For the last 20 years or so, trainer Peter Arrigenna had the same response whenever someone asked when he would attend the Hambletonian at the Meadowlands Racetrack rather than watch the race on television.
"I'll go down when a horse takes me down there, he said.
On Saturday, Arrigenna will attend the Hambletonian in person. Archangel is bringing him there. And the horse might be bringing more than his trainer on the trip.
Arrigenna, who is based in New York about 20 miles south of Rochester, said a local tour bus company was putting together a trip to the Hambletonian. After Archangel advanced to Saturday's $1.5 million Hambletonian final thanks to a second-place finish in last weekend's eliminations, the trip was expected to fill. Arrigenna's son Mark and daughter-in-law Kristen are traveling from Florida for the race as well.
Much of the interest in Arrigenna's hometown area was spurred by recent newspaper articles about Arrigenna and Archangel, including one in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle prior to the Hambletonian eliminations.
"There are a lot of people that read the story and have come over to the barn to see the horse, said Arrigenna, who never raced at the Meadowlands prior to Archangel's Hambletonian elimination. "These are people that have never been to the races. They want to go and see what this is all about. It's great to help promote the sport. There's nothing better than what's happening here to promote the harness racing industry.
Arrigenna, who competes primarily on the New York circuit and is vice president of the board of directors of the Harness Horse Breeders of New York State, owns Archangel with Alan Hainsworth and Clare Semer. The colt is the top money-winning 3-year-old male trotter in North America this year, with seven wins in nine starts for $446,157.
On July 7, Archangel won the $445,594 Yonkers Trot, which is the first jewel in the Trotting Triple Crown, in a world-record 1:54.1. The Hambletonian is the second, followed by the Kentucky Futurity on Oct. 7 at Lexington's Red Mile.
Eight horses have won the Trotting Triple Crown, most recently Glidemaster in 2006. CBS Sports Network will air the Hambletonian final from 3:30-5 p.m. Saturday.
In his Hambletonian elimination, Archangel and driver Jim Morrill Jr. were in third place between Market Share and favorite Little Brown Fox after an opening quarter-mile of 27 seconds, but inherited the lead when Little Brown Fox went off stride and Market Share remained in second place. Market Share took the lead in the stretch and posted a 2-1/4 length win in 1:52.2, which was the fastest of the night's three Hambletonian elims.
"Going to the quarter pole, I'm glad I wasn't sitting between those horses as tight as it was, Arrigenna said. "It was a tough quarter. Our game plan was to sit in the two hole and sit behind Little Brown Fox and it would have happened if (Little Brown Fox) wouldn't have made a break.
"(Market Share) ended up getting the two-hole trip behind us; that's the trip I wanted. Watching the other divisions, it seems like none of the front-end horses were finishing too well.
Overall, Arrigenna was pleased with Archangel's performance, which included a :27.4 last quarter-mile that was eclipsed by only Market Share.
"I think he did well, Arrigenna said. "From watching and talking to people, I think you need a first time around the Meadowlands' racetrack and the second time they'll get a little better. I can't ask for anything better than what he did. I was happy with everything.
Prior to his Hambletonian elim, Archangel posted a stakes-record 1:54.3 win in a division of the Tompkins-Geers Stakes at Tioga Downs on July 21. Archangel's other wins this year include the $233,250 Empire Breeders Classic (in a track-record 1:53.1 at Vernon Downs) and two legs of the New York Sire Stakes.
A son of Credit Winner, Archangel is the first foal of the multiple-stakes-winning mare Michelle's Angel and was purchased for $120,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale.
"I've known Alan for quite a few years; he doesn't live too far from here, Arrigenna said. "He's had horses and he'd come by and talk. He wanted to buy this horse and wanted me to train it and be partners on it. We got together and got it done. Clare has had some horses with Alan and wanted to come on board. The three of us went together on it and that was it. It's worked out very well.
Last year, Archangel wore trotting hobbles while on his way to three wins in 13 starts and $135,193 in purses. This year, the trotting hobbles were removed prior to the start of his campaign.
"That was a big plus, said Arrigenna, who received the Upstate New York Chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association's Good Guy Award in 2010. "He really needed them at the beginning of the year; he just didn't have the confidence, especially in the first turn. Later in the year he was coming along good, but I hated to change things.
"This year I didn't even bother putting them on. I jogged him through the winter and started training him and he showed me right off the bat he didn't need them. He's just getting a lot of confidence and is starting to come around. This is the best time it could happen, to peak right now.
The only downside to not winning his elimination is it put Archangel in the open draw for post position rather than giving his connections the chance to select their starting spot for the Hambletonian final.
"Hopefully, we'll get something halfway decent in there and whatever happens, happens, Arrigenna said. "You just have to race the way it is. (Meadowlands)