Hambletonian: Nancy Takter Tracking Her Own Course

By John Furgele

Her father is a harness racing legend, but please don’t introduce Nancy Takter as the “daughter of Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter.

“I get a little annoyed when they introduce me that way,” said Nancy Takter, “I’ve been out on my own since 2014 and feel like I’ve established myself in this game.”

She certainly has and for further proof, we can go back to July 18 when she trained Tall Dark Stranger to victory in the Meadowlands Pace.

I guess being Jimmy Takter’s daughter has its pros and cons. Jimmy, who retired at the end of 2019, amassed more than $135 million in earnings and won the Hambletonian four times in a 38-year career. His daughter is a chip off the old block.

Harness Racing History: First Pacing Mare Wins Horse of the Year

Harness Racing History: First Pacing Mare Wins Horse of the Year

“I was 1½ years old when we moved here (from Sweden) and was always in the barn as a child,” Takter said. “I would go to the barn every weekend, and by 8 or 9, I started training a little with a pacing colt named Lansford Hanover. When we went 2:10 for a training mile, I thought that was pretty cool.”

She’s had tremendous success as a trainer; she’s trained three Dan Patch winners, one O’Brien winner, and the Horse of the Year in both the United States and Canada, and thanks to her daughter, Ella, a Breeders Crown champion in Captain Crunch.

“She spotted him at the sale and begged me to buy him, which we did for $85,000,” Takter said. “That one worked out well.”

In Saturday’s Hambletonian, she has one of the favorites in Ready For Moni with Yannick Gingras in the bike. The horse drew the one post and is listed at 3-1 on the morning line. On paper, it all looks good, but Takter knows that good fortune is a must.

“You need everything to go right to win a race like the Hambletonian,” Takter said. “And, this year has been a little crazy. (Because of Covid-19) we all started late so who really knows how the horses will perform on Saturday.”

Pedigree has always been important in harness racing, but it does exist on the human side with Nancy Takter. She might not love being introduced as the daughter of Jimmy Takter, but that pedigree has helped shape her as a trainer.

“Dad had a great career and I don’t think anyone expects me to top it,” she said, “I can’t worry about being in his shadow, I’ll maintain that Takter professionalism and I expect to get the same results.”

This year’s Hambletonian has some juicy storylines to it. As usual, the weather forecast is calling for a hot and sunny day with a high temperature of 85 degrees. The Meadowlands is a nighttime track and when they run in the heat of the day, that’s usually good for horses that like to get to the lead. For some reason, early speed holds better in the daylight than it does in the evening.

There will be a limited number of fans in attendance. The last three years saw attendance in the 18,000 range, the track full of hard-core racing fans, picnickers and those there to see concerts in the backyard. Officials are selling about 500 reserved tables for the event, so there will definitely be a different feel for this year’s edition.

The main storyline is that this year’s Hambo is a one-off. In previous years, there were two eliminations and a final; this year, the field is set for one circuit around the Big M oval.

2020 Hambletonian Entries and Odds

Post Horse Driver Trainer Odds
1 Ready For Moni Yannick Gingras Nancy Takter 3-1
2 Back of The Neck Scott Zeron Ake Svanstedt 4-1
3 Hollywood Story David Miller Marcus Melander 15-1
4 Big Oil Andy Miller Julie Miller 15-1
5 Ramona Hill Andrew McCarthy Tony Alagna 5-2
6 Threefiftytwo Daniel Dube Luc Blais 6-1
7 Capricornus Tim Tetrick Marcus Melander 15-1
8 Rome Pays Off Mattias Melander Marcus Melander 15-1
9 Sister Sledge Brian Sears Ron Burke 12-1
10 Amigo Volo Dexter Dunn Nifty Norman 12-1

Breaking down the Hambo field

When you look at this race, Takter is right when she says that 2020 has been a bit crazy. Of the 10 starters, no horse has raced more than five times. Many 3-year olds get going in March, which was when everything shut down and training is never the same as racing.

Sister Sledge, one of two fillies in the race, has the most wins (3), but I was surprised to see her here rather than the Hambletonian Oaks, but if Ron Burke thinks his filly can run with the boys, than I won’t second guess him.

Harness Raceway – Photo courtesy of harnesslink.com

Ramona Hill is the other filly and she looked great in her elimination win last Saturday and because she’s a filly, the casual fan will root for her much like they did with Atlanta, who won the Hambo back in 2018.

The chalk says to go with Ramona Hill and Ready For Moni, but I’m leaning towards Back Of The Neck for several reasons. First, he has a good post, starting from the 2. He won’t have to leave and will be able to tuck in and save space as soon as the lead car speeds off.

Second is Scott Zeron. He may not be the best driver (he’s not far down the list), but the racing Gods seem to be with him on Hambo Day. Just 31, he has already won this race twice and both times, his driving was excellent. Some are well-suited for the big event and Zeron certainly is.

Back Of The Neck is certainly not a long shot; he’ll likely go off as the third choice, but the Ake Svanstedt trained colt just might get it done come Saturday afternoon.

