Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but this, the year Jeff Gural’s rules punishing four-year-olds that have been retired early take effect, is beginning to look like the year of the four-year-old. The premium sophomore pacers beat each other up to the point where there was no true standout in 2012. The top tier stakes wins were spread around, with Heston winning the BC, ARNRD the Pace, Michaels Power the Jug, Duer the Adios and Thinking Out Loud the NA Cup. That’s reflected in the fact that Heston Blue Chip received 68 votes for three-year-old Pacer of the Year, while Michaels Power got 50, Dance 17, TOL three and Lou, two. Contrast that with the Dan Patch for two-year-old pacers where Captaintreacherous beat Rockin Amadeus 144 to one, or the three-year-old filly contest where Jewel got 141 votes to three for Romantic Moment. There may not have been a single superstar in the sophomore colt division but there was plenty of talent.
Back in the day it was expected that there would be an annual infusion of new blood into the FFA division from the top performers in the previous year’s colt division; one year it was Best Of All, Nardin’s Byrd and Romulus Hanover joining the fray; another it was Laverne Hanover, Horton Hanover and Super Wave making their presence felt; and another it was Governor Skipper, Senor Skipper and Big Towner coming of age. Lately we’ve been lucky to get a single compelling four-year-old moving into the FFA lineup. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what has happened during the past three campaigns: Hypnotic Blue Chip, We Will See and Cheddar have successively been the lone four-year-old to make a meaningful contribution to the FFA division.
Obviously the exodus of the top colts to the breeding shed was the major factor in the shortage of quality four-year-olds: Rocknroll Hanover left after his three-year-old campaign in 2007; the following year it was SBSW who bid racing fans adieu; then it was Well Said after his sophomore campaign in 2009; RNR Heaven joined the Blue Chip roster after his very successful 2010 season; and Roll With Joe, Big bad John and Big Jim all moved on after their three-year-old campaigns in 2011.
Hypnotic Blue Chip was top dog among the four-year-old pacers in 2010. He won eight of 27 starts and earned almost $800,000. JJ blasted him past Shark Gesture in the USPC and he went on to win in a WR :47.2. It is telling that Shark Gesture was the 1/5 favorite in that race while HBC was the 11/1 third choice. The competition from his elders was fierce, Shark Gesture, WTW, Foiled and Bettor Sweet, to name four. Stakes-wise, aside from the USPC, HBC also won the Battle of Lake Erie. He made a very strong showing but still didn’t stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of his elders.
Other four-year-olds that came online in 2010 are: Lisagain, Dial, Alexie Mattosie, Elmo, Vintage Master, Annies, Gallant Yankee, River Shark, Drop Red and Clear Vision. Obviously none of them posed a threat to Shark Gesture, WTW or Foiled--not the way Kingcole, ARNRD, Sweet Lou, Needy, Michaels Power and Heston Blue Chip are a threat to Golden Receiver and the nine-year-old incarnation of Foiled, anyway.
The four-year-old class of 2011 wasn’t much better. We Will See was great; he earned $1.2 million, winning the Franklin, CPD, USPC and Allerage Open, and he took a mark of :47.2. It was a long drop before one hit number two, Art Professor, who did his damage in opens, avoiding the heavy hitters for the most part, and won no stakes races. RNR Heaven, who dominated his class, had been retired. OML, a gelding, returned from a solid sophomore season, but was an absolute zero; Razzle Dazzle was not the horse we saw in this year’s Levy; Meirs won the Clyde Hirt, Exit 16W and Cam Fella, and seemed to be on his way, but he disappeared for four months, and that was that.
Cheddar was by far the best of the returning four-year-old pacers last year, but he was limited by physical problems and only started eleven times. He won nine races, but several of those were cheapies. His only grade one win was the Franklin, where he was outstanding. The Des Smith and Quillen were his other two stakes wins. Alsace came back but he never fulfilled the promise he showed at three. The same goes for Up The Credit, who had serious issues, although a :48.3 win over NW25 at Woodbine the other night may signal good things at age five. Foreclosure got good for Burke at season’s end, but he was pretty ordinary prior to that. Flipper J ? Feel Like A Fool?
There’s every reason to believe that 2013 will be historically significant when it comes to four-year-old clout in the FFA division. Which group would I prefer, Sweet Lou, Heston Blue Chip, Needy, Michaels Power, Kingcole, Duer, ARNR Dance, Escape The News and Dynamic Youth, or, Golden Receiver, Cheddar, Foiled, Razzle Dazzle, Annies, Up The Credit, Versado, Something For Doc and Fred And Ginger? Give me the former. Good things can be expected of Cheddar, but Golden Receiver fell off the table after winning the Haughton in mid-August last year, winning only one more race—an open at Pocono—and nine-year-old Foiled is showing his age. And, despite his Levy win, Razzle Dazzle has been a trick or treat type throughout his career. Give me those young legs this time around, thank you.