Chocolatier goes from favorite to longshot in Hambletonian
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Chocolatier has gone from the preseason favorite to win the $1.5 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands on Saturday to an outsider, drawing the No. 10 post position.
The 2-year-old champion a year ago when he lost only twice in 10 starts, Chocolatier has been somewhat of a mystery, winning only twice in six starts this year. His last win was almost a month ago.
The odds against snapping a two-race losing streak and winning trotting's richest race increased earlier this week, when Chocolatier drew the outside position.
"I don't get discouraged," said 78-year-old part owner and trainer Doug J. Ackerman, who will be trying to win his first Hambletonian in six tries. "I've been around too long for that."
Algiers Hall, a 20-1 longshot trained and driven by John Stark Jr., drew the No. 1 post.
Ackerman knows that his colt, who has been made the 4-1 second choice, can beat heavily favored Mr Pine Chip, one of trainer Trond Smedshammer's three standouts along with Here Comes Herbie and Blue Mac Lad.
In winning the Breeders Crown final at the Meadowlands in November, Chocolatier beat Mr Pine Chip by more than two lengths.
If he needed more hope, Ackerman had to be impressed by Chocolatier's performance in last weekend's eliminations, which determined the field of 10. The son of Credit Winner finished second to the Smedshammer-driven Here Comes Herbie, covering the final quarter mile in 27.1 seconds. It was the fastest final quarter in the two eliminations. Mr Pine Chip won the other.
However, the race came a week after Chocolatier made a break in the Stanley Dancer final here and finished last in the final major prep for the Hambletonian.
"I thought I had a legitimate big shot, and he made a break there for no reason," said Doug R. Ackerman, who drives Chocolatier for his father. "My confidence was a little down, but I'm ready to go now. I like my chances very good. It's going to be a great race. There's five horses that are very good horses. Post position is part of it, but that's just something you've got to overcome."
History will be working against Chocolatier in the Hambletonian.
Only two colts since 1979 -- Mack Lobell in 1987 and Malabar Man in 1997 -- have won the Dan Patch Award as 2-year-olds and won the Hambletonian the following year. The filly Continentalvictory also did it in 1996.
Since the Hambletonian switched from running same-day heats to eliminations in 1997, it has paid to be an elimination winner. Seven of the nine Hambletonian winners won their elimination the week before the final, including last year's winner Vivid Photo.
"Certainly the elimination winners were very strong," said John Campbell, who will drive 5-1 choice Glidemaster in his bid for a record sixth Hambletonian win. "Chocolatier, even though he drew 10, is a very good horse."
He said any of Smedshammer's three horses, Glidemaster and Chocolatier have a shot at winning, although the race has had its share of upsets.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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