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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Can't Miss Horses That Don't Go On

It appears that we have a few “can’t miss” horses making their seasonal debuts: Jimmy Takter is comparing world record holder Father Patrick and his stablemate Shake It Cerry to the best he’s observed since taking up residence on this side of the Atlantic; Bee A Magician is coming off a perfect 17 win season where many believed she was better than all the boys in her class; and Maven has ruled her division with an iron fist since the fall of 2012, and she crushed her sisters in the Miami Valley Distaff—her first 2014 start. Captaintreacherous won 13 of 16 and earned more than two million dollars as a sophomore, although it would be a stretch to confidently predict dominance on the senior circuit. The same goes for I Luv The Nitelife, who took 13 of 15 in 2013. Her classmate Shebestingin and a seasoned group of older mares will make her earn the crown.

Over the years there have been many horses that failed to repeat after a year of dominance. The reasons vary, with injuries being the most prevalent. Alert Bret won his freshman division in 1974 off a roughhouse 1:55.4 win over Nero at the Red Mile. This was despite Nero’s 13 and 1 record, 3 of which were over Alert Bret, with that race in which the Meadow Skipper colt and driver Joe O’Brien went over the rail at the wire being the only blemish. But the following year Alert Bret was plagued by lameness and won no stakes races while his foe took 18 of 28 starts, including the Cane, Adios and Tattersalls Pace. The following year it was Nero’s turn to disappoint as his sore feet led to a 7 and 13 record in the aged ranks. Oddly enough, the “Nero Jinx” was a phrase later coined to describe colts and fillies that didn’t go on at three, due to his habit of siring the same.

Steady Beau, the Tar Heel stallion who gave us long time world record holder Steady Star, was a very fast two-year-old. He won the Roosevelt Futurity in a stakes record 2:02.1 in 1962 and that mark held until Albatross broke it eight years later in 1970. But an injury kept him from going on at three. Painter, another precocious freshman by Tar Heel, and the winner of 15 races at two, also got hurt and failed to go on.

The Torpid speedball Truluck dominated a great class consisting of Most Happy Fella and Columbia George, among others. He won 19 of 24 starts and easily took freshman division honors, but while he did race at three, Dancer’s colt, Most Happy Fella, put some physical issues behind him and Columbia George and the others progressed as Truluck treaded water and fell behind. French Chef, who retired as two-year-old world champion on half, five-eighths and mile tracks, was a spectacular freshman, winning 21 of 23 starts, but the Meadow Skipper colt, who was out of a Nevele Pride mare, hit himself something awful. That crooked gait caught up to him at three as he won only 3 of 14 starts. He was faster at two than he was at three. Cambest won 12 of 18 starts at two but the competition from Artsplace, Precious Bunny and Die Laughing overwhelmed him the following year and he managed only 3 wins in 22 starts.

The same issues of unfulfilled promise have plagued trotters over the years. We saw three great examples last year. Wheeling And Dealin and To Dream On were the king and queen of the 2012 freshman trotting set, but he didn’t win any races in 2013 and her only major triumph was the Kentucky Filly Futurity. The previous filly division winner Check Me Out, who held world records and Dan Patch titles at two and three, fell flat at four. And the previous filly trotting star, Crys Dream, had her sophomore season sabotaged by regulatory issues beyond her control. Considering the way Wheeling N Dealin trotted away from his classmates, who could have predicted he’d put up a goose egg last year? And who amongst us thought Maven would turn the tables on Check Me Out?

Cumin was an outstanding trotter at two, winning 8 of 12 starts, but a check ligament issue kept him from racing at three. Noble Gesture, sire of Balanced Image and grandsire of Mack Lobell, showed blinding speed at two, but he was as nutty as they get and spent his days chasing his tail around and kicking the walls of his stall, so, surprise surprise, he didn’t fulfill his promise. Donerail won the Haughton and Valley Victory at two, but was forced to retire after 6 starts as a sophomore. Broadway Hall was undefeated as a freshman but was done in by a suspensory issue. That same infirmity hijacked Continentalvictory’s four-year-old campaign. And the same goes for Kadabra, who was forced into stud duty in August of his 4 year old campaign.

In other cases the reason for the falloff isn’t so obvious. Starlark Hanover was one of the best two-year-old trotting fillies ever, taking 21 of 22 for David Wade. She beat 11 boys in the Harriman at Yonkers. But she was a different horse at three. Westgate Crown falls into the same category. He won his division at two and was the fastest freshman ever off of a 1:55.1 TT at Lexington, but he came up empty at three. Yankee Glide was great at two, but not so good the following year. Steve Lobell won the Hambletonion in four heats, but was never again the same. Jodevin won 19 of 20 at two, but the son of Dayan lost his touch the following year.

Will Father Patrick, Shake It Cerry or Bee A Magician inexplicably lose their mojo, or suffer a debilitating injury? Will Shebestingin be revisited by the physical issues that shut her down at two and be forced into early retirement like See You At Peelers? I don’t know, but the odds say smooth sailing for the entire “can’t miss” crew is unlikely.

Joe FitzGerald

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