The lone Ontario-sired horse competing in Saturday’s Hambletonian, Harper Blue Chip, will be racing for glory for himself as well as Mark Steacy, his Landsdowne, Ont.-based trainer.
Steacy is heading into his debut in North America’s most esteemed harness race with realistic expectations.
“If I get a cheque, I’ll be more than happy,” said Steacy. “Just to be in the race is a privilege.”
Steacy and Harper Blue Chip will have their work cut out for them at The Meadowlands against powerhouse trainer-driver Jimmy Takter, whose horse Father Patrick is the morning-line favourite (4-5) followed by Takter’s other two horses, Trixton (7-2) and Nuncio (9-2).
Harper Blue Chip, listed at 12-1, finished second to Father Patrick in an elimination for the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial, in June, but beating the favourite is an entirely different challenge, especially from post position nine.
“He’s never beat Father Patrick or Trixton yet, but he’s got a taste of that, and I think he’s capable of stepping up beyond the Ontario Sires Stakes,” Steacy said. “Unfortunately, what’s going to make it hard for him is the post position draw.”
Steacy watched Harper Blue Chip transition well from his freshman year win at the Ontario Sires Stakes at Mohawk. He started his sophomore year with a third-place finish in the final from post 10 at Mohawk for owners Landmark 6 Racing Stable of Kingston, Ont., David McDonald of Cornwall, David Reid of Glenburnie and George Judson of Athens, Ont.
After facing Father Patrick in the Beal and trotting his own mile in 1:51.3, Harper Blue Chip came back to Canadian soil and dominated local competition with a sweep of the Canadian Breeders Championship in July at Mohawk.
He might have drawn poorly, but he has experienced driver Brian Sears — who won last year’s Hambo with Royalty For Life — on his side. Making his 11th appearance at the Hambletonian, the 2009 Driver of the Year set a then-harness racing record of $1,555,674 in purse earnings on Aug. 8, 2009, for the entire Hambletonian Day card.
Steacy acknowledges that Harper Blue Chip may not be as advanced at this stage of his career as his sire Majestic Son, Canada’s 2006 Horse of the Year.
“Physically, they have similarities,” Steacy says. “I think Harper’s got a little ways to go.
“Majestic Son at this point was a much better horse, but Harper’s come a long way and I think he’s still going to get better,” he said. “He tries real hard just like his father did.
“He’s pretty laid back, the trainer added. “He might roar a little bit at the other horses when he first walks into the paddock, and then after that he knows how to take care of himself.”
Live national coverage of the race will be on CBS Sports Network from 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. Post time for the Hambletonian is slotted for 5:11.
$1,006,125 Hambletonian, Race 13, Post time 5:11 p.m.
Horse – driver – trainer – odds
1. Resolve – Corey Callahan – Nancy Johansson – 20-1
2. JJ Alex – Francisco Del Cid – Francisco Del Cid – 50-1
3. Doncango – Ake Svanstedt – Ake Svanstedt – 20-1
4. Datsyuk – Charlie Norris – Charlie Norris – 12-1
5. Nuncio – John Campbell – Jimmy Takter – 9-2
6. Royal Ice – Ron Pierce – Trond Smedshammer – 20-1
7. Trixton – Jimmy Takter – Jimmy Takter – 7-2
8. Il Sogno Dream – Aaron Merriman – Chris Beaver – 50-1
9. Harper Blue Chip – Brian Sears – Mark Steacy – 12-1
10. Father Patrick – Yannick Gingras – Jimmy Takter – 4-5
11. Don Dorado – Tim Tetrick – Robert Baggitt Jr. – 20-1 (second tier starter)