The Zweig Memorial at Vernon Downs Friday continues the hunt for the top prize in the Grand Circuit $1 Million Challenge and we’ve assembled a crackerjack group of experts to help you as you make your pick in the contest.
Reminder: If you’ve picked a few horses that didn’t win so far, you could still win $10,000, $5,000 or $2,500 so keep voting!
Michael Chamberlain: 7 – 8 – 4
7. NUNCIO – The Takter trainees have been in excellent form, with Nuncio doing the better recent work and Father Patrick illustrating a little more in prior tries. Nuncio scored in a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes race at The Meadows on Tuesday and his runner-up in the Hambletonian looked like a hard-luck loss to me with Trixton getting past in the latter stages.
8. FATHER PATRICK – Father Patrick had rolled off a superb winning streak before breaking stride at the start of the Hambletonian and finishing 11th. His follow-up try at Tioga was a second in the $36,000 Tompkins. The other big plus for these horses are the driving aces at the controls: John Campbell with Nuncio and Yannick Gingras with Father Patrick.
4. SKATES N PLATES – Brian Sears has a definite contender. He posted a second in the $60,000 Currier And Ives at The Meadows last time out on August 8. He had a previous win over the 5/8 oval at The Meadows in a $32,455 race on July 26.
1. FLYHAWK EL DURADO – This might be the best local candidate for victory. He has rolled off a four-race win streak in New York Sire Stakes action, including last time out here at Vernon on August 22. His final time that night of 1:52.4 was a career-best.
5. MARTINIWITHMUSCLE – This is the longshot possibility in here. He has won two straight races at Plainridge and while this horse has the lowest earnings in the field. The powerful win on August 20 could lead to bigger and better things in the Zweig.
The $340,000 Dr. Harry M. Zweig Memorial shapes up to be a favorites race. Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter brings a pair of his top class sophomores in to Vernon Downs for this Grand Circuit event and they appear to be dominant. They will be coupled as an entry for wagering purposes.
#8 Father Patrick was set for his coronation as the next all-time great in the trotting ranks but those plans went awry when he jumped off-stride at the start of this year’s Hambletonian. He then suffered a surprising defeat in the Tompkins-Geers stake at Tioga, but was reported to have been compromised by a respiratory ailment. The Zweig offers the colt and his driver Yannick Gingras a chance at redemption and I feel that they are up to the task.
If Father Patrick should falter, stablemate #7 Nuncio is poised to make his case for divisional honors. Nuncio has never finished back of second in 18 career starts while winning in excess of $1 million for his connections. He was beaten just a half length in the Hambletonian and won a PASS at The Meadows on Tuesday in stellar fashion. He is driven by harness racing’s all-time leading money winning driver, Hall of Famer John Campbell and a strong effort here would not surprise.
If there is an upset chance, that might go to #9 Resolve. He’s a solid colt that was fifth in the Hambo and won a Tompkins-Geers division in his last. The draw was unkind to Resolve however, as he’ll have to launch his bid from the far outside nine post.
James Witherite: 8 – 9 – 7
8 – Father Patrick has only seen defeat in three of his 19 career starts, with that being the case in his two most recent efforts. The $105,000 Lexington purchase has every chance to redeem himself here after a gutsy defeat to Datsyuk in the Tompkins. Lays over the field.
9 – Resolve was elevated to first in his Tompkins event last week, sustaining a first-over bid after finishing a chasing fifth in the Hambletonian. He’s been on the cusp of this top group throughout, and can prove a live longshot given ideal pace and trip circumstances.
7 – Nuncio figures to be close to the pace here, just beaten in the Hambletonian after setting a strong tempo two back. He’s hit the exacta in all 19 of his career starts, facing the toughest trotters with consistency.
1 – Flyhawk El Durado won his last four NYSS events, and steps into a tougher group here off last week’s 1:52.4 local victory. Will likely have to change tactics with many leavers in the field, but he’s capable of staying on for at least a small share.
These statements do not reflect the views of the Harness Racing Fan Zone or the United States Trotting Association