by Frank Carulli
August 7, 2017
Ron Burke was honored at the Meadowlands Satuday as the Championship Meet's leading trainer.
He probably would trade all the wins for the one that got away.
Burke, harness racing's all-time winningest conditioner, believed he had won his first Hambletonian when What The Hill crossed the finish line first in the world-renowned, $1 million race. Then he waited several minutes -- seemingly hours -- as the judges watched the replay and disqualified the 3-year-old trotter from victory for interference in the stretch.
What The Hill's loss as the first disqualfied winner in 92 runnings of the Hambletonian turned into Perfect Spirit's gain for trainer-driver Ake Svanstedt.
Perfect Sprit set the pace in the one-turn mile and held off trip-sitting favorite Devious Man and late-running Enterprise to save the runner-up spot and, ultimately, the victory before 18,356 stunned fans. He paid $17 to win.
"I know you have to be very lucky like we were today," said winning owner Lennart Agren. "It can end very quickly, so you have to live in the moment right now."
In a brief moment with reporters, Hall of Fame driver David Miller needed few words to describe the feeling in the Team Burke camp: "It was a tough break," he said.
What The Hill followed the leader from an ideal spot in the pocket through a 56-second half-mile and 1:25.1 split at the 3/4-mile mark. Looking for running room in the stretch, Miller guided the 17-1 longshot off the rail, bothering Guardian Angel AS oh so slightly and causing the tiring rival to break stride. Because Guardian Angel AS finished eighth, What The Hill was placed ninth and out of the money.
Svanstedt, 58, a major force in U.S. racing since he arrived from Sweden four years ago, was in the midst of an unforgettable afternoon. He guided Resolve ($7) to a dominating front-end score in the $303,050 John Cashman Memorial earlier on the card and won his third stakes race behind Ice Attraction in the $30,000 Dyenna following the Hambletonian.
Burke and Miller didn't come away empty-handed. Check Six (Yannick Gingras) sprung a 36-1 shocker for Burke in the $224,400 Sam McKee Memorial for free-for-all pacers, covering 1-1/8 miles in 2:02.1, while Miller guided favorite Blazing Britches to victory in the $113,950 Shady Daisy.
The rest of the day belonged to Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter, who sent out winning trotters Ariana G (Gingras) in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, Manchego (Gingras) in the $330,800 Jim Doherty Memorial, Pasithea Face S (Tim Tetrick) in the $176,250 John R. Steele Memorial, You Know You Do (Gingras) in the $360,650 Peter Haughton Memorial and pacer Pure Country (Mark MacDonald) in the $200,400 Lady Liberty.