“______” is better than ‘Rainbow Blue/Niatross/Somebeachsomewhere/Nihilator/Greyhound’.
This is a phrase we have been hearing from time to time the last six or seven years. With horses who run out of their skin and flash big times it is almost assured that some fan, or some watcher, or some race owner will say it.
The latest is Art Official owner Jim Jesk.
“He is the best pacer in North America and we haven't seen the best of him yet.”
“He's better than good. Nearly everyone says that Somebeachsomewhere was the best racehorse in North America, but I honestly believe my colt was better.”
I’m glad he likes his horse, but there is a big difference when you like your horse on what he accomplishes, versus mentioning another horse to illustrate it, which requires a jump of faith, and logic.
Somebeachsomewhere, by anyone anywhere at one time or another last year, was described as the best three year old colt we have seen since Nihilator. The evidence was certainly there – 20 for 21, four world records on different size tracks and in heats, open length wins against other world champions, the all time earnings record, and so on – so anyone who said that could make a strong case. In contrast, Art Official is compared to Somebeachsomewhere. Therein lies the rub.
Art Official is a wonderful horse and looked so good last week that it seems he might be on track to set some records this year. However, he had a lot of chances to set records last year too, but he could not deliver a full season of racing to place him in the upper echelon of sophomores, like Nihilator or Somebeachsomewhere. He might do that this year, or next, but Mr. Jesk comparing this colt to some of the all time greats does those all time greats a disservice. Hold your horses, Mr. Jesk – let your fine horse win some races first.
This is nothing new. We see similar whenever there was a horse winning races in open-length fashion. In just the last three years we have heard “best ever” associated with Donato Hanover, and Deweycheatumnhowe. Just because a horse wins races does not make him the best ever. The competition is important. Just like a 10 claimer might blow off a 152 mile at the M and then moves to 15 claimers and gets dusted in 153, a stakes horse wins races more impressively than they might due to talent because of competition. People might remember that the 2-1 second choice in the Hambletonian two years ago was a filly, Pampered Princess. She could not even win her own Breeders Crown race later that year. When competition came in the form of Arch Madness, Donato Hanover had his hands full. He lost his last two races to the Trond trainee. And Arch Madness, although a very nice horse, is not a world beater. Similarly, Dewey had it pretty easy last year. As a bettor who posts here on the blog said “Crazed would not be in the top ten trotters this year”, and he made Muscle Hill a 15-1 chalk to beat Donato head to head, and an 8-1 chalk to beat Dewey head to head. He is probably close to correct on those odds lines.
Competition matters. If Somebeachsomewhere did not have much to beat last year, the hype would have been monumental (eventhough it already was huge). Could you imagine if Art Official and Shadow Play alone were hurt, or born in a different year? How about Bettor Sweet? He has the national seasons mark in 147.2 this year, beating Mr. Big and many other good horses, like Art Official and is one of the best horses in North America. Last year Bettor Sweet was beaten by Beach in the Breeders Crown by nine. If none of those horses were around, Beach would have won the Pace by twelve, and every other race by open lengths. People would no have doubt said he was “way better than Niatross” because he won by so many lengths. They would have been wrong - if Beach is the Prince of Freaks, Niatross was the King of them - but they would have said it. Regardless, who he had to race and beat last year was frightening.
If we look back at Nihilator, we see a bit of the same thing. His mystique is sadly nowhere near some of the best horses in history some 25 years later. Why? I believe competition. Nihilator at two had to race one of the best freshmen of all time, Dragon’s Lair. He got hot at the right time, loved a 5/8’s track and beat the big horse easily, but it took a shattering of the world record to do it. People were left wondering, “is Nihilator really that good; after all he was beat by a Jeff Mallet driven horse?” Of course he was that good, but the competition was amazing, and when you have competition you have to work and you will not dominate inferior stock by large margins. At three, who did he face? How about Falcon Seelster – one of the fastest horses ever, proven by his jaw dropping 151 world record at Delaware set as a four year old. When Nihilator won on Hambo day in 1985 in 149.3, who was right there with him at the wire? The Falcon. Throw him out and Nihilator wins by fifteen, and people are gasping. With Falcon so close in that mile you will often hear about that race, “Falcon Seelster raced good as well,” despite the story being Nihilator and Nihilator only. When you add competition, you can not win by ten or fifteen, where all they remember is you.
Nihilator and Somebeachsomewhere have a great deal in common. They were both beaten in World Record times, but they both went on to survive "wave two" of the competition, and pretty much won out. In addition, both of these tremendous colts set more world records of their own after being beaten. Both of them earned and deserve their place in harness history.
This year we are hearing rumblings that Well Said should be mentioned with the all time greats. He is a marvelous horse and might well prove that he should be. But when we jump the gun, it does all those horses, and all the work they did in the trenches over a couple of hard-fought seasons a tremendous disservice. Would he have won the Meadowlands Pace by an open six if Somebeachsomewhere, Art Official or Shadow Play was in the race? No. Would he have dusted the field if he had to brush by Nihilator instead of Art Colony at the half? Since Nihilator went 53.4 to the half 24 years ago in an anachronistic display of speed, I don't think he'd have trouble parking Well Said in 53.4 and 120 and change today, so it is highly unlikely. Just one month ago this horse, off a pocket trip in the Burlington Stakes, failed to hit the board. The team was in panic mode after that, changing the shoes, and wondering publicly via the harness edge if Pierce should race him near the front. His overall record shows he has lost more races than he has won (8 for 17). He is a great horse with mind blowing speed and I think he has a shot to set a world record, but let the horse win some races first before tarnishing the greats of this game.
Sadly, Well Said might not get to show where he fits, unless they step out and race him against older. Ironically, it might end up doing him a disservice, because out of the top 4 ranked three year olds in the experimental ratings over the winter, three of them are out with injury. On paper, there is no one close, other than maybe Keep it Real (who was not even Meadowlands Pace eligible), so he should win against this group by open lengths, where he might end up looking better than he is. I know one thing though, handicappers will be able to give him a grade at the end of the year, if the harness press can not. Handicappers gauge competition every time they open a program and they will be able to measure it with him, as well.
There are great champions out there, and by any stretch Muscle Hill is one who deserves the hype. It will take a few months to see where he places himself in harness history. But just like Well Said and Art Official, the proof will not be in what is said by their owners, trainers and drivers on the Internet. The proof will be what these horses say on the racetrack.