Filly champion Mission Brief takes on boys in Hambletonian

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Trainer Ron Burke thinks it's time for a filly to win the $1.2 million Hambletonian again.

Her name is Mission Brief, and Burke will be sending her out Saturday against 18 colts and geldings at the Meadowlands in trotting's biggest race.

Mission Brief not only was the Dan Patch Award winner as the top 2-year-old filly last year, she set a world record for all 2-year-olds, trotting a mile in 1:50 3/5 at the Red Mile.

Pinkman, the 2-year-old colt champion and Mission Brief's main rival on Saturday, has never gone faster than 1:51 3/5.

Based on time alone, Mission Brief has a shot at becoming the 14th filly to win the Hambletonian, and first since Continentalvictory in 1996.

There are obstacles. While Mission Brief has won 3 of 4 starts this year, the daughter of 2009 Hambletonian winner Muscle Hill battled back problems earlier this year. Burke was not convinced to race her against the boys until she won the Zweig Filly at Vernon Downs on July 26.

''Her best is as good as anybody's best,'' Burke said. ''That's all we were looking for, for her to show up and to look like herself.''

Burke said that Mission Brief has been coming around all year but something was missing, that is until the last race.

With 19 horses entered, the Hambletonian will have two elimination heats. The top five finishers in each race advance to a winner-take-all nationally televised final at 5:15 p.m.

Pinkman, who has won 6 of 7 starts this year, is the 8-5 favorite in the 10-horse first elimination. Mission Brief is the 6-5 favorite in the second elimination. Each elimination has a $100,000 purse.

Yannick Gingras is listed to drive both favorites, so he will have to make a decision if both reach the $1 million final.

Gingras will have very different looks at the start of each elimination.

Pinkman drew the outside No. 10 post position for trainer Jimmy Takter, who has won this race three times. Mission Brief drew the No. 2 post.

Burke said that if both favorites make the final, Gingras will drive the one that gives him the best chance of winning.

''I have to make sure my horse is better than Jimmy's horse,'' Burke said. ''You know the one thing that is going for me is I drew the easier division and drew the inside. He drew the tougher division and the outside. So he is going to get used a lot harder in that division than I am going to get used in my division, hopefully. Hopefully we'll get through, but there are 17 other horses so it's not so sure it will come down to me and Jimmy's horse.''

Takter, who drove and trained last year's Hambletonian winner, Trixton, has five horses entered in the two eliminations.

Canepa Hanover, who has finished within a length of Pinkman in his last two starts, is the 3-1 second choice in the first elimination with Takter driving. Centurion ATM is the 9-2 third choice with trainer-driver Ake Svanstedt in the bike.

Uncle Lasse is the 5-2 second choice, in the second elimination with David Miller listed to drive. French Laundry is the 4-1 third choice with Brett Miller in the sulky.

The 16-race card will also feature the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks for 3-year-old trotters, the $319,400 Cane Pace, the opening leg of the pacing Triple Crown and the $301,500 John Cashman Jr. Memorial for older trotters.