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Scott Zeron Reflects On Atlanta's Historic Hambletonian Victory
By KEN WEINGARTNER
 

Mark Hall / USTA

Atlanta won the Hambletonian final in a time of
1:50.4 for driver Scott Zeron.

(Courtesy of USTA Media Relations)

Hightstown, NJ --- Less than 24 hours after guiding Atlanta to victory in the Hambletonian, driver Scott Zeron was back at work sitting behind horses at racetracks around the East Coast. He competed at two tracks in Pennsylvania on Sunday, followed by visits to two tracks in New York on Monday, logging roughly 550 highway miles in the process.

“The racing game never stops,” Zeron said. “It’s been business as usual when it comes to racing.”

But when not racing, the business was pleasure as Zeron enjoyed the afterglow of Atlanta’s win in the sport’s premier event for 3-year-old trotters. Atlanta became the first filly in 22 years to win the Hambletonian, capturing the $1 million final in 1:50.4 by one length over Met’s Hall on Saturday at The Meadowlands. Overall, Atlanta was the 14th filly in 93 years to win the race.

“It’s just nice with everyone coming up to you and congratulating you,” Zeron said. “It felt like the whole world was rooting for the filly to win the Hambletonian. Everybody was extremely excited and at the same time impressed as to how she did it. It was really gratifying to see the response from everybody and it was always about how much that filly impressed them.”

Atlanta led from start to finish in the final. When she accelerated around the last turn and separated herself from her rivals heading into the stretch, the 18,252 in attendance roared. The noise from the crowd continued to grow as she made her way to the finish line, followed by jubilation.

“Everybody has their own story about where they were watching it,” Zeron said. “Half the people say how embarrassed they were about the noise they were making or expression or whatever they were doing. Everyone has their own story that they came and told me how much they were pushing and pulling for me.”

Zeron, at the age of 29, has already won the Hambletonian twice. He won in 2016 for trainer Paula Wellwood with colt Marion Marauder, who went on to become the ninth horse to capture the Trotting Triple Crown. This time, Zeron won the Hambletonian with a horse trained by his father Rick. The elder Zeron, who co-owns Atlanta, was making his first appearance in the Hambletonian.

“My dad is one of my best friends, and to experience this with family is an amazing feeling,” Zeron said.

Rick Zeron has enjoyed a successful career in Canada, with more than 8,100 wins as a driver and 1,400 as a trainer, and two O’Brien Awards of Horsemanship. He drove and trained Lady Rainbow, who finished second in the 2011 Hambletonian Oaks, which is restricted to 3-year-old filly trotters.

The Zerons could have raced Atlanta in this year’s $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, but opted to face the boys. Scott, who has driven Atlanta in all seven of her races this year, pushed for the Hambletonian and his father and the filly’s other owners -- Michelle and Al Crawford’s Crawford Farms, William Holland’s Holland Racing Stable, Howard Taylor, and Brad Grant -- were on board with the idea.

“My dad asked me if I thought she could win the Hambo,” Zeron said. “Obviously, he is the trainer and is going to make the ultimate decision, but I told him that I thought she could win wherever we decided to go. I’ve never had a horse so flawless. My dad managed her very well where she hadn’t had to give me everything out on the racetrack. Everything was pointed toward going after the biggest, most prestigious race there is.

“If we chose the Oaks and won it there would always be that thought that we might have been able to win the Hambletonian. I didn’t want regrets that way either. She’s never shown us anything that wasn’t greatness. I’m so grateful that she performed like I thought she could and make everybody happy.”

Competing in the sport’s biggest races was Zeron's goal when he moved to the U.S. from Canada in late 2013 amid uncertain times in Canada regarding purse funding and racing dates.

“It was a tough decision,” Zeron said. “But I never want to feel like there’s a ceiling on what I can do, and I felt like there was in Canada. I wanted to be on the Grand Circuit and be one of those go-to guys. It was a waiting game; I just tried to show up and do my best. It worked out. I was able to get (Dan Patch and O’Brien awards winner) Artspeak my first year and that’s kind of how it unfolded.

“I’ve been able to get very good horses that make me look better. It’s about the horses.”

This year’s Hambletonian attracted 18 horses, so two eliminations were held earlier on Saturday to reduce the field to 10 for the final. Atlanta led throughout her elimination in scintillating fractions -- :26, :53.2, and 1:21.1 -- before getting caught at the wire and losing to Crystal Fashion by a neck. The time of the mile was 1:50.1, which equaled the fastest time ever in the Hambletonian. It was Atlanta’s first loss of the season.

In the final, though, there was no catching Atlanta, who has six wins in seven races this year and $703,234 in earnings.

“I was nervous only because I didn’t want to disappoint,” Zeron said. “I’ve never told people how amazing I think she is; I wanted her to go out and show it. It was more the inner pressure of knowing she was capable and wanting to show everybody and it was my job to allow her to show everybody. That’s what it was for me.

“When I crossed the wire in the final, my thought was ‘I knew she could do it.’ That was the feeling. I’m so grateful that she performed like I thought she could and make everybody happy. She’s never shown us anything that wasn’t greatness. You couldn’t ask for a better horse.”


 
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