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Trainer Jimmy Takter has owned the Hambletonian lately

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Hambletonian has become trainer Jimmy Takter’s personal playground lately.

The Swedish native has won trotting’s biggest race the past two years, and he has another chance on Saturday when he sends out five 3-year-olds at the Meadowlands, including the highly regarded Bar Hopping.

No trainer has ever won three straight Hambletonians. One more win would also give the 55-year-old Hall of Famer a record-tying fifth triumph. Stanley Dancer, Billy Haughton and Ben White also won five.

Bar Hopping is the favorite in the nine-horse first elimination. Southwind Frank is the favorite in the nine-horse second elimination, and the overall favorite to win the final.

The top five finishers in each elimination advance to the final to determine the Hambletonian winner.

Southwind Frank has win 16 of 18 career starts. His only two losses have been to Bar Hopping.

“At least we know he’s challenged (Southwind) Frank,” Takter said. “He beat him fair and square earlier this year.”

Tim Tetrick, who will be looking for his first Hambletonian win, will drive Bar Hopping, starting from the No. 1 post position. The colt was impressive in capturing the $300,000 Zweig Memorial at Vernon Downs on July 24 in his final prep.

Takter will also send out Lagerfeld, Love Matters, Jimmy William and Reigning Moni in the eliminations.

Takter said the most important thing in training is not to change for a big race.

“People start over-doing things, train the horses maybe a little harder, or whatever,” he said. “I don’t think that’s smart. I think that’s where experience comes in. The horse has no clue it’s the Hambletonian. The driver and trainer, yes. But the horse has no clue.”

Southwind Frank, who is trained by Ron Burke, has won 5 of 6 starts this year. He won the Reynolds Memorial Stakes in the slop here last weekend.

Driver Yannick Gingras said Southwind Frank had plenty left in his tank at the end of the race.

“These are going to be his races to lose,” Gingras said. “I’m not going to be looking to come third over or something like that. I’m looking to have him in play and I’m looking to have him aggressive.”

Gingras failed to win with the favorite in the last two Hambletonians. Breaking from the No. 10 post position, Father Patrick broke stride and never had a chance in 2014.

Gingras drove both Pinkman and Mission Brief in their respective Hambletonian heats. He chose to drive the filly Mission Brief in the final and finished second to Pinkman, who was driven by Brian Sears.

Here are the fields for the eliminations in post position order with horse, driver and odds:

Elimination 1: Bar Hopping, Tetrick, 9-5; Lagerfeld, Gingras, 12-1; Make Or Miss, Joe Bongiorno, 20-1; Milligan’s School, Andy Miller, 10-1; Brooklyn Hill, David Miller, 3-1; Mavens Way, John Campbell, 6-1; Tight Lines, Jeff Gregory, 25-1; Iron Mine Bucky, George Dennis, 15-1; Reigning Moni, Mark MacDonald, 4-1.

Elimination 2: Jimmy William, Tetrick, 20-1; The Royal Harry, Ake Svanstedt, 20-1; Sutton, Andy Miller, 6-1; Marion Marauder, Scott Zeron 3-1; Southwind Frank, Gingras, 4-5, Hollywood Highway, Campbell, 30-1; Dominion Beach, Bjorn Goop, 30-1; Love Matters, Brett Miller, 12-1; Waitlifter, David Miller, 10-1.

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.