Yesterday evening the stars of harness racing were out, and we saw performances and storylines that were anything but uninteresting.
We'll start with Maven. The ultra-talented Glidemaster miss proved she belongs with any trotter by virtue of her second place finish to last year's three year old of the year, and this years probable Dan Patch winner, in 152.1. It took a track record to beat her. Well done Maven. Hopefully she gets more respect for being a world class horse.
I have been on the fence with Iluvthenitelife for this entire season. I think she's an excellent horse, and I know the three year old filly crop is decent this year. She beat them twelve times in a row and I am sure she is above the median of three year old fillies the last twenty years. But I have yet to see her do something you don't see other three year old fillies do. Until last night.
As handicappers who don't sing for their supper we are taught to watch the race within a race, for a couple of reasons: 1) Because we need to know how a horse or horses are getting a setup for a bet back or a fade and 2) We want to know if our money is safe or ready to be burned up. As cappers watched the Am Nat for fillies unfold at the quarter pole, we expected an off the board finish for Iluivthenitelife. She was getting brutalized in a 53 half on a cool night. A good horse was inside of her and a sharp filly, capable of huge speed was on her back to boot.
How that mare held on to almost win in 149 is mind boggling. I went through some filly trips in a database from over the years to see if I could find a parallel, but I could not. Iluvthenitelife is all world. They should be incredibly proud of her and it was easily the performance of the evening for me (of the year actually. Sunshine Beach's Crown effort was, but this not being a parked out back half sprint was infinitely more impressive). I think she'll fit just fine with Open mares next season, and they better bring their running shoes to tackle this lady. This also tells you why they want that match race with the Captain: Because they think they can beat him.
Bee a Magician. We never learn much when she races because she is too good for any trotter, more than likely male or female, in the sophomore division. She's like Peace Corps. All we learned last night was that Brian Sears must've been paid extra to make it interesting. Seriously, Sears had no choice really to do that, and he skillfully got her out, she exploded and did what she was supposed to do. I hope she goes to Europe next year and burns the place down. Other than the possible traffic trouble losing her the undefeated record, this race was a yawner.
The Captain was next, and after getting a snoozy half of 55.2 last week and being unable to come home in 55.2 to seal the victory, he was back to his old self. He got the cheap half and sprinted home in 53.3 winning by a half length at the end. Lucan Hanover, fresh off a loss to a horse I have never heard of, also bounced back and sprinted with the Captain home.
I have said it the second half of the year and it continues. The Captain confounds handicapping senses. I don't know what to make of him. Lucan Hanover joins Vegas Vacation, Sunshine Beach, Wake Up Peter and Captive Audience as horses who were first up to him that almost beat him. People like to say "he likes to only win by a bit" but that's nonsense. He won the Meadowlands Pace by skipping away from inferior horses like a good horse does. He won the Wilson by ten lengths. He won at Hoosier by sprinting away from them, winning by four. For some reason he has not been able to shake horses he should be able to, and has shaken at times.
The fans love the grittiness and substitute that for greatness and they may be correct. Conversely, cappers like me look at the race within a race. I had to chuckle because I got this email from a multi-million dollar player after the race:
"I laughed at all the zealots talking about "gameness" of CT. Please! He couldn't have an easier trip and was life and death to hold off a supposedly inferior horse."
I, like the handicapper above, will learn and decide how good this horse is next year if he races next year. This year I have no idea where to rank him with some other three year olds who race each year. People say I don't like him. It's actually the opposite. I think he's better than what he's showing and I believe he is better than these horses, even though he is life and death against them so often. I want to see if that's right or wrong so I hope he races in 2014.
One horse one has no such trouble judging is Foiled Again. He, like Iluvthenitelife before him, shocked handicapping senses from here to Chicago. He was in the thick of it through a 53.2 half, and still almost hung on versus the World Champion Pet Rock, who was third over with a 55.1 back half to close into.
This horse will likely lose aged pacer of the year to Pet Rock and I have no quarrel with that, but no one can walk away from that race being anything but impressed. I am currently making a top 12 horses of the decade column for publishing. He is on it. That horse amazes me - not only because he is 9 years old and doing it with style - because he is the toughest racehorse I have ever seen. Cam Fella had that mantle held with me for a quarter century (since I was a kid), and I think Foiled is tougher. He's the only horse in harness racing that I think could be parked out in 51 and hang around for a photo.
Harness racing has long lost its way. The industry is a complete mess. However, when we get to watch horses like some of these ply their trade we thank goodness for them.
Have a nice Sunday everyone.
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