Miki out-slugs Wiggle It in classic stretch battle

by James Platz

Harness racing’s best have converged on the Meadowlands to compete in the Breeders Crown this weekend, with $5.8 million in purses and year-end honors hanging in the balance. One of the most highly-anticipated of the 12 championship races was contested Friday night when Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit once again squared off — this time in the $421,000 open pace. As has been common when these two hook up, the race delivered a memorable finish.

Ali vs. Frazier captivated the boxing world, and like those champions, Always B Miki vs. Wiggle It Jiggleit has become one of harness racing’s biggest draws in 2016.

Like a pair of heavyweights standing toe-to-toe, these two Indiana-sired pacers have faced each other seven times leading up to the Breeders Crown final. The tale of the tape showed each had claimed victory three times, and it was Always B Miki that delivered the knockout blow Friday night in a gritty stretch drive. Taking aim at leader Wiggle It Jiggleit in the lane, ‘Miki’ and Hall of Famer David Miller surged late to grind out a three-quarter-length victory over the defending Horse of The Year in 1:49.

“We got into the stretch and I wasn’t for sure that I was going to get there with him. Just down late by the wire, that’s what makes him a great horse, he put his head in front,” Miller said of the champion. “I couldn’t be prouder of him. He’s been such a thrill. I have tons of praise for him.”

It’s been an incredible journey for this Always A Virgin—Artstopper stallion, who was scratched from the 2014 Breeders Crown final for sophomore pacers as the morning line favorite due to injury. Entrusted to Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter, the pacer recovered from two serious injuries to become the top older pacer in the sport, winning 15 of 21 starts since his return. Capturing the open pace Crown final last year at Woodbine in dominating fashion, Always B Miki’s 2016 campaign has produced one impressive performance after another. Earlier this month he highlighted a sensational season with an incredible 1:46 effort at Red Mile to become the fastest horse in harness racing history, placing him with the immortals of the sport.

Entering Friday’s final the five-year-old appeared to be the horse to beat, but both he and Wiggle It Jiggleit have exchanged body blows all summer. When George Teague Jr. put up the $50,000 Breeders Crown supplement for his four-year-old, it set the stage for another epic showdown between these titans.

Lined up behind the gate in post four in the field of 10, Miller was able to slip into the pocket seat as Montrell Teague fired Wiggle It Jiggleit to the front from post seven. The second choice clicked off a :27.1 opening panel before backing down the field with a :28 second panel. That set that stage for a dash for the cash, and when Shamballa was the first to pull racing into the turn, Miller wasted no time abandoning the pylons with the favorite.

Advancing on the outside as the field turned for home, Always B Miki took the fight to the leader, but Wiggle It Jiggleit was game. In fact, it looked as though he would hold the defending race winner in check all the way to the wire, but Takter’s charge dug deep late in the stretch and made one final push for the front to take the win. Shamballa rounded out the trifecta.

“Me and Miki have been trading wins and losses back and forth all season,” Teague said afterward. “One race isn’t going to deter me, I was happy with my horse, it was a big effort.”

After the race, Takter was as much in awe of his back-to-back Breeders Crown champion as were the fans on hand, and he spoke about the win and Miki’s final race, the TVG, in two weeks.

“We saw two great, great horses, fighting side by side down the stretch. To me, it was one of the better races, maybe the best ever that I have had a horse participate in and it was so exciting to see it. When he dug in that little extra, that’s what a champion has. I am so proud of this horse and I’m speechless – what a horse,” said Takter. “Two weeks now (will be his last start in the TVG) and I hope everyone will come back. Everybody should see it, it’s going to be his last appearance here in the TVG. So wonderful to do this on his home track on a cold night like this. It is a fantastic feeling.”

Bred by Roll The Dice Stable, Always B Miki has been campaigned by the stable in partnership with Bluewood Stable and Christina Takter. This year he is 17 11-5-0 with earnings of $1.29 million. Always B Miki has won 29 of 52 career starts while accumulating a $2.5 million bankroll. In early October, Diamond Creek Farm purchased an interest in the stallion, and he will stand in Pennsylvania next season. Thursday it was announced that All American Harnessbreds has also acquired an interest in the world champion.