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Harder off to good start at Meadowlands

February 27, 2009
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Although he decided to scale back his stable a few years ago, trainer Mark Harder has reemerged as a strong nightly presence at the Meadowlands in 2009.

Harder, 47, won his first Meadowlands training title in 2004, a season in which he pulled off the biggest upset in Meadowlands Pace history with Holborn Hanover. Harder’s stable won 281 races and earned almost $7 million that year, but the New Zealand native became overwhelmed with managing a large-scale training operation and decided to scale things back.

“After I was leading trainer in 2004, the numbers got a bit big for me,” Harder said. “I probably didn’t handle it the way I wanted to, and it’s just not my thing. I got big quick, and my kudos go out to guys like Erv Miller who run massive stables.”

Currently tied for fifth in the trainer standings with 18 wins (a 27 percent clip), Harder has come out strong this meet.  In addition to Hypnotic Blue Chip’s stakes record in the $82,500 Junior Trendsetter final last week, Harder has also won divisions of the Cape & Cutter with Enhance The Night and Cuz She Can and a leg of the Art Unger Stakes with Golden Receiver. 
“I got off to a strong start this year because I had some nice, sharp condition [class] horses that fit right,” Harder said. “We purposely set them up for the Meadowlands meet and it’s worked out. Enhance The Night and Cuz She Can are two good examples. I’m not involved in the claiming as much, so I’m not going through those horses. I don’t think I have any world champions in the barn right now, but there are a bunch of nice, competitive horses, and I’m looking forward to a successful 2009.” (Meadowlands)

On Friday night, he will send out Yankee Matthew in the tenth race $35,000 Invitational Trot at the Meadowlands.  Starting from post three, Yankee Matthew is rated at 8-1 on the morning line. 

“Yankee Matthew was a top stakes winning 2-year-old in 2007 with Hambletonian aspirations, but last year was almost devastating,” Harder said.  “I didn’t think he could beat Deweycheatumnhowe, but I felt he could have been in some of those big dances.  It just didn’t work out.  It’s so hard to get that marquee horse.   

“We got down to about 2:10 and he developed EPM, along with bleeding issues,” he continued.  “It was such a battle right through.  We’ve treated him for the EPM, put him on Lasix, and we’ve gotten him back this year.”

Yankee Matthew rallied from far back for each of his three wins in 2009.  However, he broke stride while on the move in his last start on Feb. 13.

“Those have been some impressive rallies, but he’s always was a fast horse,” Harder said.  “He trotted some fast quarters as a 2-year-old.  He won three out of four before he made a break two weeks ago, and I think I raced him four or five weeks in a row.  I’ve just got to space out his races a bit.”

While Yankee Matthew finds his footing among the top open trotters, Harder will point Hypnotic Blue Chip toward the $225,000 (est.) Berry’s Creek Pace on Saturday, May 9.

“I was disappointed Hypnotic Blue Chip didn’t make $200,000 or $300,000 as a 2-year-old,” he said.  “He didn’t really have any issues.  I just didn’t manage him right at the start.  He got a couple of tough trips heading into the Woodrow Wilson.  I let drivers leave from bad posts.  We could have gone on to the Breeders Crown, but we made the decision to shut him down.  Now we’re getting some of this early money.  He’s got the Matt’s Scooter Series and the Berry’s Creek next.”
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