August 7, 2005
Roger Hammer surprised everyone with a patient come-from-behind drive and guided 7-1 second choice Vivid Photo to a 2 3/4-length victory in the $1.5 million Hambletonian on Saturday afternoon at the Meadowlands. The Hambletonian is the first leg of harness racing's Triple Crown for trotters, followed by the Yonkers Trot and the Kentucky Futurity.
In all his previous starts, Vivid Photo had raced on the front end but Hammer opted to follow the 1-2 favorite, Classic Photo, with Ron Pierce driving. "I figured everybody thought I'd drive him crazy, so I did the opposite today," said Hammer, 59, who was making his Hambletonian debut. "I know the horse. He's a strong finisher, and he wouldn't give it up. It's great. I can keep the bill collector away for a while. This horse never showed racing off the pace. But I figured I could out-brush all of them. I didn't know what the fractions were; I was only worried where Ron (Pierce, the driver of favorite Classic Photo) was. I've never used the whip on this horse, but the second time I tapped him I knew it was over. I knew he was a strong finisher." The mile was timed in 1:52 3/5, a world record for a three-year-old gelded trotter.
A crowd of 31,245, the best since 1990, turned out for the closing day program that included 15 races with purses of nearly $4 million. Wagering on the Hambletonian Final was a record $1,269,523.
Hammer, of Bedford, Pennsylvania, and his partner, Todd Schadel of Gratz, Pennsylvania, bought four horses together, each taking two to train and race. Hammer ended up with the son of SJ's Photo, a $30,000 yearling purchase, was racing at the Pennsylvania fairs at two and remained away from the Meadowlands until the eliminations last week when he won his elimination in 1:53 2/5.
"I've made two-year-old payments for the Hambletonian many times over the last 30 years but this is the first one we paid up at three," said Hammer. "I knew he was a fast horse. The decision to geld him was the best we made. Otherwise he would have been a $3,000 claimer. He would try to climb the walls of the stall."
The victory was Vivid Photo's tenth in 12 starts this year, 14 of 18 lifetime. His earnings have now reached $866,393.
Classic Photo, who had won his previous five straight starts, including both the Goodtimes and Stanley Dancer Trot, finished second. "He raced good but he didn't seem quite as good or safe as he was last week, that was warming up and racing both," said trainer Ervin Miller. "That last turn especially he was not taking his strides as good as last week. He wasn't as smooth. It's a pretty firm racetrack maybe that was biting him a little. He's as honest as they come. You always want to win but we are having a great year. I'll take him home. After this he has the American National next."
Muscle Memory was third, 5 1/4 lengths back. "Everything went perfect, I just couldn't quite finish," said Cat Manzi, the driver of the Jimmy Takter trainee. "I didn't have a real plan going in to it I just wanted to go forward and go from there. Everything worked out fine I had my chance."