EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter sent three horses to the starting gate for Saturday in the Hambletonian. He knew he had to give the horse he was driving, Trixton, all of his attention.
"Whenever I have a top contender, I go with the best driver," Takter said. "If I didn't get it here, I knew I might not ever get it."
One of the other horses Takter trained, Father Patrick, was sent off as the heavy 2-5 favorite, but jumped at the gate and went off stride from the start. It left the door open for the other two horses that Takter trained to duel for the top prize in the $1.2 million race for 3-year-old trotting colts and geldings at the New Meadowlands Racetrack.
Trixton won, beating off Nuncio by a half-length. Trixton finished in 1:50 3-5 and paid $10.60, $5 and $7.60 for his seventh victory in nine starts this year.
Nuncio, driven by Hall of Fame driver John Campbell, held the lead as the horses turned for home, but Trixton stormed past down the stretch.
Nuncio returned $4.20 and $7.20, and Harper Blue Chip paid $37.60 to show.
It marked the first driving win in the Hambletonian for Takter, who trained two previous Hambletonian champions in Malabar Man in 1997 and Muscle Massive in 2010. Takter admitted that Father Patrick was clearly the best horse.
"I don't want anything away from Trixton or Nuncio, because they're both good horses, but if Patrick stays flat and doesn't make a break, he wins," Takter said. "It's something I never thought would happen."
Father Patrick entered the race on a 15-race win streak, including all six of his prior starts in 2014. He ran either first or second in all 16 prior starts before the Hambletonian. Takter said that he didn't know Father Patrick had gone off stride until he crossed the finish line with Trixton.
"I suspected something had to have happened, because I thought he would be right there," Takter said. "John did a wonderful job with Nuncio. I know he wanted this race bad."
Campbell was vying to improve on his record of six Hambletonian driving victories and his first since Glidemaster in 2006.
"In the middle of the stretch, I knew my horse was stronger," Takter said. "I knew Nuncio wasn't that caliber of a horse. But hey, I finished 1-2 in the Hambletonian. If Father Patrick stayed flat, I might have finished 1-2-3, but things didn't turn out that way. Don't get me wrong, I'm on Cloud 9 right now. I've finished second twice and came close two years ago with Guccio."
Lifetime Pursuit won the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, finishing in a world-record 1:50 4-5 in a 2 1/2-length victory. Driven by Gingras and trained by Takter, Lifetime Pursuit paid $22, $8 and $5. Gingras had five winners on the day.
"It's the best day I've ever had racing horses," said Gingras, who had four stakes winners. "It's so unfortunate. Knock on wood, I'll hopefully have another chance. I don't know what happened. He (Father Patrick) just jumped up at the start."
Takter joined Jan Johnson as the only trainers to win the Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks in the same year. Johnson won both races in 1988, taking the Hambo with Armbro Goal and the Oaks with Nan's Catch.
Sebastian K, a winner of more than $2.6 million lifetime, added to that total Saturday by winning the $300,650 John Cashman, Jr. Memorial Trot.
Driven by Ake Svanstedt, who also trains the horse, the 8-year-old Sebastian K romped home in 1:50, equaling the world record for trotters on a mile track. Set off at odds of 1-5, Sebastian K won by four lengths. He won for the seventh time in eight starts this year and has 33 victories in 71 career starts.