Harness racing has entered its stakes season - we're always, by design, behind the runners - and a few horses stepped up last night to show their mettle at the Meadowlands. It was fun to watch.
In race two, the highly regarded Pet Rock showed he belongs in any conversation, when talking about three year old colts. Brian Sears, under barn instructions no doubt, wanted to give the horse an easy one, but he had to move sooner or later, and scored in a fast time, with an uncovered journey. He did it the way Sears wanted though and it's probably why Brian is so sought after as a driver.
I used to spend 60-80 hours a week on harness for many years when I was slinging super-seriously at the sport, and I was trained to watch horses come back to the winners circle. If you saw something off, you could pitch out a 4-5 shot next time and make your month. It's what I still do because my brain won't let me do anything else. Pet Rock looked like he was having fun, and he was on his toes like he didn't even race.
To have a top colt in harness racing you need talent, luck and a whole lot of training skill to ensure your charge is fresh for the big ones. Virgil Morgan knows how to get a horse through a year (see Mr. Big for that, and his endurance building q's), and he is taking a nice, slow approach. If this horse has a nice year and is fresh for the Breeders Crown, I don't think anyone would be surprised.
In the Cutler, the cream rose to the top. I've always believed the "close the hole" mentality of some race fans lacks a little critical thinking. When you close the holes on everyone and leave them out, it can cause the front runners to have it easier, and add traffic for the back markers. That's what happened last evening. Fortunately, first over is not a terrible place with a slow half if you have a nice horse, and the top two horses finished one-two.
That was a pretty nice training job by Jeff Gillis, in my opinion. Although he (no doubt) schooled the horse in 54 or 55 a couple of times, and had him ready, being ready for race conditions off such a long time off is very difficult. Mister Herbie started getting good at the end of last season (his Super Final was jaw dropping), and in a weak division of older trotters, he looks to be the best, right now.
Anyone else catch Gural's comment with a shot at Horse of the Year San Pail? I chuckled. It was pretty clear Jeff tried to get them down to the race. I think the connections are a teeny bit worried about San Pail this season. He looks to me to have lost a couple of fifths, and at the top FFA level, that's an eternity.
Some horses who have talent can step right up and compete at four, as Mister Herbie and many others prove. For some others, it takes seasoning for them to come into form. Golden Receiver is that prototypical horse. Last evening, despite getting things his own way, he was super-impressive. Having Foiled Again first up and the Breeders Crown champ in the pocket through those fractions should've resulted in a very close finish. Nope. He romped away.
It's easy to throw superlatives around early in the harness season. Before the classic races everyone who has a fast qualifier or wins in a fast time gets called the next one, or one to watch.
Last night Pet Rock, Mister Herbie, and Golden Receiver, all look like horses that the superlatives fit. It's a long season of course, but if you're going to make money in those respective divisions, you'll likely have to deal with those three nice horses.
Have a great Sunday everyone.