Connections talk about Hambo contenders
« Return to News
Southwind Chrome is still finding his way as a racehorse, but trainer Paula Wellwood likes the direction he is heading. Unraced at age 2 because of an injury, Wellwood has tried to expose the colt to a variety of racing styles in preparation for Saturday's appearance in the 93rd Hambletonian at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
Southwind Chrome has won once in seven races and finished second on four occasions. One of his runner-up efforts came in the final of the Empire Breeders Classic, which was won by Six Pack by a half-length. Six Pack is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the second of Saturday's two $100,000 Hambletonian eliminations. Southwind Chrome is in the same division and is 5-1. The top-five finishers from each elimination return later in the day for the $1 million final.
"We're maybe not as seasoned as the other horses," said Wellwood, who won the 2016 Hambletonian with Marion Marauder. "It's only his eighth lifetime start. But what he did in the Empire Breeders (final) in his third start was unbelievable. He's a pretty quick study, but he is still a little green and trying to figure out his style of racing. We've tried to expose him to all different styles, so we'll see how that goes.
"That's up to the driver."
That would be Scott Zeron, who will drive Southwind Chrome in his elimination. Zeron, who won for Wellwood with Marion Marauder on their way to the Trotting Triple Crown, may not be available for the final as he also will be driving filly Atlanta in the first elimination. Atlanta, the lone filly in the race and 3-1 second choice in her heat, is trained and co-owned by Zeron's dad Rick.
"If we get lucky enough to make the final I know we'll be looking for a driver, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Wellwood said. "(Zeron) likes Chrome, too. He commented that he's got two nice horses. He's not underestimating him."
Southwind Chrome is owned by Dreamville Stable, which is Wellwood, her husband Mike Keeling, son Devin Keeling, and mom Jean Wellwood. Devin and Jean are the owners of Marion Marauder. Southwind Chrome, a son of Chapter Seven out of Counter Pointe, was purchased for $60,000 at the 2016 Lexington Selected Sale.
"We had some of the family and always liked the mare," Wellwood said. "We looked at (Southwind Chrome) and really liked him. He was our first Chapter Seven that we bought, and the fact he was a Chapter Seven was an added bonus."
Southwind Chrome was lightly staked, but it was not because of a lack of talent.
"We gave him a lot of time and brought him back and he struggled a little bit," Wellwood said. "That's why he's not heavily staked. He had a couple of struggles in the winter training down with his gait, but once he got to qualifying, he just changed. He started to excel.
"We wanted to make sure the Hambletonian was on his card because he always showed a lot of ability. We started him out and he exceeded our expectations, he's never let us down."
He also never gets down.
"He's a very honest, happy horse," Wellwood said. "He's just a very pleasant horse. He's not a big horse but he's a very strong horse. He doesn't seem to get tired. That's one of his keys. He's just done everything right, so we thought we would take a chance. He's raced very well. We felt he deserved a shot."
And hope he finds his winning style.
* * * * * *
Another horse that is still learning is Classichap, from the stable of 2004 Hambletonian winner Trond Smedshammer. Classichap, a half-brother to 2012 Hambletonian champ and two-time Dan Patch Award honoree Market Share, was winless in four races in 2017, but finished second to Fourth Dimension in a division of the New York Sire Stakes at Saratoga. Three of Classichap's starts were on the New York circuit.
"I knew he had a lot of talent," said trainer Smedshammer, who also drives Classichap for owner Wanda Polisseni's Purple Haze Stables. "He wasn't staked too much; I wasn't planning on racing him on the Grand Circuit. I raced him a few times in New York and he showed me enough to back off and give him some time to mature."
Classichap is 6-1 in the second Hambletonian elimination. His most recent three races were at the Meadowlands in preparation for the event. He was third-placed-second in a conditioned race and then posted his first win with a gate-to-wire 1:51.1 triumph by a head over Tactical Landing in a conditioned race on July 6. His final start prior to the Hambletonian was a second-place finish to Wolfgang in a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial on July 14.
