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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Guest Blog - Sweet Lou's Similarities with Big Jim

I would like to introduce Joe F., a knowledgable horseplayer who enjoys studying pedigrees of standardbreds, who has graciously written a guest blog entry to share with those who follow this blog.  Today's blog entry deals with similarities between last year's 'next great thing' Big Jim and this year's persumed champion Sweet Lou.  I hope you enjoy reading his entry as much as I have:    

We seem to be at the same point with Sweet Lou that we were at last season at this time with Big Jim. Both were hailed as “the next great colt pacer” after impressive finishes to their freshman campaigns. Jim followed his win in the Champlain with a sweep of the BC and topped off his season with a dominant performance in the Governor’s Cup; while Lou won the International Stallion Stakes before sweeping the BC, capping his two-year-old campaign with a seven length romp in the BC final.
Oh, there were major differences. While Lou is owned by a syndicate that stays in the background, and is trained by Ron Burke, the 2011 Trainer of the Year, and driven by current lifetime dash champion, Dave Palone, Jim was owned by Jim Carr, the colt’s namesake, who was something of a Canadian folk hero, and trained and driven by the comparatively obscure pair, James “Friday” Dean and Phil Hudon. While some expressed the opinion that Jim should be turned over to a trainer and driver with more experience on the big stage, Lou was considered to be well-placed for success. According to Carr, he had turned down a million dollars for a 25% stake in Jim.

Both colts started their sophomore campaigns in dominant fashion in their respective sire stakes programs; Lou won two high-dollar PASS races  by open lengths, while Jim was an easy winner in the elimination and final of the Jersey Classic. Heading for Canada, neither one had done anything to diminish his promise of greatness. However, the trip to Canada for the NA Cup diminished both colts in the eyes of the public, seemingly overnight.
Big Jim was the 1-9 choice in the SBSW, and Hudon raced him that way, brushing to the top at the quarter and apparently on his way to an easy score. However, Jody Jamieson came out of the clouds with 10-1 shot Up The Credit and ate Jim up in the final eighth. The grumbling from those in the online world started to percolate. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Was he short due to a late start and lack of prep races? Did Hudon do something wrong?

The following week Hudon employed the same strategy in the colt’s NA Cup elimination, brushing to the top at the three-eighths. The bettors hadn’t lost faith as he was sent off at 1-9 once more, but here comes the cavalry, again. Powerful Mist (5-1) ran him down for Tim Tetrick and Rockabillie was second. The fact that Tetrick beat him with a Delaware SS standout troubled some. There were rumors that Sears was being recruited to drive Big Jim, who was suddenly turning into Big Stiff.
Justice was meted out by the bettors in the final as Jim was sent away as fourth choice, behind Big Bad John, UTC and Shadyshark. The descent from on high was fast and cold. There was a change of tactics, as Hudon hit the wood and sat sixth until finally following Shadyside Hanover out at the half. Sorry, too little too late.

The Sweet Lou connections didn’t decide racing him covered up was the way to go until they’d won their Meadowlands Pace elimination. That particular insight hit the Big Jim brain trust a little earlier.
Lou skipped the SBSW, but he had that giant 47.4 win over Needy in his Cup elimination. Some believed he’d pay for that in the final, but for the most part, his reputation was better than ever. He’d been sent off at 2-5 in the preliminary and was 1-2 in the final, but the cavalry came for him at stretch time, just like they had for Jim, and he finished fourth.

His narrow win in his Meadowlands Pace elimination was severely discounted by one and all. A Rocknroll Dance was blocked, as was Bolt The Duer, and Thinking Out Loud had a wheel to wheel encounter that cost him the win. On top of that, the 49.1 final time was much too slow. Even though he won, the online world was full of vitriol for Lou, his trainer and his driver. You’d think he finished up the track. It seemed that everyone was picking one of his competitors to win the final. Ron Burke took note and wondered aloud why all these colts that raced so great didn’t win?
Thinking Out Loud, a colt with one stakes win at two—the Dreammaker—and a 45-1 Spring Book number going into the NA Cup, was the 2-1 favorite in the Pace, and Lou was second choice at 3-1. His fifth place finish, off a less aggressive racing style, sealed his fate. The next great colt was devalued in status to an ordinary member of a run of the mill class.

Big Jim was also raced conservatively in the Pace, following Cheddar out from sixth at the half, coming three-deep around the turn and showing a ton of pace at the end, but he was too late to catch Roll With Joe. His string of chances had run out.
That was pretty much it for Jim; he won a low level SS pace and then finished sixth in the Holmes and the same in the NJSS final. Injuries to both rear ankles forced his retirement. His resume contains no open stakes wins at three. He now stands at Seelster for a $5,000 fee, and served a full book of mares in 2012. He’s the third “next great pacing colt” from Canada to fall from grace: Sportswriter won the NA Cup and nothing else in 2010 and Warrawee Needy has been a serious disappointment this year.

Sweet Lou isn’t injured, as far as we know, and he may well rebound and win the division, but the judgment has already been writ by the online pundits: there’s nothing special about him. Many of us seem to experience relief when a Sweet Lou or American Jewel or Googoo Gaagaa is knocked off their pedestal.
For now Sweet Lou will get ready for this week’s Adios eliminations, as may the others staked to it, including Pace winner A Rocknroll Dance, Pace disappointment Thinking Out Loud, Bolt The Duer, Hurrikane Kingcole, Allstar Legend, and Hillbilly Hanover.

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