Trainer Jimmy Takter is supposed to make history Saturday in the Hambletonian at the Meadowlands. His horses are so good and so tower over the competition that not only is he expected to win the most important trotting race in America he is expected to finish first, second and third. For Takter, it would be a phenomenal once-in-a-lifetime achievement.
"This I a situation where I expect to win the Hambletonian and it would be a very sore defeat for me if I don't," he said.
Takter doesn't have much to worry about, except, perhaps for a colt that is on the improve and has a confident trainer unwilling to admit that Takter is unbeatable. That trainer is his daughter.
For much of her career in harness racing Nancy Johansson worked at the side of her Hall-of-Fame father. She was around many of the best standardbreds of the modern era and was getting a priceless education. But she was in someone else's shadow, not the sort of place she likes to be.
"I am a bit of a go-getter," the 33-year-old trainer said. "It's great to take care of good horses and I was completely spoiled. I've taken care of some of the greatest horses to ever race. But there comes a point where you want to go to the next step. It felt like it was the time to move on. I expect a lot from myself. That's a Takter trait. We're all very Type-A, driven people."
Johansson went out on her own last year and immediately developed one of the top 2-year-old pacers in the sport in Western Vintage. She says she rarely seeks her father's advice and her stable is not at the same training facility as his. Johansson's show is her own.
That she is a Takter by birth obviously helped her gain the respect of owners. Jimmy Takter came to the US from Sweden in 1982 with his then 1-year-old daughter, in part to emerge from the shadows of his own father, the legendary European trainer Bo Takter. It was a risky move since he was young and unknown in the US, but he eventually established himself as one of the elite trainers in the standardbred game.
Takter has had dozens of great horses and has won two Hambletonians, but never has he -- or anyone else -- had a hand like this. He trains Father Patrick, who will be the Hambletonian favorite and is already considered one of the greatest trotters ever. That's his superstar. His stars are Trixton, a gifted colt who cost $360,000 at the yearling sales, a fortune for a harness horse, and Nuncio, the only horse to ever beat Father Patrick. In the Stanley Dancer, the last big prep for the Hambletonian, Father Patrick was first, Nuncio was second and Trixton was third. The Takter horses were so dominant that the fourth choice in the wagering was 23-1.
"I think it's going to be hard for me to lose," he said.
His daughter doesn't necessarily agree. She trains a horse named Resolve, who lost to Nuncio by three-quarters of a length in the William Reynolds Stakes last out. On paper, it looks like the horse will have to improve several lengths to have any chance of beating the three Takter horses, but Johansson said that's exactly what she thinks is going to happen. Resolve was making his first start for Johansson in the Reynolds and she thinks he will improve from the experience and is a horse with a big upside.
"Yes, I think I can win," she said. "First of all, its horse racing. I want my dad's horses to race as well as they can and I want to beat him fair and square. If I don't it's not the end of the world, but, obviously, I want to give it a good go. I'm not the type of person who is going to wake up in the morning and say, 'Gee, we finished fourth in the Hambletonian, isn't that great.'"
The winning horse's share of the Hambletonian will be about $500,000 and a win would add a considerable amount to the colt's stud value.
Takter is also the co-owner of Father Patrick and Trxiton, so he has an awful lot to gain from a win, from both a financial and prestige standpoint. When virtually no one thinks you can lose a race a loss would be embarrassing.
"Will he be proud of me if I win? I think so. I hope so," she said. "Then again, maybe he'll write me out of the will. It's a business. There's a point where you have to separate things. If we're coming down the stretch and my horse is nowhere near contention of course I will root for my dad's horses."
She's not going to be written out of the will. Takter is proud of his daughter and her success and understands that she has a job to do for her owners. Nonetheless, it will be a somewhat weird scene in the winner's circle should she pull off the upset.
"I asked my mom, if I win the Hambo will she come to the winners circle," Johansson said. "She said, 'yes, I'll only cry with one eye.'"