The other horse of intrigue is the six, Threefiftytwo. Trained by Luc Blais, who pulled the upset last year with 15-1 shot Forbidden Trade, Threefiftytwo is just 1-1-0 in four starts with a modest bankroll of $28,402. He ran an interesting elimination; he took the lead, rated, dropped to fourth and then came flying home with a 27.3 final quarter to finish just behind Ready For Moni. If the track is dry and fast, he could try to run away, but my thinking is that he’ll rate and then make a big move in the stretch.

Amigo Volo also caught my eye. He closed well in his elim, rallying from sixth in the stretch to get third behind the two heavyweights, Ramona Hill and Back Of The Neck. The 10 post is not ideal; he may have to step on the gas earlier than he may want to, but I can certainly see him getting into the top three. The oddsmakers think he has a shot as well, because despite coming out of the 10 post, he is listed at 12/1 and if the wiseguys are looking for that upset, perhaps Amigo Volo could provide it.

For those scoring at home, I’m going with 2-6-10 in the Hambletonian.     

There are 10 other stakes races on the 16-race card that kicks off at noon ET, so let’s take a look:

Hambletonian Oaks, 3-year old Filly Trot, $600,000

Favorite: Hypnotic Am

Horse to Watch: Sorella

Of note: Hypnotic Am drew the 12 post (she will line up in the second tier behind the two) and that won’t be easy, but to me, she’s the class of the field for driver Brian Sears and trainer Marcus Melander. Her $167,219 in earnings is $72,719 better than the next best earner. Sorella is a legitimate threat with Gingras, who owns this race.  The complete field:

  • Crucial David Miller/Ron Burke 15/1
  • Next Level Stuff Tim Tetrick/Jim Campbell 9/2
  • Reba Blue Chip Verlin Yoder/Verlin Yoder 20/1
  • May Baby James Yoder/James Yoder 10/1
  • Tricky Sister Corey Callahan/Andrew Harris 20/1
  • Whose Blues Daniel Dube/Luc Blais 20/1
  • Sorella Yannick Gingras/Nancy Takter 7/2
  • Fortune Starlet Andrew McCarthy/George Ducharme 15/1
  • Solsbury Hill Scott Zeron/Rick Zeron 12/1
  • Ab’ stattitudexpress Joe Bongiorno/Lucas Wallin 20/1
  • Panem Dexter Dunn/Nancy Takter 6/1
  • Hypnotic Am Brian Sears/Marcus Melander 5/2

Shady Daisy, 3-year old Filly Pace, $90,000

Favorite:  Reflect With Me

Horse to Watch: Peaky Sneaky

Of note: Just five entries, Tony Alagna trains two of them

Steele Memorial, Mares Open Trot, $166,500

Favorite: Manchego

Horse to Watch: Felicityshagwell S

Of note: Manchego is 4-1-0 in five starts, but there is international intrigue with Felicityshagwell S who comes to North America to race at the Big M for the first time.

Jim Doherty Memorial, 2-year Filly Pace, $350,000

Favorite: Altar

Horse to Watch: Darlene Hanover

Of note: Five of the 10 starters are sired by Muscle Hill

Sam McKee Memorial Open Pace, $229,600

Favorite: American History

Horse to Watch: Dancin Lou, Hurrikane Emperor

Of note: Just last Saturday, American History ran 1:47.1 at the Meadowlands, but Dancin Lou and Hurrikane Emperor might be better.

Peter Haughton Memorial, 2-year Trot, $319,000

Favorite: Plumville Prince

Horse to Watch: Venerate

Of note: Of the 10 starters, Muscle Hill is the father of the five of them. We’ve said that before.

John Cashman Memorial, Open Trot, $284,000

Favorite: Gimpanzee

Horse to Watch: Atlanta

Of note: Race is named after Hall of Fame trainer John Cashman, the father of NY Yankees’ General Manager Brian Cashman. Atlanta is taking on the boys again; Gimpanzee is the best trotter in training.

Cane Pace, 3-year olds, Colts and Geldings, $273,125

Favorite: Tall Dark Stranger, aka “TDS”

Horse to Watch: Chief Mate

Of note: First leg of the Pacing Triple Crown. TDS won the Meadowlands Pace just two weeks ago, but Chief Mate, to me, is still ascending. Of the eight starters, four are trained by Tony Alagna.

Sam McKee Consolation, Open Pace, $61,540

Favorite: Ourmajordan A

Horse to Watch: Jessie Duke N

Of note: If you like watching older horses, this is your race. An accomplished and solid group here. Ourmajordan A ran 1:47.3 at the Big M in July.

Lady Liberty, Mares Open Pace, $177,100

Favorite:  Shartin N

Horse to Watch: Soho Burning Love A

Of note: Shartin N dazzled in this race last year, running 1:47 and change. I keep waiting for “Soho,” to make her statement. She can make one here.

It’s a great day of racing at the sport’s signature track and while it won’t be the same because of COVID-19, it’s still the best day of the harness racing year and unlike many sporting events, it is being run on its scheduled day. CBS Sports Network will have delayed coverage from 6-7 p.m. ET.