father, Bernie, had was he respected the other guy's horse and he knew the competition. I try to do that as well.
"Of course they're going to take their best shot at Muscle Hill, but I think that's really been the case in just about every stake he's been in," Peck continued. "They came after him in the Peter Haughton Memorial, in Lexington and the Breeders Crown. He was really good last week [in the Dancer Memorial], but again, the Meadowlands is such a fair track and true test, and there are no easy races. I never will take anything for granted because you just don't know what's going to happen."
Though they will avoid him in the eliminations this week, two colts poised to take aim at Muscle Hill in the Hambletonian are Federal Flex, also undefeated in three starts this season, and the quick-footed Explosive Matter.
In his first trip around the Meadowlands oval this summer, Federal Flex romped to a convincing 5 1-2-length victory in 1:53.3 in his Dancer Memorial division. Prior to shipping to New Jersey, the Jeff Gillis trainee swept the Goodtimes elimination and final at Mohawk. Federal Flex will start from post seven in the second of the Hambletonian eliminations, race eight, with Jody Jamieson at the lines.
Part of a three-horse Hambletonian contingent trained by Noel Daley, Adam Victor and Son's Explosive Matter was one of the top colts of his freshman class last year, winning six of eight starts and $363,415. The homebred son of Cantab Hall was runner-up to Muscle Hill in the Breeders Crown at the Meadowlands. After winning a division of the Historic Dickerson Cup on July 3, Explosive Matter rebounded from an early miscue to finish second behind Muscle Hill again in their Dancer Memorial division. Explosive Matter drew the rail in the first of the Hambleotnian eliminations, race seven, and will be handled by Ron Pierce.
"Donato Hanover and Deweycheatumnhowe were just so much better than their competition," Peck said. "I haven't heard anybody saying Muscle Hill stands out like they did. Last year, Noel Daley did confirm to me that Explosive Matter was the best horse he's ever trained, and that is quite a statement for him to make. Jody Jamieson said recently he thought Federal Flex was the best, so nobody has conceded anything for sure. It's still a horse race and anything can happen, but I would love to win it. It's a dream."