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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.

With no Triple Crown in play, Belmont lacks a singular buzz

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BALTIMORE — Cloud Computing stole the Preakness, and any hope of a Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

The 13-1 shot did it on six weeks’ rest, having skipped the 20-horse roughhouse that is the Kentucky Derby even though he had enough points to get in that race. With another three weeks until the Belmont in New York, Cloud Computing could return to run on his home track.

“We haven’t ruled it out,” trainer Chad Brown said Sunday. “We’re just going to evaluate the horse this week and probably by next weekend we may have a decision.”

Cloud Computing didn’t race as a 2-year-old because of injury, so he is among the freshest horses out there.

Brown prefers to give his horses a month or more between starts. Trainer Todd Pletcher also favors long layoffs, although he made an exception to run Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming back in two weeks. The colt responded with an eighth-place finish – the worst of his career – on Saturday.

“He looks good, bright, alert, sound, healthy, happy,” Pletcher said. “We’ll head to Belmont and regroup.”

If the Derby and Preakness winners skip the Belmont on June 10, the likely favorite would be Classic Empire, who was runner-up Saturday after finishing fourth in the Derby.

It would be the first time since 2010 that neither the Derby nor Preakness winner run in the Belmont. That year, Derby winner Super Saver, trained by Pletcher, and Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky sat out the third leg.

Trainer Mark Casse said Classic Empire is being pointed toward the Belmont, barring any unforeseen developments.

“He was a better horse yesterday than he was two weeks ago for the Kentucky Derby,” he said.

Among other horses likely for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont – the longest of the Triple Crown races – are: Senior Investment (third in Preakness), Lookin At Lee (fourth in Preakness) and Japanese invader Epicharis.

Lookin At Lee finished second in the Derby, when Classic Empire was fourth.

Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee would face off for the sixth time in the Belmont, and they could be the only horses to run in all three Triple Crown races. Classic Empire has three victories against Lookin At Lee, including this year’s Arkansas Derby.

“You’re looking at horses that traveled at 2, ran at as high a level as we have, so you’re not surprised,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Lookin At Lee and won last year’s Belmont with Creator.

“They’ve been able to maintain themselves physically. That puts them in a different position than horses who have not consistently run on that stage.”

Possible Belmont starters are Multiplier (sixth in Preakness) and Conquest Mo Money (seventh in Preakness). Gunnevera (fifth in Preakness) and Hence (ninth in Preakness) won’t run in the Belmont.

Epicharis, one of the top 3-year-olds in Japan, will make his North American debut in the $1.5 million Belmont. That would make him eligible for a new $1 million bonus offered by the New York Racing Association to any Japan-based winner of the race. The winner’s share of the purse is $800,000.

Epicharis would be the second Japanese horse to run in the Belmont. Last year, Lani finished third after running in all three legs of the Triple Crown.

Cloud Computing wins Preakness Stakes, ends Always Dreaming’s Triple Crown bid

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The bid for the Triple Crown is over.

Cloud Computing won the 142nd Preakness Stakes in 1.55.98, successfully ending Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness favorite Always Dreaming’s Triple Crown run and upsetting multiple favorites.

Classic Empire and Always Dreaming bolted out in front early, splitting the lead multiple times in the first ½ mile, but Cloud Computing made a late run for trainer Chad Brown’s first Preakness win and jockey Javier Castellano’s second Preakness win.

Classic Empire finished second, Senior Investment finished third, and Always Dreaming finished outside the top 5.

Cloud Computing did not run in the Kentucky Derby, but came into the race with 14-1 odds.

Brown is not the only one who has a special connection to this win. Seth Klarman, one of Cloud Computing’s owners, is a Baltimore-native that grew up watching horse racing at Pimlico. The trainer also revealed that the strategy was to wait behind Always Dreaming and make a late move for the lead.

Always Dreaming ran away from the competition in four consecutive victories this year, winning by a combined 23 ¼ lengths, but could not outmatch Cloud Computing down the stretch. Two years ago, American Pharoah became the first horse to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 37 years, earning a Triple Crown win.

Contributing: Associated Press