EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There was something new in the 92-year history of the Hambletonian. The winner of trotting’s biggest race was disqualified.
The disappointment for Ron Burke, harness racing’s all-time leading trainer, was old news. His third straight year of heartbreak in this race.
The Ake Svansted-trained and driven Perfect Spirit was awarded the $1 million Hambletonian when Burke’s first-place finisher What The Hill caused another horse to go off stride in the stretch and was disqualified and placed ninth.
“I’m very happy, just living in the moment, just now I want to go home and enjoy everything,” said Svanstedt, a 58-year-old Sweden who came to North America four years ago after winning many of the biggest racing in his own country.
This one was a gift. There seemed to be little doubt about the decision that left Burke wondering what he has to do to win the Hambletonian. He finished a close second the past two years and seemingly had his first Hambletonian in hand after David Miller got What The Hill to the front in the stretch and cruised to a clear-cut victory.
The elation didn’t last long. The judges posted an inquiry sign shortly after the finish and there was a dot next to What The Hill, signifying that his race was in question.
The judges deliberated about five minutes before disqualifying the first-place finisher and giving Svanstedt his first Hambletonian win.
It was decided that What The Hill caused Guardian Angel AS to go off stride as he squeezed into a space between the pacesetting Perfect Spirit and Devious Man. Guardian Angel AS was coming up behind the leaders and his front hoof touched the wheel of What The Hill’s sulky and went off stride.
“It was a tough break,” Miller said.
Burke was not available for comment. He was clearly frustrated after the decision was announced.
Devious Man and Enterprise were moved up to second and third, respectively.
Perfect Spirit, who finished third in his elimination earlier on the card, returned $17, $6.40 and $5.40 in winning for the fifth time in nine starts for the SRF Stable.
“I’m really happy,” owner Lennart Agren said. “This is absolutely unbelievable. I’ve liked this horse since Harrisburg and he’s been developing very good. And always been hardheaded, but he’s really developed, so, well, I think it’s just happiness for me.”
Devious Man, who was trying to make trainer Julie Miller the third women in six years to win this race, paid $3 and $2.40 as the favorite in the field of 10 in the final. Enterprise, who won second elimination with driver Tim Tetrick, returned $4.
What The Hill was placed ninth, a place behind Guardian Angel AS. International Money, who won the first of the eliminations, broke stride early and was last.
After starting from the No. 10 post in the elimination, Perfect Spirit drew the No. 6 post for the final and led the field at every call until What The Hill passed him in late in the stretch and got to the wire a half-length in front.
Driver Yannick Gingras and trainer Jimmy Takter won their fourth straight Hambletonian Oaks as Ariana G won the biggest race of the year for 3-year-old trotting fillies in 1:51.2.
Ariana G ($2.40) got to the finish line almost five lengths ahead of runner-up Magic Presto in winning for the sixth times in seven races this year, and 15th in 18 overall.