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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sebastian K is King of the Trotting World

Considering the value of all the races on the Pocono Downs race card, the $100,000 Sun Invitational for rrotters was a nice-to-have race on the undercard.  By the end of the night, the Sun Invitational was the race of the night and Sebastian K, with his 1:49 mile, became King of the trotting world.

Not only was this the fastest trotting mile ever in the history of harness racing, eliminating the asterisk-marked 1:49.3 mile by Enough Talk on the one-turn Colonial Downs oval, it was the way he did it.  The Swedish invader, in winning his fourth consecutive start in North America (out of four starts), dominated the field at Pocono, leaving from post seven to get to the front early.  After cutting through fractions of :26.2 and :55.3, Ake Svendstadt hit the switch, going a :26.1 third quarter to pass the three-quarter mark in 1:21.4.  Surprisingly, Archangel kept up with the leader to the 3/4 where he finally said 'no mas' and went off-stride, leaving Sebastian K all alone.  With a final quarter of :27.1, the eight-year old stopped the teletimer in the world record of 1:49, winning by seven lengths with only urging from his trainer/driver.  No whip, no horse to push him home.  All on his own.

While Sebastian K was one of a group of elite trotters in Europe last year, it appears there is no North American trotter able to keep up with him.  Sebastian Ks competition in 2014 is the clock.  How much faster can Sebastian K go?  While Pocono Downs is known as an ultra-fast oval (three world records set last night on the card) and people questioning if the track's races are actually contested at the standard mile distance (yes they were), it appears the son of Korean has not reached bottom so we can expect another world record or two with the right conditions.

How does a very good European trotter become a world beater in the United States?  I would argue the European aged trotter overall is better than the North American trotter.  Yes, other European horses have come to our shores in the past and some have been successful, but many have not thanks to the quarantine requirements the government demands which keep horses from their normal routines.  On the other hand, when Ake Svendstadt and Sebastian K decided to become ex-pats, they hit American shores with sufficient time to get acclimated and ready for this campaign.

With North American blood in the European trotter, this doesn't mean the superiority is in breeding, but the way trainers get their horses ready for the races and with the emphasis on racing their horses longer, the top trotters tend to stay on top for a longer period of time overall.  

You can read about all the other winners of the Sun Stakes elsewhere, so I am going to focus on resurgence and perceived disappointments.

In the Ben Franklin FFA, Sweet Lou continues his renaissance, winning his fifth race in a row, stopping the teletimer in 1:47.  It was reported a change in training routine to Lou is the key to his success this year.  The five year old jogs between starts and races are spread out a bit more; being trained more like a thoroughbred.  Right now, if not for a certain trotter, Sweet Lou would be the story of the year thus far.

Don't write off Foiled Again yet.  Yes, he is ten years old and may have lost a step, relying more on trips but his performance last night wasn't bad as he was locked in but still managed to pick up a sizable check.  The days of making his own luck may be over, but as the season goes on and the weather gets cooler, I expect the gelding to be able to benefit from some trips.  Will it be as good as last year?  Probably not, but all things considering, it will be a satisfying season for him and those surrounding him.

Similarly, while Captaintreacherous has been disappointing to many, especially those spoiled by last year's  thirteen win season, what we are seeing thus far from him is the difference typically seen when a horse moves in with the aged horses; it's a whole new game.  The Captain did win his first start from post position ten when racing against fellow four year olds,   True, he finished second in his Ben Franklin elimination last week (to a five year old) and being stuck with post position eight this week expectations for him deserved to be muted and he didn't disappoint, ending up third over stuck behind a wall of horses; there was just no way he was going to get there but managed a fifth place showing.  As the season goes on and The Captain is more conditioned racing against older horses and gets some post position luck, we will be seeing him in the winners circle.

The FFA trotting division may be somewhat ho-hum this year due to the dominance of Sebastian K, but the FFA pacers should more than make up for the lack of competition with the trotters.  .

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