"He was good the start before the Dancer and he was pretty good in the Dancer," Smedshammer said. "I didn't think he was as good in that race, but he's getting some experience. I think the big track suits him better, the Meadowlands-style racing, than up in New York in his previous starts earlier in the year.
"He's still green and learning, but he's got a big engine. If he gets the right trip and things work out, he's shown he can cut a mile in (1):51 on his own. Not every horse can do that. We'll see where he fits in with those top horses."
In addition to Classichap, Smedshammer trains Hambletonian Oaks contender Phaetosive. The filly won her Oaks elimination and is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line behind Manchego. Smedshammer trained 2008 Hambletonian Oaks winner Creamy Mimi.
* * * * * *
Hat Trick Habit has raced four times for new connections, with mixed results. But trainer Scott DiDomenico is hoping the trotter has got it figured out after a second-place finish behind Crystal Fashion in his final Hambletonian prep, the Reynolds Memorial. The horse went off stride in his two prior races.
"We're going to give it a shot," DiDomenico said. "I think he is on the way up again. We've been having trouble with his feet, they've been aggravating him some, and I think that's been part of the reason he's been jumping. That's been one of my biggest concerns and I think we've sort of got it under control. I hope it works out OK."
Hat Trick Habit debuted for new owners John McGill and Brian Carsey with a career-best 1:52.3 win at the Meadowlands on July 7. He was acquired by McGill and Carsey at the end of June. The horse was owned previously by Fred Monteleone, who passed away in October.
For his career, Hat Trick Habit has won six of 17 races and earned $205,054. The colt is 12-1 in the first Hambletonian elimination, starting from post eight with three-time Hambletonian-winning driver Brian Sears.
"All things considered, it's probably a little bit of a shot, but how many times are you going to have a shot to race a horse of this caliber in this kind of race," DiDomenico said about racing in the Hambletonian. "We're excited about it and getting the shot to make some money in there. That's a pretty neat feeling. It's cool. I've never been there before, never had a horse that I even considered putting in that race. Now that I do, it's special."
* * * * * *
Met's Hall, who is 10-1 in the first Hambletonian elimination, was slow to return to the races for his 3-year-old season, not making his debut until July 14. He qualified three times prior to that race, twice in June and once in July.
"It's been challenging," trainer Julie Miller said. "He had a lot of health issues starting out the year that made my job difficult. But hopefully it's coming together at the right time. I'm very fortunate that (owner) Natalia Stroy has been patient with me and the horse.
"We'll just point him toward next week and hope all our efforts pay off. We're going to need a lot of luck, too.
Met's Hall was a stakes-winner in 2017, with his victories including a division of the International Stallion Stakes at Red Mile, where he trotted a career-best 1:52.4. He followed that win with a second-place finish behind Fourth Dimension in a track-record 1:54 mile in their Breeders Crown elimination at Hoosier Park and a week later was second to Fiftydallarbill in the $600,000 final.
He made his 2018 debut in a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial at the Meadowlands, where he finished fourth with regular driver Andy Miller, Julie's husband. His next start resulted in a third-place finish in the Tompkins-Geers at the Big M before notching his first win of the year in a division of last weekend's Reynolds Memorial. He won in 1:53 with a :26.4 final quarter and :55.2 back half after a :57.3 first half.
"Off that slow half, I thought it was a good back half," Miller said. "When Andy had to kind of check him in the lane he was real handy there.
"Every time Andy gets off the bike, after each qualifier, after each race, he says I'm getting there. Now if I can just shed three seconds in the next week," she added with a laugh.
Met's Hall has won six of 14 career races and $311,908.
The Millers have had consecutive top-three finishes in the Hambletonian, with Devious Man third-placed-second in 2017 and Sutton third, beaten only a neck, in 2016. (USTA)