EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - A year ago, Linda Toscano was set to make history. She was destined to become the first female trainer to ever win the Hambletonian, the granddaddy of all harness races.
Toscano, a native of Brooklyn who started attending harness races some 40 years ago when her father would take her to Roosevelt and Yonkers raceways, trained Chapter Seven, one of the favorites to win the 2011 Hambletonian.
It all seemed in place. Things were good.
But her horse trotted home fourth.
``We were really dealing with a sick horse,'' Toscano said of Chapter Seven. ``In getting ready for the race, we realized that he was sick. I thought that was it. I figured I'd never get another chance.''
Turns out, it's the opposite. On Saturday, in fact, Toscano has another chance to win the Hambletonian. And she'll take it as the trainer for Market Share, a 3-year-old trotting colt that owner Richard Gutnick purchased at a yearling sale for just $16,000. Market Share has won four of 10 starts this season, including a blistering 1:52.2 to win one of three Hambletonian eliminations last week.
It was the fastest time posted by any of the 10 horses in Saturday's $1.5 million final to be held at the New Meadowlands Racetrack.
Market Share (4-1 odds) has been listed as the third choice in the morning line. Uncle Peter is the pre-race favorite at 5-2, followed by Knows Nothing at 7-2. All three were winners in the Hambletonian eliminations last Saturday.
Toscano, 57, isn't one to get caught up in the gender aspect of the event.
``I honestly hate the whole girl thing,'' she said. ``It doesn't matter what gender I am. But I've been told that harness racing needs a good story and girls need a good story, so I guess it's kind of cool if I can be the first girl.''
Toscano likes Market Share's chances.
``I have a real good feeling,'' Toscano said. ``I know I have a healthy horse. Chapter Seven had a bunch of things wrong, including pneumonia, but we didn't know that. We were always in a hurry to get the horse healthy. But Market Share is a happy, healthy horse.''
Market Share will be driven by Tim Tetrick, who in 2007 set a single year win record with 1,189 victories. But Tetrick, who has earned more than $30 million in purses during his illustrious career, has never won the Hambletonian.
``I've always dreamed of winning the Hambletonian, so maybe this is my year,'' said Tetrick, whose best finish was in 2008, when he drove Crazed to a second-place finish behind champion Deweycheatumnhowe. ``You always need luck in this race. Market Share trotted to the wire last week without much urging and he's been strong. I think he's a player in this race. He's definitely a player.''
Market Share made his mark last year racing as a 2-year-old at Freehold (N.J.) Raceway, winning all five of his starts, including the New Jersey Futurity.
Market Share's best payday was a third-place finish in the Yonkers Trot, the first leg of the trotting Triple Crown, July 7. Archangel won that race, but Market Share soundly defeated Archangel by more than two lengths in last week's eliminations.
``This is unbelievable,'' Toscano said. ``I never dreamed I would get another chance at it after last year. It's like we got a do-over. To have this colt come as far as he has, and he seems to be prepping really well going into this race. It's a dream come true. It's the greatest day in harness racing. I am going to enjoy the ride.''
There's another female trainer in the race. Julie Miller, the wife of driver Andy Miller, will take Money On My Mind to the gate. Money On My Mind is at 15-1 in the morning line.
As for the top female horse in the trotting ranks, Check Me Out will not race in the Hambletonian. A winner in 20 of 23 lifetime starts with earnings already of more than $1.4 million, the filly was not placed in the regular Hambletonian eliminations and ran with the rest of the fillies in the Hambletonian Oaks field.
``We put egos aside and did the right thing,'' Charles Iannazzo, owner of Check Me Out, said. ``We're doing what's best for the filly. Not everyone agrees with the decision, but it's a long racing season. There was a lot of pressure on us.''
Check Me Out is the 4-5 favorite in the Hambletonian Oaks for 3-year-old fillies. Post time for the Oaks is slated for 4:13 p.m. The Hambletonian follows at 4:42 p.m.