Manchego and Phaetosive each won their respective eliminations Saturday for the Hambletonian Oaks, with Manchego capturing her division by 3 3/4 lengths over Lily Stride in 1:51.1 and Phaetosive victorious in her division by 4 1/4 lengths over Live Laugh Love in 1:51 at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
The top-five finishers from each $50,000 elimination advanced to next week’s $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks final for 3-year-old female trotters at the Big M. Hey Blondie, What A Knockout and Seviyorum advanced from the elim won by Manchego while Plunge Blue Chip, Blonde Magic and Nixie Volo advanced from the elimination won by Phaetosive.
Phaetosive and driver Trond Smedshammer were in fourth place at the half-mile point of their elimination, with Plunge Blue Chip – who on July 14 trotted a world-record 1:49.4 mile at the Meadowlands – leading the field to that point in :56.1.
Plunge Blue Chip, who started from post eight in the eight-horse field and was three-wide around the first turn before getting the lead, remained on top heading into the final turn, but Phaetosive was on the move and threatening. She took the lead at the top of the stretch and came home in :26.3 to win for the third time in four races this year. Her time of 1:51 was a career best.
Phaetosive, a daughter of Explosive Matter out of Phaeton who is owned by Purple Haze Stables and trained by Smedshammer, has won seven of 11 lifetime starts and earned $377,358. She has never finished worse than third.
"She was good," said Smedshammer, who trained 2008 Hambletonian Oaks winner Creamy Mimi. "She’s been good her whole life. She just keeps impressing me."
Phaetosive finished second to Manchego in last year’s Jim Doherty Memorial and Peaceful Way Stakes and was third behind Manchego in the Breeders Crown. The Hambletonian Oaks final will be their first encounter this season.
"We haven’t met up yet this year, so we will see next week," Smedshammer said. "She got the best of me last year every time they hooked up, but I think it’s a little closer this year."
When asked how Phaetosive compared to other great filly trotters Smedshammer trained during his career, the trainer responded, "It’s tough to compare from different eras, but she is extremely talented."
Phaetosive, the 4-5 favorite in her Oaks elimination, paid $3.60 to win.
Manchego, who in her previous start finished second by a nose to Plunge Blue Chip in her world-record 1:49.4 mile, was guided to the lead in her Oaks elimination by driver Yannick Gingras on the backstretch and was unthreatened the rest of the way.
Her time of 1:51.1 was a career best as she won for the fourth time in six races this year. The filly has won 15 of 17 career races and earned $986,170.
"I don’t think (she’s ever been better)," winning trainer Jimmy Takter said. "It was a little upsetting to lose the last start and get such a nice record, but she did the dirty work. She went :54.3 (to the half) with a :27.1 second quarter and that kind of hurt her a little bit in the stretch, and maybe Yannick underestimated (Plunge Blue Chip) a little bit too. But I’m happy where we are right now."
Takter and Gingras have teamed to win the past four editions of the Hambletonian Oaks. Takter holds the record for most training wins in the race with seven. The trainer said he did not consider bypassing the Oaks to try Manchego against the boys in the $1 million Hambletonian next week. The connections of filly Atlanta, who is undefeated in five races this year, took that route.
"I don’t blame them for taking a shot, but I’ve tried that and it’s hard to do," said Takter, who raced filly Pampered Princess in the 2007 Hambletonian won by Donato Hanover. "Fillies go two heats and it’s a little bit too tough, especially for Manchego because she is not a very big filly. Going two heats would be risking the future of her racing career."
Manchego, a daughter of Muscle Hill out of Secret Magic, was the 2017 Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old female trotter. She is owned by Black Horse Racing, John Fielding, and Herb Liverman.
Sent off as the 1-9 favorite, Manchego paid $2.20 to win. (Ken Weingartner)