EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After training harness horses for more than two decades, Linda Toscano knows Chapter Seven is a once in a lifetime athlete.
Talented. Determined. Tough. Fast.
The 3-year-old son of Windsong’s Legacy has all the ingredients needed to capture the $1.5 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands Racetrack on Saturday, and to make Toscano the first female trainer to win trotting’s most prestigious race.
“You work a lifetime to get a horse like this,” Toscano said Friday. “With me, I put a lot of internal pressure on myself. I just want him to go out there and do what I know he is capable of doing and give everybody who has supported me and him a real chance because he is a very special horse to me. He has overcome a lot to get to this point.”
Actually, Toscano and Chapter Seven have both beaten the odds.
The 56-year-old Toscano is a breast cancer survivor.
“To be honest it was a pain in the neck and I just dealt with it,” the former New York City resident who now lives in Freehold. “I never really let it stop me. I was one of the fortunate people who caught it early. I addressed it early and it really has not been an issue. It was for a short period in my life.”
Chapter Seven, the 7-2 second in the field of 10 trotters, was diagnosed with viral pneumonia late in the winter and missed five weeks of training. He didn’t qualify to race again until a month ago and comes into the Hambletonian with just two starts this year.
Make that two very good starts. The Mike Lachance driven colt won a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial in his first start on July 16, and came back last weekend to finish a hard-charging second to Broad Bahn in the first of two eliminations that determined the field for the final.
Chapter Seven finished three-quarters-of-a-length behind Broad Bahn after having to go wide to get clear racing room.
“He is a fighter, give him the credit, not me,” Toscano said. “He has had a lot of things thrown at him and so far he has managed to overcome everything. He is just one of those horses who has a tremendous amount of determination. He loves a target, so he chases them down. What he has done is nothing short of astounding.”
The horses to beat Saturday are elimination winners Broad Bahn (4-1) and Manofmanymissions, the 9-5 favorite.
Broad Bahn is a speed horse and will start from the No. 1 post with George Brennan in the bike.
Manofmanymissions and driver Andy Miller will start from the No. 2 post, and will try to keep contact with Broad Bahn and wear him down in the stretch.
Lachance and Chapter Seven won’t be too far away breaking from the No. 4 post position.
“I like the spot,” Toscano said. “At least we will be close enough to stalk them.”
And if everything works out, Toscano will end up in another nice spot, the winner’s circle. She has been there a lot, being the Meadowlands most successful female trainer.
However, winning the Hambletonian would be groundbreaking.
“They always ask me the gender thing, I don’t think there is a person that does this for a living, man or woman, that wouldn’t want to get to the Hambletonian,” she said. “It’s not an easy task to get to. So I think it’s fun to be a girl, but I think it would be fun to be a guy in the Hambletonian, too.
“The $750,000 Hambletonian Oaks also will be raced on Saturday’s 15-race card. Crys Dream, who is undefeated in five starts this year, is the 7-5 favorite with Luc Ouellette in the sulky.