Excuses are a part of horse racing and they always have been. As a horse owner, or a handicapper, you will hear many like "he lost a shoe", or "she bled". Sometimes these excuses are valid, sometimes they are simply the connections hoping against hope that their horse is better than he is, sometimes they are not even given, because it might hurt the colt's stud value. This is prevalent in both breeds, although I find in standardbred racing if you ask a horse owner what the problem was, he is much more forthcoming than in the runners. For example, when Big Brown ran like an eight year old Mountaineer maiden in the Belmont, some close to the horse tried to blame the rider to deflect, when to virtually everyone else there was a problem.
Perretti Farms today, who stands Rock n' Roll Hanover, the brilliant son of Western Ideal, out of the supermare Rich n' Elegant - who is quite possibly the most dominant pacing sire in racing. If you don't own a Rock n' Roll yearling, you are probably at a disadvantage before you hook em up.
When I made my "Top Ten Trotters and Pacers of the Decade" post way back in late 2009, I said this about Rock n Roll, ranking him #9:
"He was born to be a champion and he was. He set a world record at two and went on to win the big three at three. At the end of his 3YO year he looked done, but he was not. His win in the Breeders Crown was as good as his win in the North America Cup."
The key point being - "he looked done".
A good deal of horseplayers thought exactly that when August rolled around that year. Rock n' Roll, who won both the NA Cup and Meadowlands Pace met American Ideal in the Holmes, and he came second. Later on he went to the Jug and lost, coming a poor third in the final. In Lexington a few weeks later, I remember betting a pile against him, only to see Brian Sears trip him out and win. He was driven like a horse who needed a trip.
There were some who said he did not like a half mile track because of his Jug performance. There were others who thought he was totally cooked, never to be the same. Come Breeders Crown time it was game, set and match Rock though - he completely crushed in the BC, and looked as good as he looked in the Metro a year and two months earlier. Pure magic.
With a lot of great horses like him, you can't judge the book by the cover.
"Rock n' roll Hanover is not a fan of extreme heat… Even his libido can wane in June and July… When he was here for a little Rnr after the Meadowlands Pace he’d be out at night but right at the gate to come in as soon as the sun rose at mid-morning…. That probably triggered his resurgence in late fall", typed Bob today.
As well, in the Jug he had a foot issue from a nail in the foot, but they thought he was more than fine to give the final a shot. And they were not the only ones wondering if he might not come back to form:
"He absolutely had to have a good finish to save the season" Bob said.
So, as with a lot of us who are fans, we might speculate that Rock's sharpness had run its course and (I for one) might dock him for not being as dominant as some others for his entire career (Rock n' Roll Heaven/Beach), but it was all explicable. They are not machines, they are racehorses. When they show brilliance, and then do not have that same brilliance, chances are it's not the driver, the surface or the size of the oval. It's simply an issue that all horses have from time to time, and we can never be too harsh on them without knowing exactly what's happening.