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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.

Injury knocks El Areeb out of Kentucky Derby contention

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LAUREL, Md. (AP) El Areeb has been knocked out of Kentucky Derby contention because of a slight knee fracture.

Trainer Cal Lynch said Thursday that El Areeb would undergo surgery on Monday for the injury that is not career-threatening.

El Areeb had won the Jerome and Withers, making him one of the East Coast’s leading candidates for the Kentucky Derby on May 6.

Lynch said X-rays showed the knee fracture after the colt completed a 1 1/8-mile workout on Thursday. El Areeb was set to make his next start in the Wood Memorial on April 8 at Aqueduct.

Lynch said the colt’s surgery would be done at New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The timetable for recovery and return is uncertain, although Lynch said it’s typically six months.

Man o’ War exhibit honors racing legend born a century ago

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — A new exhibit on Man o’ War is opening across the street from the New York racetrack where the thoroughbred racing legend suffered his only defeat.

“Man o’ War at 100” is being unveiled Wednesday at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, across Union Avenue from Saratoga Race Course.

The exhibit’s opening coincides with the 100th anniversary of the horse’s birth on March 29, 1917, at Nursery Stud near Lexington, Kentucky. The horse was sold the next year at the Saratoga yearling sales.

Considered one of racing’s greatest thoroughbreds, Man o’ War won 20 of 21 lifetime starts. The horse’s only defeat was to a horse named Upset in the 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes at Saratoga.

Man o’ War died in Kentucky in 1947 at age 30.