Tactical Approach saves ground, upsets in 98th Hambletonian

Saturday, August 5, 2023

The future of trotting is in the very capable hands of Scott Zeron and Nancy Takter. Both reached significant milestones Saturday (Aug. 5) as Tactical Approach won the $1 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands.

Zeron, at the still tender age of 34, posted his third driving victory in the trotting classic. Takter, 42, took a major step in carrying on the family’s storied tradition with her first Hambletonian training win.

For Zeron, the post position draw removed all the pressure when Tactical Approach got post 10, the least advantageous starting spot, in the trotting classic for 3-year-olds. The 12-1 price on the tote board at post time was also a sign of diminished expectations among the bettors.

Zeron, harness racing’s newest “Money Man,” overcame all obstacles as Tactical Approach slipped through at the pylons to win by one length.

“This was the least amount of pressure I’ve ever had, just because of having a bad post,” Zeron said. “I’ve had a lot of faith in this horse all year, but I over-drove him most of his starts. To give him a nice steer, a patient one, he respected it, and he thanked me.”

Takter watched anxiously as her colt started at the tail of the field.

“Scott was great; everything just worked out,” Takter said. “I was just hoping he was going to have room down the stretch. I always kept the faith. I’ve always loved this colt since the first moment I saw him. He was very immature last year.

“The partners were very easy to work with, and we just gave him the time that he needed. He came back this year so strong and Scott did an excellent job driving him, and today was the perfect proof of that.”

Zeron is rapidly climbing the Hambletonian ladder. Hall of Famer John Campbell holds the driving record with six. Zeron’s previous Hambletonian winners were Marion Marauder, in 2016, and Atlanta, in 2018. He is rapidly building a reputation as a cool hand in harness racing’s richest races.

Takter is doing what comes naturally. Her Hall of Fame father, Jimmy Takter, won the Hambletonian four times. She is the third woman to train a Hambletonian winner, joining Linda Toscano (Market Share, 2012) and Paula Wellwood (Marion Marauder).

It came down to a critical tactical decision by Zeron before the opening quarter.

“I just saw everyone protecting the two-wide path in the middle of the first turn,” Zeron said. “I just knew I was going to be fifth-over, sixth-over. I just elected to go left. For a million dollars, everyone is going to give their horse a chance. I was trying to under-drive mine and get a good portion of it. Turning for home, as close as I was, it was the best-case scenario.”

In the shadow of the wire, Oh Well looked poised to claim the trophy, but in a flash, Tactical Approach skimmed the pylons and was on his way to a last-to-first victory.

“The rail just kept opening up,” Takter said. “It worked out great. I was confident coming down the stretch that if he had enough room he was going to get it done.”

It was the sixth win in 14 starts for the colt, who earned $500,000 for owners Robert LeBlanc, John Fielding and John Fodera.

Tactical Approach paid $26.80, $13.20 and $7.40. Oh Well finished second, returning $6.20 and $4.00. Up Your Deo paid $5.60 to show. The time for the mile was 1:50.3.

Celebrity Yankee finished fourth and Point of Perfect fifth after winning last week’s eliminations.