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Monday, August 24, 2015

Star Power

At this point in the 2014 season the sport was awash in stars. Sebastian K had won seven of eight starts, including a world record 1:49 in the Sun Invitational at Pocono. He also had wins in the Cutler and the Cashman. Sweet Lou had swept ten in a row, with six straight in under 1:48. The premier son of Yankee Cruiser had recently taken the Dan Patch, and scored in the USPC, Haughton and Franklin prior to that. Trixton had captured the hearts of the fans, even before he pulled off an upset win in the Hambletonian. And diminutive speedball He’s Watching won the Pace in a world record equaling 1:46.4 and had just followed that up with a win in the EBC.

And prior to that, In 2013, Bee A Magician was a perfect ten for ten by mid-August, with wins in the Oaks and Del Miller; Captaintreacherous was six for seven, having captured the Cup and the Pace; and I Luv The Nitelife, who earned more money at two and three than any pacing filly ever had, was nine for ten, with wins in the Fan Hanover and Lynch.

What looked to be a star studded year of racing in 2015 hasn’t gone exactly as planned. Father Patrick, who was recently retired, has a win in the Maxie Lee and a world of frustration to show for his four-year-old efforts. JK She’salady inexplicable raced poorly early and is now recuperating from a lung infection. Last year’s Horse of the Year will not be in the mix until Lexington.

 McWicked, who has been missing until recently, looked dreadful in a Mohawk preferred the other night. Nuncio is racing successfully in Europe. Shake It Cerry has been on shaky ground all year. Maven has been hijacked to Europe, where she rarely wins. Miki is on the shelf. Foiled has one win in 12 starts. Artspeak is not the next big thing. In The Arsenal was dull in the EBC on Sunday. The Dan Patch winner, Color’s A Virgin, seems to have hit her ceiling in the Hoosier Park F&M invitational. Another division winner, Classic Martine, is two for ten. In short, promise has not been fulfilled on a number of fronts.

Sebastian, Lou, Trixton, Captain T and Nitelife are all retired. They ain’t trottin’ and pacin’ through that door, as Rick Pitino would say. So the current crop of horses will have to get it done.

Wiggle It Jiggleit and Mission Brief are both genuine superstars. The Mr Wiggles gelding rebounded from his loss in the Cane with a pair of head turning performances in the Milstein and the Battle Of Brandywine, blowing up the track record in the former and setting a world record in the latter. At the very least, he’s the equal of the Sebastian K of 2014. Wiggle will be off the grid for a month as he prepares for the Jug.

And Mission Brief won her Hambletonian elimination and finished second in the final, before humbling her peers in Friday’s Moni Maker. She’s faster than Bee A Magician, and she’s managed with a fearlessness that was foreign to the Kadabra mare, Shake It Cerry and Check Me Out. Ron Burke is seriously considering starting her in the Kentucky Futurity, a move that would put Lexington on the front page, particularly if Pinkman wins the Yonkers Trot and is going for the Triple Crown. We should see Mission Brief in action in Friday’s Casual Breeze.

A superstar in the making is Burke’s Muscle Hill freshman Southwind Frank. The $100,000 Lexington purchase has won 5 of 6 starts, with his only loss coming on a break. He won the NJSS final, then dominated in the elimination and final of the Peter Haughton. Sunday he won a split of the Reynolds in a track record 1:54.2 at Tioga.  He’s staked to the Champlain at Mohawk in two weeks, and the Wellwood, two weeks after that.

Four-year-old JL Cruze has been the king of the aged trotting ranks through the first half of the season. He has taken 16 of his 19 starts and tops the money and speed lists in his division. The Crazed gelding won the Hambletonian Maturity, Graduate Series, Super Bowl and Singer. Unfortunately, these are all races for three/four-year-olds. He wasn’t staked to the Cashman or the Crawford Farms Trot at Vernon, and isn’t eligible to the Maple Leaf, Allerage or the Breeders Crown. It’s tough to remain a star racing on the margins. His fourth place finish in the Sebastian K at Pocono may herald the end of his reign.

Pinkman has won the Hambletonian, Stanley Dancer, Beal and Zweig this year, but he doesn’t possess much duende. The Explosive Matter gelding does just enough to get a win, which he has done in eight of his 10 starts, with earnings of more than a million dollars. He’s so workmanlike and efficient that he hasn’t generated the sort of buzz his record calls for. Breaking stride at the start of the Colonial as the 1/9 choice on Saturday didn’t add to his appeal.

State Treasurer, the leader of the FFA pacing set, just won the Roll With Joe in a track record 1:47.2 at Tioga. It was his sixth win in 12 starts; he won the USPC, Molson (his third) and Mohawk Gold Cup. He came up short in the Franklin, Battle Of Lake Erie, Haughton and a TVG open. The six-year-old son of Real Desire came into his own at five and is a pleasant surprise, but he’s no Sweet Lou, vintage 2014. The fact that the FFA pacing class is as thin as paper enhances his image.

D’One, the American bred daughter of Donato Hanover and Giant Diablo, just followed up her come from behind win in the Fresh Yankee with another in the Muscle Hill. She’s a mid-season gift from the Continent. Bee A Magician, who was beaten by D’One in both of those stakes, was riding high after wins in the Armbro Flight, Cutler and Charlie Hill Memorial, but Roger Wallmann’s repatriated closer is clearly the division leader at this point.

So D’One, who is staked to the Centaur at Hoosier Downs at the end of September, where she would face E L Titan, Obrigado and the rest of the boys, as well as the Allerage Mare and the BC Mare, may well achieve stardom. The same goes for rookie trotter Southwind Frank. And Wiggleit Jiggle It and Mission Brief are already the King and Queen. Maybe Pinkman and State Treasurer will capture our hearts and minds and a few more will make it to the marquee by season’s end.

Joe FitzGerald

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