Concert @ MetLife Stadium 5/17 & 5/18. Please allow for extra travel time.


Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Walter “Sweetness” Payton, 3-year-old filly trotter Walner Payton will aim to score a touchdown of her own this Saturday afternoon at The Meadowlands in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks.

The daughter of Walner-Lonely Lady heads into the Oaks off a sharp-looking score in the first of two eliminations a week ago and was installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite at a Tuesday afternoon press conference held at Hogan Equine in Cream Ridge, NJ, where Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks post positions were drawn.

A remarkably steady sort who has hit the board in all eight of her 2023 outings, she put up her third win of the season while equaling her lifetime best of 1:51.4.

“I knew she was going into (the elimination) as good as she’s ever been,” said trainer Chris Ryder, who’s in search of his first Oaks win. “She’s always been a little lean, but she started to put on a little weight the last two or three weeks. (Driver) Dexter (Dunn) was thrilled with her (when second on July 22). He said she was really coming good. We finally put a hood on her, eye cups, which we probably should have done before. That helped a lot because before when she’s been up front, she’s been wandering around. (In the elim) She had a lot more focus. She finished up strong with the ear plugs in. Dexter gave her a heck of a drive.”

Walner Payton drew post one in the field of 10, and will be driven by her regular pilot Dunn, the four-time defending Dan Patch Driver of the Year, whose one win in the Oaks came in 2021 with Bella Bellini.

“I knew (eventual second-place finisher Railee Something) was going to be a threat (in the elim),” said Dunn. “She’s been racing really good. But my filly was still going super at the time (on the last turn) and she’s pretty quick. She can reel off a pretty good quarter. So, I was still confident enough that she would keep going, and she did.”

Railee Something has lived up to her name during 2023, winning five-of-eight starts while finishing third in the other three. She will depart from post five and is the 7-2 second choice for trainer Ron Burke and driver Yannick Gingras. Gingras will be gunning for a seventh Oaks win while Burke looks for his first.

“She’s been very good every start (this year),” said Burke. “We have to get one more little half-length finishing. If we can find a half-length finishing, she can go with those fillies. We’ll have a bridle change with her. I think she’s just a little bit getting alongside the horse and hanging, so we’re probably going to close her (bridle) up to try to get her to surge by.”

The other Oaks elim was taken by 36-1 longshot Heart On Fire for driver Todd McCarthy and trainer Tony Alagna. In the final, she will depart from post two and is listed at 5-1.

“I was just hoping that I could get a trip and sort of sneak through and maybe get a spot in the final,” said McCarthy of the inside trip that led to a walk down victory lane. “But the way the race shook out, it worked really good for us. This filly has been so good, Tony has had her really good. When she can get a trip like that, she never had to leave the pegs, it just suited her perfectly.”

THE FIELD: This is the field for the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks (post time, 3:30 p.m.), with post position, horse, driver, trainer and morning-line odds:

PP – Horse – Driver – Trainer – Morning Line
1 – Walner Payton – Dexter Dunn – Chris Ryder – 3-1
2 – Heart On Fire – Todd McCarthy – Tony Alagna – 5-1
3 – Bond – Ake Svanstedt – Ake Svanstedt – 9-2
4 – Righteous Resolve – James MacDonald – Matt Bax – 8-1
5 – Railee Something – Yannick Gingras – Ron Burke – 7-2
6 – Mambacita – Scott Zeron – Tony Alagna – 20-1
7 – Instagram Model – Andrew McCarthy – Annie Stoebe – 8-1
8 – Kayleigh S – David Miller – Marcus Melander – 20-1
9 – Secret Volo – Brian Sears – Marcus Melander – 6-1
10 – Heaven Hanover – Tim Tetrick – Marcus Melander – 12-1

EARLY START: Post time on Hambletonian Day, Saturday, Aug. 5, is noon. Post time for the 98th edition of The Hambletonian is 4:45 p.m. and can be seen live on FOX SPORTS (FOX 5 NEW YORK).

A LITTLE MORE: This Friday (Aug. 4), there will be a double carryover of $47,167 offered on the 20-cent Pick-6, which begins in race eight. … Free past performances for every race of every Meadowlands card are available by going to … Live racing on Friday begins at 6:20 p.m.