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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Will Mission Brief Make The Leap To Sophomore Stardom?

World record holder Mission Brief is considered to be a shoo-in for super-stardom by many; few would be surprised to see her win the Hambletonian. When she cruised to a ridiculous 1:50.3 world record in the International Stallion Stakes at The Red Mile trainer Ron Burke didn’t seem in the least bit nonplussed: he characterized her as being “super freaky.” Unlike Ms Perfection, JK She’salady, The daughter of Muscle Hill did go down to defeat in four of her 13 starts—all on breaks. Reminds one of the scary fast colt Arnie Almahurst, who won 14 of his 26 starts at three back in the early 1970s, and broke stride in 8 of his losses. His son Arndon and grandson Pine Chip both retired as the fastest trotter ever. But we all know success doesn’t always beget success in this game—stuff happens, even to horses that carry all-time great potential.

In 2012 Dan Patch winner To Dream On won 8 of her 9 starts, including the Breeders Crown, Merrie Annabelle and Bluegrass. The Credit Winner filly took her split of the ISS in 1:53.2, considerably slower than Mission Brief. Still, she was described as a “super-filly” and Jimmy Takter rated her up there with the best of her age and class he had trained. But while O’Brien winner Bee A Magician did progress and win Horse of the Year honors at three, To Dream On only won 2 of 14 starts. She was retired soon after capturing the Kentucky Filly Futurity. To Dream On didn’t possess Mission Brief’s blinding speed, but she was more reliable and was held in high regard coming out of her freshman campaign. Still, for one reason or another, she didn’t go on.

Wheeling N Dealin, from that same class, is another who failed miserably in making the transition from stardom at two to success at three. The Cantab Hall colt, who won all of his freshman starts, including the Breeders Crown, Wellwood and Champlain, was winless in ten starts at three. As was the case with To Dream On, his fall from grace was shocking.

Snow White won 11 of 13 at two and set a world record of 1:52.4 for freshmen trotters, of either sex, in the ISS, as well as an all-time earnings record for two-year-old trotters. The Self Possessed miss was already a super star when she entered the sophomore ranks, but health issues got the best of her, and she was ultimately euthanized at four. On the other hand, Continentalvictory and CR Kay Suzie both came back to win Horse of the Year honors at three.

Florican, the dam sire of Speedy Crown, was a world record holder at two, winning 7 of 8 starts for the Arden Homestead Stable. However, he was chronically lame and suffered from bouts of sickness at three, as he won once in 12 tries, earning less than $10,000. He did redeem himself with a successful run in the aged ranks.

Broadway Hall was a very good freshman, winning all nine starts, including the Breeders Crown, and banking more than $435,000. Suspensory issues got the best of him, however, and he wasn’t able to compete at three. The fifteen-year-old son of Conway Hall, and sire of Broad Bahn, Action Broadway and Cooler Schooner, recently moved to Ohio.

Dancer’s Crown, two-year-old division champ and Peter Haughton winner, in 1982, impressed Castleton so much that they paid $3.75 million for a three-quarter share in him. The Dickerson Cup was his only noteworthy win at three.

After freshman Donerail won his tenth in a row at two Stanley Dancer eschewed his pet retort that Nevele Pride was the best trotter he ever had; he said Donerail was better. The elegant and handsome son of Valley Victory won 13 of 15 starts that year, including the Haughton, and he was awarded a Dan Patch. Owner Robert Suslow and Hanover Shoe Farms put together a syndication deal. But after banking $637,000 at two, he earned only $66,000 at three, winning 3 of 6 starts, after which he was forced into early retirement by injury. Royalty For Life, Pampered Princess, Dejarmbro, D Train, Broad Bahn and Big Rigs are all out of Donerail mares.

Super Bowl’s son Express Ride earned $840,000 at two, back in 1985, as he won 9 of 14 starts and never failed to make the board. The division champ took the Breeders Crown and the Haughton. The following year Express Ride only managed to win twice in five starts and his earnings plummeted to less than $50,000. He was remanded to Castleton Farms where he proved to be sterile, but like several others who suffered from the sophomore blues, he went on to have a productive career in the aged ranks and also resuscitated his stallion career in Europe.

Cumin was another precocious son of Super Bowl. He won the 8 races where he didn’t break at two, and lost the other 4. The product of the Super Bowl-Speedy Crown cross was stopped short by injury at three and didn’t race.

Starlark Hanover won 21 of 22 heats as a freshman; she beat the boys from the 13 post at Yonkers Raceway in the Harriman. But David Wade’s Hickory Smoke filly regressed to journeyman status at three.

Wesgate Crown became the sport’s all-time fastest two-year-old when he time trialed in 1:55.1 He won 7 of his 8 starts and was valued at a million dollars when 25% of him was purchased for $250,000. But, alas, the winner of the Breeders Crown and Valley Victory only won 3 of 12 the following year, none of them noteworthy. The son of Royal Prestige went on to have a successful aged career in North America and Europe, banking $2.5 million.

Jodevin, a son of the mercurial speedball Dayan, managed to win 19 of his 21 starts at two in Midwest races like the Hayes and the Hoosier, to the point where he captured his division. Lameness took its toll at three.

Noble Gesture, a certified nut job blessed with extreme speed, overcame his personal demons and won 8 of his 10 starts at two. He became the second fastest freshman trotter ever by virtue of a 1:59 win. But the demons won out at three, as the sire of Balanced Image and grandsire of Mack Lobell won only 3 of 13 starts, with the Matron serving as his premier victory. In his case there was no mystery to unpack regarding the factors that sabotaged his sophomore campaign.

The majority of trotters that fail to graduate to greatness are waylaid by obvious injuries, while in other cases the fall from grace remains wrapped in mystery. By all accounts Mission Brief is healthy. One assumes Burke has done what he can to correct her fractious ways, but from Dayan and Marlu Pride, back in the day, to Manofmanymissions in the modern era, the puzzle of fire breathing trotters that lose their composure has never leant itself to easy solutions.

Joe FitzGerald

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