Normally the end of the year is not a very interesting time in harness racing, but this year it is a little bit different. Jeff Gural of the Meadowlands has put his money where his mouth is and created, along with TVG, an end of year pace (and trot) for some nice money. The pacing side of the race invites the winner of the Meadowlands Pace (and I think Breeders Crown, who this year is the same horse) to race older in the Free For All division. The race is set to go November 30th.
This year the colt whom is invited is the best three year old this season - Captaintreacherous. However, last weekend the Captain was defeated by a relatively obscure colt in the Monument Circle.
Horses losing at the end of a longer season is nothing new. Donato lost the Breeders Crown, so did Well Said and Deweycheatumnhowe and a bunch of others. Last season the three year old colts were so spent that Heston Blue Chip - who raced earlier in the year primarily in sires stakes, staying away from the fast miles - ran the table late, and ended up Three Year Old of the year. Unless you are a freak like Somebeachsomwhere, who was arguably five lengths or more better in the fall than he was in the spring, it just doesn't seem to be a time to thrive.
The Captain clearly was not the Captain last weekend. He had to work hard to make the lead in a slow second quarter and Boots had to pull the plugs early. He only went 28.1 down the back, under urging. The funny thing about the Captain though, and why I like him as a horse, was that despite him having a bad day, he tried and tried right to the end. At the head of the lane if I was betting in-running somewhere I would've laid him to show he looked so poor. He came home in 27 and change and still almost won. Great effort from a colt who was firing on a couple fewer cylinders.
What we'd fully expect to happen with this horse in a normal year is that he'd be shut down Friday evening after the loss and shuffled off to stud. When we add to the fact he lost some sharpness last year in the fall - holding on by a nose in Lexington and losing the Breeders Crown - maybe he is one of those horses who loses an edge late like so many. His gait looked particularly bad Friday. as well. But this year it's different. The Captain will race at four and they gave him a five week break in the summer so he would be sharp at the end of the year (ideally so he could race in the TVG). This wasn't an afterthought, it was planned for. We can add the fact that the older horses look much less imposing of late, too.
According to Harness Racing Update, trainer Tony Alagna will try him this week to see how he is, and that they found a few issues. Jeff Gural is also quoted, asking them to take a shot (he really, of course wants him to race in his big race). There are some machinations at play this year, that weren't in previous years.
In other words, this is not your grandfathers harness racing. The smart money says he is finished for the year, but smart money doesn't always win.
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