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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Will New Blood Revitalize the Aged Pacing Division?

Every year it appears that the aged pacing ranks will be energized by an infusion of talent from the newly minted four-year-old class, but it rarely happens. This year may be an exception. Wiggle It Jiggleit will make his fourth start of the year in the fifth leg of the Levy Series on Saturday. He kicked off the season with an effortless 1:51.4 win in a $60,000 invitational at Dover Downs on March 28, a race that probably cost him a spot in the upcoming Levy final, as he missed the first two legs. His second place finish in the third leg of the Levy, from ten off at the half, was very impressive, and he wired the field in the fourth leg.

 Meanwhile, another Indiana bred, Breeders Crown champ Freaky Feet Pete, who beat Wiggle twice last year, has already qualified at Hoosier Park.

And the chronically under- valued Dragon Again gelding, Wakizashi Hanover, who bested Wiggle in the NA Cup and Pete in the Jenna’s Beach Boy, is reported to be prepping for the Graduate Series.

The cherry on the sundae is the Always A Virgin five-year-old, Always B Miki, who only started four times last year, including a dominant thumping of his division rivals in the B C. Since he was so lightly campaigned, I think we can safely lump him in with those expected to introduce new life to the division.

Miki missed most of 2015 to injury, but came back with a vengeance when he qualified in 1:48.2 at The Red Mile at the end of September. That equaled Shark Gesture’s 2010 world record for the fastest qualifier ever. And after a tune-up in an ISS elimination at Hoosier Park, he crushed his peers by three in his BC elimination and by five lengths in the final. A handy win in the Am-Nat closed out his abbreviated season.

There are others, but these are the highest profile newbies, so we’ll concentrate on them.

Gaming dollars have given the breeding business in the Hoosier State a boost, but it still isn’t Pennsylvania. That’s why it’s a pleasant surprise that three of the four horses we’re looking at were bred in Indiana.

During his first four years at stud Wiggles’ sire, Mr Wiggles, bred only 46 mares and that was in three states—Indiana, Ohio and Delaware. Only eight of his offspring raced last year. He is now back in Ohio. The nomadic stallion had only produced a couple of dozen foals all told coming into this year. He covered 42 mares last year, on the heels of his son’s success, so things should improve over time.

Miki’s daddy, the Western Ideal stallion Always A Virgin, is standing his eighth year in Indiana for $4,000. Aside from Miki, he’s also tasted success with Jugette and BC winner Color’s A Virgin as well as the ISS standout Always About Katey. Last year proved to be an aberration for AAV as he had only 26 2YO starters that earned $309,000. Contrast that with Pete’s sire, Rockin Image, who had 62 freshmen start and earn $1.2 million. The latter stands his sixth year in Indiana, also for $4,000. He and AAV are the two highest priced pacing stallions in the state.

Wiggle It Jiggleit is by far the most accomplished of the new additions to the aged pacing ranks. He has demonstrated oodles of speed and class. When he won his second start of 2015—third lifetime—in 1:49.4, while nuking the opposition in a split of the Sonsam at The Meadowlands in February, heads were turning. Later on, in early May, he became the fastest three-year-old pacer ever on a half when he won a condition pace in 1:49 at Harrington. There was no doubt that he had the hops, but would he have the class to carry that speed against the cream of his class on the Grand Circuit? Oh yeah.

 Wins in the Pace and the Jug—the latter a boffo performance—made his reputation as one of the top pacers of this era, and he augmented those triumphs with successful forays in the Hempt, Milstein, Matron and Progress. He joined Captaintreacherous and A Rocknroll Dance as the only three to win the Hempt and Pace. And Wiggle and Beach Towel are the only two to win the Hempt, Pace and Jug (The Hempt was called the Miller Memorial when Beach Towel won it.)

He set a 1:49.3 track record for sophomore pacers when he won the Milstein at Northfield in mid-August. In an age when it’s like pulling teeth to get connections to agree to race their star pupil on a half, Wiggle is poised to make his sixth on Saturday. His overland journey to pluck the Jug from the arms of defeat was reminiscent of Life Sign’s implausible Delaware win.

Of course, he did have a problem holding his lead against the pocketed Wakizashi Hanover in the NA Cup, as he suffered his first lifetime loss. It came at 2-5, a week after pacing away from his elimination field to win by six in 1:49.2. The final went more than a second faster.

And Pete picked him up in the $220,000 ISS Super Final in October at Hoosier Park, and again in the Monument Circle at the end of October. Back in May Wiggle had won the day in an ISS leg.  So, with a 2-1 edge on Wiggle, can we privilege Pete? No. For openers, 24 of Pete’s 27 lifetime starts have been at Hoosier Park, and all but a couple of those have been ISS races. And just as Waki had burst Wiggle’s balloon in the NA Cup, he took down Pete in the Jenna’s Beach Boy at Hoosier Park.

A terrific win in the BC from downtown over a sloppy track is Pete’s gem. But that win, combined with one over a soft field in the Am-Nat at Balmoral, and the other in the Monument Circle, can’t compete with what Wiggle has accomplished in the open realm. He’ll race in the Graduate series and is apparently staked to a few of the aged events, but his connections are not of the George Teague take on all challenges mind set.

The sons of Dragon Again are type cast as geldings that last a long time at a high level and earn lots of money; winning the Grade 1 colt stakes at the apex of our sport is not their forte. Foiled Again and Atochia are a couple of examples. Gryffindor won the Messenger a decade ago and Hugadragon took a split of the Tattersalls Pace, but no son of Dragon Again has won the Meadowlands Pace, Cane, Adios, or, up until 2015, the North America Cup. Wakizashi Hanover, the highest earning Dragon Again colt as a sophomore with $1.2 million, checked that one off when he upset 2-5 Wiggle It Jiggleit off a pocket trip in 1:48 in the final.

While Waki won 11 races and earned $300,000 more than Pete did in 2015, he didn’t take the division by storm—that was Wiggle’s role. But, aside from the cup, Waki also beat Freaky Feet Pete on his home court in the Jenna’s Beach Boy. Between August 28 and October 6 he won five in a row: a split of the PASS at The Meadows, the PASS final at Pocono, a split of the Liberty Bell at Philadelphia, the Jenna’s Beach Boy at Hoosier Park and a split of the Keystone Classic at The Meadows. He finished third in the Pace and the Milstein; second in the Battle and fourth in the Hempt. Waki always had his hoof out for a check.

Wiggle, who was held out of the first two legs of the Levy, is a lottery-grade longshot to make the final in Saturday’s fifth leg. He has a much better chance to make the consolation, which went for $429,000 less than the final last year. Regardless, he’ll then move on to the elimination round for the Confederation Cup at Flamboro Downs on May 8 and probably the Graduate Series after that.

Always B Miki qualifies at The Meadowlands on Saturday. It will probably be tough for him to find races until the Roll With Joe at Tioga on June 19. The Molson is at the end of May, but the five-year-old has never started on a half so it’s unlikely he wants anything to do with that little track.

Pete’s connections apparently want to get him a couple of races at Hoosier Park? It’s on to the Graduate after that, I guess. Waki is also being pointed to the Graduate.

Joe FitzGerald



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