EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – Four years ago, harness racing driver Brian Sears landed on the right side of a wrong decision by fellow driver Yannick Gingras.
At this year’s $1 million Hambletonian for 3-year-old trotters Saturday afternoon at the Meadowlands – harness racing’s biggest event of the year – Sears may be confronted with a similar decision to the one that cost Gingras in 2015.
That year, Gingras won both of the elimination races that set the field for the Hambletonian, leaving him with a choice to make about which horse to drive in the final – Pinkman or Mission Brief. Gingras chose Mission Brief, leaving Sears with Pinkman.
Now, Sears is the driver of the two horses considered this year’s pre-race favorites. Both Greenshoe and Gimpanzee are expected to advance to the final.
Sears will drive Gimpanzee, who sports a 12-for-12 lifetime record and is the 2-1 favorite, in the first elimination. Were he to win, he would become only the second unbeaten horse (Deweycheatumnhowe, 2008) to win the Hambletonian.
However, Greenshoe, who will also be driven by Sears, is the odds-on 4-5 morning-line favorite in the second elimination. The top five finishers from the two eliminations will race in the final. Even with both eliminations yet to be decided, Sears has already found himself in the middle of the No. 1 question hovering over this year’s Hambletonian: Gimpanzee or Greenshoe in the final?
“For so many years I’ve gotten so many different opportunities to drive good horses and I’ve always had to make decisions, it’s just part of the game,” Sears said. “It’s a great spot to be in. I’ve got two good horses and two good opportunities.”
It would be a choice between horses that have taken contrasting paths to this point. Gimpanzee, the defending Dan Patch 2-year-old trotting colt champion, has never lost and won by open lengths in each of his last four. But he is considered by some to be the king of the smaller castle, having only raced against New York-bred horses.
Greenshoe has taken the longer route to the Hambletonian. In his four races last year, he broke stride each and every time, but had enough speed to come back and win twice.
Marcus Melander, who trains both horses, believes he has the best horse in Greenshoe and the second-best in Gimpanzee.
“Greenshoe was a really promising horse last year but he had some problems behind the gate. He’d get very anxious,” Melander said. “We always knew he had potential, it was just a matter of whether he’d behave himself or not.”
Will Sears follow Melander’s sentiment and go with the bigger, faster Greenshoe? Will he take a shot with the undefeated underdog? Will he even have that decision to make? Only Saturday will tell as Sears’ pursuit of his fourth Hambletonian title.
First post on the stakes-laden Hambletonian Day race card is noon. The Hambo, with an estimated post time of 5:14 p.m., will be featured as part of a live broadcast on the CBS Sports Network from 4-5:30 p.m.
Jackson Thompson, a rising senior at Rutgers University, is writing as part of the Clyde Hirt Journalism Workshop, which the Globe participates in each year.