Melander sends out Hambo trio, Oaks favorite
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Marcus Melander will send morning-line favorite Hypnotic AM to Saturday’s $600,000 Hambletonian Oaks at the Meadowlands and, for the second year in a row, three horses to the $1 million Hambletonian Stakes final.
Melander’s Hambletonian trio last year—Greenshoe, Gimpanzee, and Green Manalishi S—were the bettors’ top-three choices in the race won by Forbidden Trade. His group Saturday will lack the same backing, each of his horses is 15-1 on the morning line, but the 28-year-old Melander still relishes the opportunity to compete in harness racing’s premier event for 3-year-old trotters.
“We all hope for that win, even though it’s going to be tough,” said Melander, who will send out Capricornus, Hollywood Story, and Rome Pays Off in the Hambletonian. “I don’t feel defeated with any of my horses because they’re all good. They just need the right trip to get up there.”
Melander is looking for his first win in the Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks. He was second in last year’s Hambletonian with Greenshoe while Gimpanzee was third and Green Manalishi S fifth. He was fourth in last year’s Oaks with Miss Trixton.
While Melander is sending out perceived longshots in the Hambletonian, Hypnotic AM gets the early nod in the Oaks, which is for 3-year-old filly trotters. The winner of 10 of 13 career races and $624,725, she is 5-2 on the morning line.
Hypnotic AM, a homebred daughter of Chapter Seven-Daydream AM S owned by Courant Inc., enters the Oaks off a 1:52.3 win in a prep race this past weekend at The Meadowlands. Eliminations were unnecessary for the Oaks, which attracted a field of 12 fillies.
“I was very happy with her,” Melander said. “She has a lot of speed and this year she has been handy as well. She got a little grabby and hot at the end of last year and you couldn’t really control her. This year she has been much better.
“She just has a great attitude and she wants to do it out there. I’m very confident with her, but there are nice horses in there. They will be tough to beat but I’m very confident in my horse.”
Hypnotic AM and driver Brian Sears will start the Oaks from post 12, which is in the second tier behind the starting gate.
“It is what it is,” Melander said. “It’s up to Brian, that’s why we have him. He worked it out perfectly with Gimpanzee from post 13 (in the Hambletonian Maturity on July 18) so hopefully he can work something out here as well.”
Hypnotic AM was last year’s New York Sires Stakes champion and she opened this season with two wins on the New York circuit, including the Empire Breeders Classic. She then finished third in the Del Miller Memorial, won by Ramona Hill in 1:50.3, on July 18 at The Meadowlands in her start prior to the Oaks prep.
“She got a tough trip and was interfered with, but she needed that race,” Melander said. “It’s been a little bit too easy on her in New York. She gets to the lead and has had some pretty soft halves and sprinted to the win. It was good that she got tired in that Del Miller race. That really helped her to get in form. We were very happy with her performance.”
Sorella from the stable of trainer Nancy Takter is the 7-2 second choice in the Oaks and Jim Campbell’s Next Level Stuff is 9-2.
As for the Hambletonian, Melander is happy with his horses heading into the final. The last trainer to have at least three Hambletonian finalists in successive years was Jimmy Takter, who accomplished it in 2013 through 2015.
Rome Pays Off, driven by Melander’s 24-year-old brother Mattias, was fifth in his Hambletonian elimination after racing on the outside the entire mile. He won his first two races of 2020, including the Tompkins-Geers Stakes in 1:52.3.
Last season, the son of Muscle Hill-Order By Wish won three times on the Pennsylvania circuit and was second in both the Peter Haughton Memorial and Breeders Crown. He has won five of 15 career races and $392,934 for owner SRF Stable.
Rome Pays Off starts the Hambletonian from post eight. Tony Alagna-trained Ramona Hill, who bypassed the Oaks to challenge the boys in the Hambletonian, is the 5-2 morning-line favorite.
“It’s going to be hard to beat Ramona Hill,” said Melander, who was the 2019 Trainer of the Year in the U.S. “She’s going to be the favorite and should be the favorite. Behind her I think it’s pretty wide open. Rome Pays Off could be second as could anyone else in the race. It’s an open race in my opinion.
“(Rome Pays Off) drew a little bad but he’s a nice horse and always shows up. I have nothing bad to say about that horse. He always does his best.”
Hollywood Story opened this year with back-to-back wins in conditioned races before finishing fourth in a division of the W.N. Reynolds Memorial and second in a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial. He was fifth in his Hambletonian elim.
He will start the final from post three with driver David Miller. The Courant Inc.-owned son of Muscle Hill-Counter Pointe has won four of seven lifetime races.
“He’s still a little bit green but he develops more and more with every race,” Melander said. “He started with some easier races and then we had to go to Grand Circuit competition to see if he was good enough to aim for the Hambo or not. He got a good draw. We’ll see.”
Capricornus, who finished second in last year’s William Wellwood Memorial and has won three of 15 career starts, finished third in his Hambletonian elim. He will start from post seven with driver Tim Tetrick. The son of Cantab Hall-Oh My Darlin is owned by JJ Racing Stable.
“Maybe he’s not the type that wins every week, but he always does good races,” Melander said. “The elimination was a race like that as well. He got shuffled back and still had a lot of trot to the end.” (Ken Weingartner/USTA)