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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

If I Can Dream and Muscle Hill Corner the 2YO Sire Stakes Market in New Jersey

On Friday night the first leg New Jersey Sire Stakes splits for freshman pacers and trotters will take place at The Meadowlands. As a result of a myriad of issues we don’t need to get into, we’ve gotten used to this program being stocked by a very limited number of stallions—primarily Rocknroll Hanover and Muscle Hill. The former passed in March of 2013 and his last crop of 44 will race in the PASS this year. Muscle Hill, on the other hand, is in his final year of two-year-old eligibility in New Jersey; his freshmen will be eligible to the PASS in 2017.

All 25 trotters competing in the NJSS on Friday are by Muscle Hill. That’s not radically different from last year, when that one’s sire Muscles Yankee, who was exhausting his eligibility in New Jersey, also contributed some. And the fact that Muscle Hill and Muscles Yankee are premier trotting stallions seemed to make it OK.

On the other side, all ten fillies and all seven colts are by the marginal stallion If I Can Dream, who stood at Deo Volente Farms for four years. The winner of the BC, Messenger and Tattersalls Pace had a distinguished career on the track, but he’s no Rocknroll at stud, so looking at a program page fully stocked with his progeny is a shock to the system. Forty Five Red won the Sheppard while Big Boy Dreams took the Matron and the Windy City, but the son of Western Hanover hasn’t exhibited the credentials needed to carry a major sire stakes program. He stood two years in New York, followed by four in New Jersey. If I Can Dream stood for $5,000 last year in the Garden State, and is standing for $2,500 in Ohio in 2016. His current two-year-old class is drawn from 45 registered foals.

What happens next year when the Muscle Hill freshman class is no longer eligible in New Jersey? Trixton was received like royalty last year, breeding 140 mares, but the resulting issues won’t come online until 2018. The diminutive Conway Hall stallion, Wishing Stone, who won the Kentucky Futurity and accumulated more than $2 million on both sides of the pond, was doing double duty He has 16 yearlings who will join the fray next year, but he moved on to Ohio in 2015, so there won’t be much help from him.

The journeyman Credit Winner millionaire Calchips Brute has also been doing double duty in New Jersey, but he only bred 19 mares in 2014 and 2015 combined, resulting in ten foals, so that’s eight more to add to the mix next year. Obviously things are going to be stretched to the max until the Trixton offspring shows up, and that will put the program back into the same old one stallion funk it’s in right now.

Things are even less promising on the pacing side, where there is no Trixton to overcome geography and whatever other obstacles are placed before him. After five years in Ontario, Lis Mara, the fastest son of Cambest, the winner of the BC, Franklin and CPD, and the sire of speedball Mel Mara, emigrated to New Jersey for the 2015 season, but he only bred a dozen mares. And the American Ideal pacer Great Vintage took up residence at Walnridge Farm last year, but the record only shows him breeding nine mares. Also, Rocknroll Heaven, who stood five years in New York and has failed to live up to expectations, was relocated to Deo Volente this year. It will be 2019 before he adds to the mix. So, considering that there will only be a handful of If I Can Dream freshmen around next year, things are going from bad to worse.

A residency based program for mares has seemingly been in the works forever. And this year a new SDF (Standardbred Development Fund) program will commence for two-year-olds and the offspring of mares that have resided in the state for 150 days, regardless of the sire’s location. While all of the Premier Division races will continue to be held at The Meadowlands, the SDF races will all take place at Freehold, beginning September 23. This will help, but it doesn’t solve the problem of a Premier Division stuffed to the gills with If I Can Dream stock.

Joe FitzGerald

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