EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Driver Yannick Gingras has the best chance to win the $1.2 million Hambletonian.
On second thought, Gingras actually has the best two chances to win trotting's biggest race. The 36-year-old native of Quebec is listed the drive the favorites in both Hambletonian eliminations Saturday at the Meadowlands.
Gingras has Pinkman in the tougher first division and the filly, Mission Brief, in the second division. Not only are these two favored, they came into this year after being named the Dan Patch award winners as the top colt and filly last year, and they look just as good this year.
The problem for Gingras will be if both 3-years-olds finish in the top five in their eliminations and qualify for the nationally televised final at 5:15 p.m. He will have to decide who to drive.
''I am hoping that one steps up a little more than the other and makes my decision easy,'' Gingras said Friday. ''If both have 100 percent effort, I don't even know. It is going to be a very hard decision.''
Pinkman, who is trained by Ron Burke, has won 6 of 7 starts, including his last three. Mission Brief, who is trained by Jimmy Takter has won 3 of 4.
''They are very different,'' Gingras said. ''The filly is a little faster. I think she is the fastest horse in the whole race. When she is 100 percent, she can break the world record. She is that type of a filly. Pinkman is not as fast as her but he is very durable. All he does is win. He is not flashy, but he gets the job done.''
Pinkman faces a tougher task in the eliminations. The colt drew the outside No. 10 post position in a race that Gingras said has most of the top contenders. His game plan will be to start quickly and get position, knowing a couple of the top colts are going to be eliminated.
Mission Brief drew the No. 2 post in the second heat and seemingly has the easier job to reach the final.
Gingras also knows things don't always go as planned. He had the drive on the heavily favored Father Patrick in the Hambletonian last year, and the colt broke stride early and finished last.
''It's a race I have always wanted,'' Gingras said of winning the Hambletonian. ''With everything that happened last year, with Father Patrick making a break, it makes me want it even more if that is possible. Now I have a chance again this year, two chances.''
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.
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.
Takter's Uncle Lasse and French Laundry are the second and third choices, respectively, in the second elimination.