By Pete Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor
The Jeff Gural organization is putting its money where its mouth is, in announcing a new version of the venerable Graduate Series for 2015.
My father's Graduate - OK, it was mine - was a FFA pace road show that included pre-Gural Meadowlands, Freehold, pre-Gural Vernon, Buffalo (or was it Batavia?), and maybe another stop or two, with a rich final.
I'm pretty sure it wasn't restricted to 4YOs, like this new one will be, and it was only for pacers. No trotters, or least not in my day, and probably not in my father's day.
Jeff is doing everything he can do to keep the top horses racing beyond their sophomore seasons by making racing, well, maybe not more lucrative than breeding, depending on your stallion syndication deals, but more lucrative that it was before.
A note, though ...
The past few years, it's become fashionable to say that 4YOs can't compete with the "older" horses, that the jump from three to four is too great. Historically, I don't think that has really been the case.
(It's also a faux given that females can't compete with males, and it's usually true, but Tarport Hap, Silk Stockings, Handle With Care and others more than held their own against male FFAers. And this year, trotting mares Classic Martine and Charmed Life both have, as well, at least in the Toronto upper classes. So has marvelous Maven in the U.S.)
The jump from age two to three is huge, but it's the natural progression. So is three to four the natural progression. In my youth, lots of newly minted 4-year-olds became the new generation of FFAers, and no one thought anything of it, Do the names Bret Hanover, Albatross (except for those problematic and turbulent first three starts at four), Cam Fella, On The Road Again and Mack Lobell ring any bells?
(I know I'm forgetting some trotters here ... Friendly Face, Go Get Lost, etc.?)
And it's not just those all-time greats. I used to look to the second-shelf 3YOs turned four to be be nice Open and FFA types, too, and many were. One that comes clearly to mind was Seedling Herbert, who was just sorta there at three, but blossomed at four. Granted, that was a long time ago, but I haven't been cataloging or making notes since then and can't cite specifics, though I know many horses have successfully made the transition.
I dunno, top fillies and mares that never take on males anymore - Bunny Lake and Rainbow Blue are two big ones, and I'd have loved to see Bee A Magician try it last year in female-friendly sophomore races like the Kentucky Futurity open division - and 4-year-olds that are seen as too undeveloped, or something, to be free-for-allers are part of today's wussified racing scene.
But what do I know?
Anyway, bully for Jeff Gural, et al, for creating new opportunities for 4-year-olds. Maybe it'll make for more top FIVE-year-olds, like Sweet Lou.
Oh, how I wish Captaintreacherous was coming back to race next year at age five. Would he be the new Sweet Lou, aka, "Mr. 1:47"?
We'll never know.
P.S. - How great would other multi-track series also coming back be? Who remembers the Atlantic Seaboard Pace (I think that was the name) and the Can-Am Series?