Stable hand Tyler Lopes savours Hambletonian Oaks title triumph
Tyler Lopes enjoyed the finest moment of his harness racing career after helping trainer Marcus Melander claim a maiden Hambletonian Oaks title at Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey at the weekend.
Melander’s filly, Heaven Hanover, came from the back of the pack to win last Saturday’s $500,000 race for three-year-old female trotters with driver Tim Tetrick by a neck over rival Bond. Righteous Resolve was third across the line to round off the podium finishers.
“To win the Hambletonian Oaks is a big deal,” an elated Lopes told The Royal Gazette. “It’s probably just as hard to win as the Hamiltonian is and is just as prestigious.
“Obviously I won a lot back home. I won a bunch of Champion of Champions, won a bunch of stakes races, broke a bunch of records and when you’re doing that, you’re the one driving. You did it and you obviously get a huge sense of self gratification there and it feels good.
“But I have to say the feeling I got over the past weekend there is surreal.
“I’d definitely put it above all of my experiences up to this point because sometimes it’s easy to forget where you’re at, who you’re working for and the calibre of horses you’re dealing with and sitting behind on a daily basis.
“Day-to-day life kind of gets involved so when you win a huge race like that, one of the biggest races we have for fillies in the country, it really snaps you back into reality of this is where I am at.
“This is just a huge accomplishment even though I am just part of the team and not really affected directly personally. It really makes you appreciate where you’re at.
“Not many people can even be in the position that I am in. I never thought I’d be in the position that I’m in coming from little Bermuda, so I’d definitely put it up the top.”
The win was Heaven Hanover’s third in eight starts this season.
“It’s really down to a team effort and Marcus is doing a great job getting the horses in shape and keeping them in shape and keeping them feeling good and everything,” Lopes added.
“The groom, Elin Wickman, also does a fantastic job with the horses and the groom is very important. They are the ones with the horses all the time taking care of them and probably know the horses better than we do because we don’t really drive any of them consistently.
“We all played a part but the biggest congratulation is to Marcus, the trainer, and Elin, the caretaker.
“I’ve trained her a couple of times throughout the year and drove in her on one of her warm-ups on the day and she felt really good and was very relaxed.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people there and warming her up she had the open blind bridle on so she see could everything and she wasn’t bothered by it at all.
“The horse was on form that day. She was very relaxed and we really saw how professional she was.”
Lopes is in his second year working with Melander and has made a smooth transition to the North American harness racing scene.
“It’s very different in a lot of respects but I feel like I have a very good foundation there with the ponies in Bermuda growing up,” he said.
“I didn’t get here and think these horses are real hard to drive, I didn’t struggle in that sense at all. It was pretty easy I thought the transition from the ponies up to the horses.
“Obviously they are a lot stronger so once you kind of get used to that it’s not so bad as far as the difference between the horses and the ponies.
“I came up here and basically stepped up from amateur stuff in Bermuda. I stepped into one of the biggest stables in North America, so coming here and just learning what I have from Marcus in the last year has been a dream come true, really.”