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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Bad Timing

Timing is everything when it comes to season ending honors. We’re seeing the advantages of good timing with McWicked, Pinkman, Sayitall BB and Father Patrick; and we’re bearing witness to the pitfalls of bad timing in the case of Sebastian K, Nuncio and Always B Miki. It may be cliché, but when you win is just as important as what you win, especially when voting is involved. Hence. McWicked, who had fallen flat enough to be considered nothing more than a longshot candidate for division honors prior to the Breeders Crown, is now favored to win a Dan Patch. And Father Patrick, who had recently lost to E L Titan in the Erskine and stablemate Nuncio in the Kentucky Futurity and Matron, was redeemed in the Breeders Crown and will apparently win his division after all.

Sebastian K is the king of bad timing. He’ll still win his division handily, but closing out the campaign with four losses certainly cost him Horse of the Year honors. Beyond that, with the exception of the $300,000 Cashman, he did his best work in early races offering the smallest purses. He wowed us with four consecutive sub-1:51 miles in May and June, including a world record 1:49 win in the Sun Invitational at Pocono Downs, but those races went for $40,000, $50,000, &100,000 and $175,000. He subsequently won his $40,000 Maple Leaf Trot elimination, and entered the final with a five for five record and $202,500 in the bank. Considering his game changing speed and the fact that he held on to the top spot in the Breeders Crown Weekly Poll from week one through early November, that isn’t much money.

Sebastian K proceeded to finish second in the $603,000 Maple Leaf Trot, the top-dollar race on the schedule for aged trotters. He finished ninth in the $500,000 TVG Trot; was eighth in the Yonkers Raceway International Preview, which carried a $250,000 purse; and was seventh in the $238,500 Centaur at Hoosier Park. His timing was terrible. You can quibble about how much money is or is not available for older trotters, but Market Share took home more than a million dollars last year in the aged ranks. He did it by winning races like the MLT and the BC. Market Share earned $413,500 more in 2013 than Sebastian K did this year.

Five-year-old Intimidate won the Maple Leaf Trot and the TVG. Prior to the former he had won twice in six starts with $49,300 on his card and a season’s mark of 1:53.1. He currently has five wins in 14 starts and earnings of $626,450. That places him a mere $37,403 behind Sebastian. He now sports a 1:51.2 mark, which is more than two seconds slower than Sebastian’s. Is he better than the Swedish speedster? If not, is he his equal? No, he and his connections simply have a better sense of timing, or better luck. Intimidate won the Breeders Crown at three and the Credit Winner last year. As modest as his career has been, he seems to step up when it counts.

The practice of leaving your best work on the track early in the season, before the big money is available, may become even more prevalent. Jeff Gural said he would like to put together a TVG for trotting mares. One assumes this would involve legs and points. If so, these mares would be hustling for points in economy legs of the Miss Versatility and TVG Series during the early part of the season, unless the former goes away.

A million dollar Graduate Series has already been announced. It will begin with $50,000 legs at Tioga in May, graduating to $75,000 and $100,000 legs at The Meadowlands and a $250,000 final at that track in July. Some may find this stretch of racing against their own age group a perfect entree to the aged ranks, while others may leave their race in these preliminary legs and be worn out by the time the top-dollar stakes come up in September, October and November, the way Sebastian K apparently was this year.

Joe FitzGerald

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