Saturday, July 29, 2023

– Just six years ago, Ron Burke nearly had his first Hambletonian victory before What The Hill suffered the only disqualification of a first-place finisher in the race’s history. He and Yannick Gingras, also still chasing a win in the American classic, exited Saturday night (July 29) at The Meadowlands primed and ripe for revenge after sweeping the pair of $100,000 Hambletonian eliminations.

The faster of the two eliminations went to Celebrity Bambino, who flambéed a crispy 1:50.4 jogburger to win in hand to Gingras.

Celebrity Bambino planted onto the point to a :27.4 first quarter with French Wine securing the pocket and Up Your Deo in third. Gingras had the 7/2 third choice rolling undisturbed to a :55.3 half while Winner’s Bet, attempting to overcome post 10, found himself stuck plugging uncovered on the rim with Tactical Approach in tow.

Foes gave chase to Celebrity Bambino that grew fleetingly futile to three-quarters in 1:23.3. Gingras chirped at the Muscle Hill colt and he spurted clear of competition in the lane. French Wine clung to second off the pocket ride, beaten 1-3/4 lengths, with Tactical Approach grabbing third from Winner’s Bet and Up Your Deo securing the last berth into the final.

“He was full of trot and I chirped to him in the middle of the last turn and he went like a good horse,” Gingras said after the race. “All through the wire he was trotting strong.”

The win by Celebrity Bambino put his bankroll at $411,295 after a promising freshman campaign rife with near misses and opportunities. He popped onto the scene with a win in the Peter Haughton Memorial elimination, but scratched in the final due to sickness and had a comeback tour that ended with a narrow defeat to Gaines Hanover in the 2022 Breeders Crown 2-Year-Old Colt and Gelding Trot.

“We didn’t do as well as we had hoped at the end of the year, but he raced well in the fall. I expected a lot from this colt all along, and even this year – trip hasn’t really worked out; there was always an excuse. But every time he went through the wire he had the bit in his mouth. He’s nice.”

A seven-time winner from 18 starts, Celebrity Bambino competes for owners Burke Racing Stable, J&T Silva Stables, Knox Services and Phil Collura. He paid $9.80 to win.

While Celebrity Bambino showed sparks as a 2-year-old, the Burke’s other elimination winner Point Of Perfect went 0-for-15 as a freshman. On the heels of two wins in six starts this season, Point Of Perfect captured the first Hambletonian elimination with a 16-1 upset in 1:51.2.

Yannick Gingras hustled Point Of Perfect off the wings as the cavalry charged through the first turn, where Kierkegaard K made an uncharacteristic break. Point Of Perfect planted himself on the helm to a :27.1 first quarter but yielded control to Little Expensive up the backstretch, though only for a short time. Gingras circled Point Of Perfect back to the top before a :54.4 half and attempted to rate through the final turn.

As the tempo slowed, 3-5 favorite Oh Well pulled first over under confident handling and strode to the leader’s neck marching to three-quarters in 1:23. Oh Well continued his attack into the lane but Point Of Perfect reengaged, sliding to a slightly wider lead at the eighth pole. Point Of Perfect stayed game to the finish as the backfield came swooping late to claim a half-length victory in 1:51.2. Oh Well settled for second, Osceola weaved through traffic to fly in for third with Ghostly Casper rallying for fourth and Southwind Coors grinding to grab fifth – the top five separated only by 1-1/4 lengths.

“He’s a pretty aggressive horse and we had some stuff in his mouth to try to get him to calm down a bit, and he wasn’t really liking it,” Yannick Gingras said of the colt’s tendency to gallop. “Every time you’d grab a hold of him, he’d shake his head and make breaks. The breaks he made, it was always when he was on the move to do work. [Ronnie] changed a few things around and he’s got him on point now. He’s perfect to drive, lets me do my job and he obviously did his tonight.”

Point Of Perfect has now won three races from 22 starts and has earned $217,146 for owners Burke Racing Stable, Hatfield Stables, J&T Silva Stables and Knox Services. The colt by Walner paid $34.60 to win.

Gingras, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2022, will try for his first Hambletonian victory next Saturday (Aug. 5).

“Last time I won both eliminations I picked the wrong one,” Gingras said with a smirk after winning the second elimination. Gingras famously had a difficult choice following the first heat of the 2015 Hambletonian where he chose to drive Burke trainee Mission Brief, who finished second to the horse Gingras opted off of in winner Pinkman for trainer Jimmy Takter.

Point Of Perfect and Celebrity Bambino, by winning their eliminations, earn the right to draw between post one and post five for the $1-million final next Saturday.

Regarding his driving choice in the final, Gingras also said “I don’t need to wait for Tuesday. It’s going to be [Celebrity] Bambino.”

HAMBO, OAKS DRAW TUESDAY: The press conference and post-position draw for the Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks will take place Tuesday, Aug. 1 at Hogan Equine, 329 Trenton Lakewood Road, Cream Ridge, NJ.

All are welcome to attend.

The press conference will begin at 2 p.m. with Meadowlands’ track announcer Ken Warkentin serving as host. The post draws for both the $1-million Hambo and $500,000 Oaks will take place at 3 p.m. with Big M TV’s Jessica Otten interviewing some of the pertinent players.

For those who can’t attend but want to watch all of the festivities, they can do so by going to The Meadowlands’ Facebook page or The Big M’s YouTube channel.