The top three finishers in each of the three Hambletonian eliminations last weekend at the Meadowlands advanced to Saturday afternoon's $1.5 million final, along with the richest fourth-place finisher. With the Jim Campbell trainees Stormin Normand ($591,202) and Possess The Will ($580,762) the richest of the 25 starters, they had an advantage if they would finish fourth in their elims.
When Possess The Will finished seventh in the first elim, that meant that all Stormin Normand had to do in the second split is to finish in the top four to earn a ticket to the final. Lo and behold, Stormin Normand finished fourth after a grueling first-over trip.
Driver Dave Palone said afterward he was unaware going to the post of the pending scenario of a fourth-place finish. Palone said he apologized to Campbell while bringing the horse back to the paddock for not qualifying for the final, but the conditioner gave him the thumbs-up that they had indeed advanced. Stormin Normand will now start from post eight in the Hambletonian final.
"Yeah, I didn't realize it and told Jim I was sorry," said Palone. "But he knew the situation and told me it was alright and we made it."
Stormin Normand had two wins and three seconds in five starts coming into the Hambo elims, including a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes score and runners-up outings in the Yonkers Trot and Beal Memorial. He won his Beal elimination in 1:51.4, the second fastest mile trotted by a 3 year old on a five-eighths mile oval this year.
The Hambletonian elim was the first time Stormin Normand raced off Lasix this year, but Campbell said he doesn't believe it played role in the performance of the Fashion Farms homebred son of Broadway Hall.
"I scoped him afterward and he scoped clean, so I don't think it had anything to do with it because he wasn't as good as he's been in his other races,” said Campbell, who won the 1995 Hambletonian with Tagliabue. "I couldn't come up with anything that maybe the track just didn't suit him 100 percent. But he seems to feel good this week, so I'm just going to throw that last race out because I couldn't find a reason for him not to be himself.
"It's a wide-open race and all depends on what kind of trip you get,” he added. "But I sure think he has a chance if he's sitting at the right part of the race at the right time. With some racing luck, I've got confidence in him.”