EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., AUG. 7 -- Mack Lobell, whose driver says he goes along for the ride, is a heavy favorite to pull John Campbell into the Hambletonian winner's circle Saturday at the Meadowlands.
"He does all the work; there isn't a lot of driving to it," said Campbell, one of the nation's premier drivers.
So far this year, Mack Lobell, the 2-year-old champion trotter of 1986, has won all four of his starts impressively. He is the reason only 15 3-year-olds were entered in the $1,046,300 event, harness racing's showcase. It is the smallest field since 12 raced in 1979.
The Hambletonian is the second race of the Trotting Triple Crown; the Yonkers Trot and Kentucky Futurity (Oct. 2) are the others. The last Triple Crown winner was Super Bowl, in 1972.
Mack Lobell opened his 3-year-old campaign by winning the Yonkers Trot June 28 in a then-world-record 1:57 4/5 for 3-year-olds on a half-mile track. In his last start, July 24, he won the Beacon Course, equaling the all-age trotting record of 1:54 on the Meadowlands' one-mile track.
"He has tremendously high speed for a trotter," Campbell said. "He almost has a pacer's speed."
Mack Lobell was purchased as a yearling for $17,000 by one of his two principal owners, Lou Guida, who is well-known for his involvement with several leading pacers, including the great Niatross and his son, Nihilator.
Mack Lobell is the early 2-to-5 favorite to win the seven-horse first heat.
The 9-to-5 early choice in the eight-horse second division is Napoletano, who as a 2-year-old was trained by the late Billy Haughton and now is trained by Haughton's son Tommy.
Billy Haughton, who was fatally injured in a racing accident July 5, 1986, drove in 23 Hambletonians and won a record-equaling four.
Tommy Haughton drove Napoletano in six of seven of his 2-year-old races and has been one four men to drive him this year. Bill O'Donnell, who drove Napoletano in his last race, was selected by owners Walter and Wellie Belanger to drive Saturday. He won the Hambletonian with Prakas in 1985.
Ulf Thoresen will be seeking a second straight Hambletonian. Thoresen, who won with Nuclear Kosmos in 1986, will drive long shot Beseiged.
The first five finishers in each division will return for the second heat. If either division winner wins the second heat, he will be Hambletonian champion. If not, there will be a three-horse race-off.
Post position order for the first division will be Beseiged, Skywatch Lobell, Crown's Best, Spotlite Lobell, Sir Taurus, Action Factor and Mack Lobell. The second-heat lineup will be Crown Sweep, Napoletano, Classic Jazz, Go Get Lost, Waikiki Beach, Buckfinder, C. Lewis Lauxmont and Cotton Hanover.
Waikiki Beach and Mack Lobell are trained by Charles Sylvester, but they have different owners.
Sir Taurus, the 5-to-1 second choice in the first heat, finished second in the Yonkers Trot, then won at Yonkers Raceway July 13 and broke Mack Lobell's record with a time of 1:57 2/5. However, in his first start on a one-mile track, Sir Taurus was beaten by Waikiki Beach at the Meadowlands July 30.