Donato Hanover wins $1.5M Hambletonian

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As the leaders came off the final turn and approached the stretch, the much-anticipated battle of the sexes was playing out in the $1.5 million Hambletonian on Saturday.

The talented filly Pampered Princess dug her hooves into the Meadowlands' surface and surged past Donato Hanover to take the lead in trotting's most prestigious race.

For a few thrilling seconds, it looked like girl power would again dominate the horse racing world.

The feeling didn't last long. Driver Ron Pierce nudged the lines on Donato Hanover and the colt showed everyone why he is the king of the 3-year-olds.

After holding off the challenge by Pampered Princess on the final turn, Donato Hanover fended off Adrian Chip down the stretch to capture the Hambletonian for his 13th straight victory.

"Hopefully, this horse will continue to do what he has done and make believers out of the nonbelievers," said trainer Steve Elliott, who wiped away a tear after his colt crossed the finish line.

It was a bittersweet win for Elliott, coming 18 years after his heavily favored Valley Victory got sick just before the Hambletonian and had to be scratched.

The soft-spoken Elliott said the hoopla surrounding the colt-filly duel was great for the sport, not a distraction.

"It made everybody step up and take notice, which is what we need in this business," Elliott said.

Donato Hanover, the top 2-year-old colt last year, and Pampered Princess, the top filly, raced like champions on Saturday, although Pampered Princess faded down the stretch and finished out of the money. She crossed the line in seventh and was placed sixth.

Donato Hanover covered the mile in 1:53.2 for his 13th win in 14 starts. The colt, who only lost his career debut, returned $4, $3 and $3. Adrian Chip finished second and paid $5 and $4.40, while Laddie was third and earned $8.80.

It wasn't the storybook ending like at the Belmont Stakes in June, when Rags to Riches stunned Curlin and the boys to become the first filly in more than 100 years to win the Triple Crown race.

After a slow 58.2-second opening half mile that saw Donato Hanover and Pierce on the lead, driver Tim Tetrick and Pampered Princess stormed around the final turn and challenged them.

Pampered Princess took the lead and was a half-length in front after three quarters of a mile in 1:26.

Pierce, who has said all along that he has not hit the gas pedal on Donato Hanover in his career, asked the son of Andover Hall to step on it and the colt surged back in front heading down the stretch.

"I wanted her to head me," Pierce said. "I wanted him to see her and show a little more interest."

"I knew what the horse had," added Elliott, who saw his colt quickly retake the lead.

It was up to Pampered Princess to respond, and she didn't.

"I took a shot at Donato in a speed duel," the 25-year-old Tetrick said. "She was good. She got tired late because I extended her. I tried to win. It didn't work out."

Adrian Chip, an elimination winner last week along with Donato Hanover and Pampered Princess, moved up from third place and charged down the center of the track with Swedish driver Robert Bergh.

The colt, who is owned by NHL star Peter Forsberg, looked for a second like he might threaten Donato Hanover. But he never got close.

"We lost to a better horse who impressed me today," Bergh said of Donato Hanover.

Elliott did not know when Donato Hanover would race next. The Yonkers Trot, the second leg of the trotting triple crown, is Aug. 25.

The Hambletonian win was the second for Pierce, who won in 1993 with American Winner.

Pampered Princess was trying to become the 14th filly to win the Hambletonian and the first since Continentalvictory in 1996.

While he didn't win the Hambletonian with Pampered Princess, Tetrick scored a major upset in guiding Danae ($24.40) to victory in the $750,000 Hambletonian Oaks in 1:54.2.

Possess The Magic and Falls For You, the favorites, burned each other out in a speed duel down the backstretch and Tetrick and Danae picked up the pieces when Pippiwhitestockings went off stride in midstretch while on the lead.

Earlier on the 15-race card, Hana Hanover ($10.40) snapped Southwind Tempo's 10-race winning streak in capturing the $320,000 Mistletoe Shalee. The 3-year-old filly paced the mile in 1:49.3 with George Brennan in the bike.

In the $300,000 Nat Ray for open trotters, Corleone Kosmos ($7.20) took the lead in the stretch and posted a three-quarter length win over Equinox Bi in 1:51.2.

Mister Big rallied in the stretch to win the $342,000 U.S. Pacing Championship in 1:47.4.