Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Huge Harness Year Is Brewing For the Three Year Old Pacers

If you want to follow a sport this summer that involves creatures with four legs instead of two, you might want to think about following harness racing.

Each year harness racing is not unlike thoroughbred racing for the classic age restricted events. At times we see one or two good horses battling plenty of also rans, sometimes we see a really good horse against some sub par stock. But rarely do we see so many top horses battling week in and week out.

When HoofBeats came out with their 2012 Predictive Rankings, Sweet Lou, Rock n Roll Dance and Warrawee Needy topped the list, and there were not too many who could argue with that. On paper it was logical, and if all three horse's raced like they did at two, we were in for a cool spectating year. A funny thing happened, though: Those three horses were off the board in a $1.5M race, have one win this season, and were beaten by 26 in their last, respectively.

Looking at the Hoof Beats list for the others, North America Cup winner Thinking Out Loud was unranked, not in the top 25. Perhaps the fastest horse since Somebeachsomewhere - Hurrikane Kingcole - was ranked 12th.  NA Cup second place finisher Time To Roll, was nowhere, third place finisher Dapper Dude, was ranked 19th.

This is sure to be one whale of a year in harness racing.

For the record, my Top 5 in Hoof Beats were Sweet Lou, RnR Dance, Warraweee Needy, Hurrikane Kingcole and Mel Mara.

To me the most fascinating horse of this season in harness racing is Hurrikane Kingcole. In the spring for Hoof beats I wrote this about him:

"It’s never wise to place a 2-year-old with a bit of a settling problem on a list like this, but he quieted down late in the year. And he is super-fast. Watch out if he puts it together."

That's a stretch for me, because when I evaluate two year olds I almost 100% of the time throw horses like this off the list. For example, last season, two fast two year olds - Idyllic and Pretty Katharine - I discounted for this same reason. They, to me, looked like they'd get, or were tweaked, and went faster than they wanted to go. I didn't feel that way with this horse. He looked to be green and funky, but even when he was off setting big fractions, he looked to be learning, not being tweaked.

I feel the same today about this colt. If he keeps learning, I think he might learn to go faster and be more and more sure footed. Last night he went 148.1 with a 52.4 back half. I believe he can get better and better and I think there is a possibility we have not seen this horse's bottom. If he learns and stays sound, on an 87 degree day at Lexington, 146 flat is not out of the question, in my opinion.

Things can change quickly in this sport, with so many fast horses. In a month Sweet Lou could be back on top. In three months and for the latter half of the season, Needy might be fresh and ready to go fast again. Of course, let's not forget Thinking Out Loud, Time To Roll, Pet Rock (I'm loving the way Morgan is handling him) and all the rest.  One thing is for sure, what in the off season looked like a battle between last year's big three - with one or two of them as standouts - is not what's happening as of July 1st.

Other 2012 Crop Notes:
  • If we're excited about the three year old pacers, how about the three year old trotters? This division is constantly dominated by one horse, but this year we have at the very least, two very fast colts. Googoo Gaga is the best of them, and last night he was absolutely marvelous. To read about how a horse this fast came about - from a $1200 mare bred to an obscure pacer - read today's Harness Racing Update (pdf).
  • Another horse that interests me - because I believe he is better and faster than he shows - is Aracache Hanover. He looked amazingly sound and bouncy in London for the Molson Pace elim, and scorched to a 151 win. Since then he's been off - a little dull and a bit steppy - and he has not looked like the same horse. If you watched him last night at Pocono when he went 148.1, he was bouncing around again like a happy horse. Horse's are not machines, and when they're right, you can see superlative efforts. I hope this portends a good year for him, because he's a very nice horse. The older division is wide open.
  • The four year old and up trotters are in for an interesting year as well. San Pail looks a little slower, and Arch Madness looks similar to where he was last year at this time (after starting the year lights out). The most interesting part of this, in my opinion, is the fact that perhaps the three best trotters are four year olds - Mister Herbie, Chapter Seven and Daylon Magician. We in racing have to lose this "four year olds can't compete against older" mantra. Over the past several years especially, there have been two year olds that can give three year olds a beating (Sweet Lou would've probably crushed three year old Breeders Crown pacers last year at Woodbine etc) and many four year olds that can do the same (We Will See last season, Better Than Cheddar this year etc). This breed has changed and we're breeding faster and faster horses, who are going faster and faster at a younger and younger age. 
  • Thus far the most boring division is the three year old filly pacers, but not because they aren't fast or exciting. One is standing out - American Jewel. I was 100% sure she wouldn't come back well. What a dummy. Not only has she come back well, she's come back to look like another Peelers or Rainbow Blue.
  • I still think we've not seen the best from Maven in the three year old filly trotter division. I hope both she and Check Me Out stay sound, because at the start of the season this division looked like a walkover for the latter. It's clearly not.
  • Bob Marks, via email on why we're seeing what we're seeing: "It’s not so much that the breed has improved but the gaits have been purified..Meadow Skipper, Overtrick, Bret Hanover or whomever all had trotting blood within  the second or third generation. Many trotting sires like Worthy Boy, Victory Song and even Stars Pride were actually double gaited sires producing a preponderance of pacers alongside their great trotters. Much of that has been bred out..  Today’s pacer is often four or even five generations clear of trotting blood, while today’s trotter is equally generations removed from the double gaited sires…"
  • Enjoy your Sunday everyone.

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