EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Ladies first took on new meaning Saturday during the $1 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands Racetrack when Atlanta, the 3-year-old trotting filly, blew away her colt competition by winning in 1 minute, 50.4 seconds. She is the first filly to win the Hambo since 1996 and the 14th in the 93 years of the prestigious event.
She was sent out by father/son duo trainer Rick and driver Scott Zeron, who emotionally embraced after the biggest win of their careers. They are only the second father-son team to win the Hambletonian.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Rick Zeron after wiping away tears from his eyes. “I’ve got no words.”
In her $100,000 elimination earlier in the day, Atlanta led most of the race until she tired in deep stretch and was beaten by a neck by Crystal Fashion. Scott Zeron blamed himself for her first loss of the year, saying, “She just got away from me; I really regretted the way the race went. But I told myself she’s a champion and she’s gonna bounce back.”
And bounce back she did, charging out of the gate in the final to pass the first quarter in 26:2, open lengths ahead of her male competition. Crystal Fashion, the favorite in the Hambo at 9-5, tried to overtake her in the stretch from the outside but was no match for Atlanta’s speed and finished fourth.
Met’s Hall was second and Tactical Landing, who won his elimination, finished third.
Atlanta was the second choice at 2-1 and paid $6.40 to win.
The Zerons were confident from Day 1 in Atlanta’s ability to take on the boys in the biggest harness racing event of the year.
“I had a ton of confidence, but Scott had more confidence than me,” said Rick Zeron. “He knows, he’s been driving her all year, he knew exactly what type of filly he had. He’s kind of the one who persuaded me to put her in with the boys . . . I just followed the trend and we trained her up and had her ready for it.”
This is the second Hambletonian win for Scott Zeron, who took his first title in 2016 with Marion Marauder.
Zeron was behind Marion Marauder again earlier on Saturday’s card in the $286,650 John Cashman Memorial, defeating 4-5 favorite and reigning Horse of the Year Hannelore Hanover by a neck. He overtook the competition in deep stretch to finish the 1-mile ⅛ trot in 2:06.
Another prominent racing team on Saturday scored when Manchego, driven by Yannick Gingras and trained by Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter, set a 1:50 stakes record winning the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks. While crossing the finish line, Gingras threw five fingers in the air to celebrate his fifth straight win in the Oaks with Takter.
Also on the card, Gingras and Takter teamed up to set a 1:51.4 track record with Don’t Let’Em in the $422,350 Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-old trotting colts. The Haughton winner is considered the early favorite for next year’s Hambletonian.
Olivia Whelan is a rising senior at Rutgers and is doing this story as part of the Clyde Hirt Journalism Workshop.