Thursday, August 6, 2020 4:57 PM EST
By TOM CANAVAN, AP
The $1 million Hambletonian and favored Ramona Hill have come a long way since the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports.
Trotting's most prestigious race, scheduled for Saturday at the Meadowlands, was a question mark until May when New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy allowed the sport to start in early June.
Ramona Hill won the the Breeders Crown for 2-year-old filly trotters from post 10 late last season and then was named the Dan Patch Award winner for her age group. She has been the surprise among 3-year-olds this year.
Almost as big a surprise as the return of sports.
“The race up in the air when we were down and couldn't race and didn't know when we could re-open,” Hambletonian chief executive and Hall of Fame driver John Campbell told The Associated Press by phone Thursday. “Once we got confirmation we could go June 5, we were confident we could have the Hambletonian.”
Even then, Campbell said the Hambletonian Society could not complete plans for fear things might change with a spike in cases. The one thing that was not going to change was the race was going to be worth $1 million.
“We think that makes the Hambletonian special,” said Campbell, who drove a record six winners in the race.
During a normal harness racing season, the 3-year-old trotters will tend to race six, seven or eight times before the final.
Ramona Hill comes into the Hambletonian final preparing for her fourth start of the year. The daughter of Muscle Hill won her last two, but her last-to-first win with in the Hambletonian elimination last weekend was spectacular. The filly, driven by Andrew McCarthy, blew by the field to win by a half length in 1:51.2. She was last most of the race.
“I'm not surprising Ramona Hill is the favorite off the elimination race,” Campbell said. “Her effort in the elimination was nothing short of sensational. She literally zoomed by them, and zoomed is a big word right now in our vocabulary.”
Ramona Hill's owners didn't decide until late to enter her in the Hambletonian eliminations instead of the Hambletonian Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.
Trainer Tony Alagna and majority owner Brad Grant made the decision, said Michelle Crawford, who shares in the ownership with her husband, Al, Robert LeBlanc and In The Gym Partners. The filly drew the No. 5 post in the field of 10.
Ready For Moni, who won the other eliminations in 1:51.3, has been made the second choice in the mile race. Yannick Gingras is listed to drive the 3-1 shot.
The rest of the field in post position order with horse, driver and odds:
Back Of The Neck, Scott Zeron, 4-1; Hollywood Story, David Miller, 15-1; Big Oil, Andy Miller, 15-1; Ramona Hill; Threefiftytwo, Daniel Dube, 6-1; Capricornus, Tim Tetrick, 15-1; Rome Pays Off, Mattias Melander, 15-1; Sister Sledge, Brian Sears, 12-1; Amigo Volo, Dexter Dunn, 12-1.
The Hambletonian and the $600,000 Hambletonian Oaks will be presented on a tape delayed one-hour broadcast that will be seen on CBS beginning at 6 p.m.