Trainer Jim Raymer hasn't gotten where he is today in the Standardbred sport by not understanding the competition. For Raymer, who entered two in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks on Aug. 2 at the Meadowlands, it's been a long and well thought out process.
Raymer's Harley Momma and Nitro Nittany are not exactly household names in a field that includes world champions Designed To Be, Shake It Cerry and Cooler Schooner, but he's been planning this destination for a long time and believes he's got a chance.
"I think my fillies are capable of trotting in 1:52 or a little better,” said Raymer. "I think it was a good thing that Harley Momma has been sidelined because she didn't have to run into those 1:52 miles in Pennsylvania.”
The trainer is hopeful that in the long run his fillies will prosper, not necessarily because they are faster than the competition, but because they will hold up better late in the year with less wear and tear.
"I don't think there are more than one or two 1:52 miles in these fillies,” Raymer said, referring to the competition. "At least I'm hoping there aren't.”
Raymer's long term outlook could be as a direct result of circumstances that befell his filly Harley Momma, who suffered quarter cracks on both of her front feet in mid-May of this season. Raymer had her slated to race in a Pennsylvania Sires Stakes event but reconsidered.
"I probably could have raced her but I thought it would be better if I gave her time to heal,” he said.
Harley Momma had just captured a $74,132 Pennsylvania Sires Stakes at Harrah's Philadelphia in 1:54.2, defeating the very good Take The Money, but Raymer thought about the future of his filly and deferred. Unfortunately it took a little longer than desired for Harley Momma to recover. That left the trainer with less time to prepare her for the Hambletonian Oaks, the biggest race of the year for 3-year-old trotting fillies.
"I was hoping there would be eliminations. That qualifier (last Saturday at the Meadowlands) against Cooler Schooner wasn't what I wanted. My filly was so far behind that filly that she didn't know what to do,” Raymer said of the daughter of SJ's Caviar, a $30,000 purchase by the Harbor Racing Stable. Harley Momma was beaten nearly a dozen lengths by Cooler Schooner in the qualifier, timed in 1:55.2.
While Harley Momma was sidelined, the Raymer stable enjoyed success with Nitro Nittany. The $22,000 yearling purchase has seen her career bankroll swell this season thanks to some careful strategic planning.
"I took her out of the sire stakes and raced in the stallion stakes,” Raymer offered. "I didn't want to go up against those good fillies.
Nitro Nittany won a $99,900 Pennsylvania Sires Stakes on May 17 at the Meadows before a sabbatical, finishing on the board in six of her eight starts while racing at Tioga, The Meadowlands and Pocono, avoiding the top class fillies. She has career earnings of $154,490.
What concerns Raymer now is whether his fillies have the mile-track conditioning required to be at their best on Hambletonian Oaks Saturday.
"The Meadowlands is different,” he said, "They have to get acclimated to the speed they go at least one start.”
With his fillies racing primarily on five-eighths mile tracks with stops and starts, while the pace of races at the Meadowlands is constant.
Fortunately for Raymer, although eliminations weren't necessary for the Oaks with just 11 fillies entered, a prep race was carded on Saturday at the Meadowlands. This will afford both his fillies the opportunity to get acclimated to the speed required.
For Harley Momma it will be her first competitive start in more than 10 weeks. Prior to her absence she had captured three of her four races as a sophomore with earnings of $51,066 this season.
"I was impressed with her last two starts,” Raymer said.
Harley Momma scored back-to-back victories in 1:54.2 at Mohegan Sun at Pocono in late April and at Harrah's Philadelphia in early May.
For some it's all about winning the Hambletonian Oaks, for Raymer and his solid fillies, the outlook is a bit longer.
"I think we'll be competitive,” he said. "Both fillies are eligible to the Breeders Crown (at the Meadowlands, Nov. 21 and 22) and we'd like to make that.” (Hambletonian Society)