Newsflash – Harness racing has issues. We speak about them here at HRU often, and this past week, with detention barn chatter, it was certainly evident that not everything is well in standardbredville. But, every once in a while we’re allowed to forget about the problems. The Breeders Crown on Saturday was excellent tonic.
As I often do on Crown night, I smiled quite a bit and cheered a lot. There’s nothing like the bang-bang action of the Breeders Crown along with the celebration of the trainers, drivers, owners, grooms and everyone involved. It’s a fabulous event.
I watched the Marvin Katz interview after Ariana G won the two-year-old filly trot. I think Marvin has probably won every big trotting race a dozen times over, so you’d think things would be pretty low-key in the winners’ circle. No, not exactly. Marvin was as giddy as a 12-year-old that he finished one-two, and he was completely beaming. It’s great to see joy on someone’s face who truly loves this sport. Way to go Marvin.
After the trot, the two-year-old filly pacers took center stage, and if you didn’t smile at that winner’s circle, I am not sure you are cursed with a permanent frown. Marcus Miller and Nick Surick have never won a Crown race and they were so ridiculously happy it was infectious.
At the same time, the Crown always makes us remember for every winner there’s a loser. For Frank Chick and Kevin Lare, their filly – Roaring to Go — didn’t fire, and I felt for them. Gentlemen, you have a great filly, and you’ll certainly get yours.
Sometimes the Crown identifies horses with blue-sky potential that gives us pause. Walner is one of those horses. He looks sound, happy, relaxed and he can flat out fly. Have we seen as talented a colt at two since Muscle Hill?
As if that wasn’t enough, Huntsville was absolutely incredible in the two-year-old colt pace. I am not sure we’ve seen a more dominant performance at two, in a fast time, in a big race since Huntsville’s sire won the Metro Pace in earth shattering time eight years ago. I, for one, thought Downbytheseaside was the better horse going into the race. Whoops, I guess it all does come down to the Breeders Crown.
Sometimes the Breeders Crown pays homage to the durability of the standardbred. It did that with Broadway Donna. It’s difficult for filly trotters to be dominant at age two and come back a year later in the Crown and win like she did. It’s a credit to her, the horsemanship of her team, and it’s nice this year-end event puts a cherry on top of wonderful fillies like her.
The three-year-old filly trotting final also reminded us what we as owners and trainers and drivers go through sometimes – bad racing luck. In the last month or so, Caprice Hill has had enough bad trip luck for a lifetime.
Sometimes the Breeders Crown recognizes horses who did not have the racing luck early in the year, which would allow the horse to show what he or she can do. That probably describes Bar Hopping. He’s been great, and showed how good he was tonight.
In the same race, we get to see what’s great about the sport when a horse doesn’t win, too. Ms. Wellwood had a terrible night when the Triple Crown winner Marion Marauder raced very poorly. Although she was obviously disappointed, she took time out to congratulate the winners. That’s class.
The Breeders Crown is a coronation for horses, sure, but sometimes for drivers, too. Scott Zeron won his first Crown race with Call Me Queen Be, and it was so deserved. Scott is one of the classiest drivers at the Meadowlands, and has a unique ability to drive to take care of the horse, while simultaneously giving the bettors a good shake. Well done.
The final event of the evening was always this sport’s marquee Crown race, but this year (and in some others) it’s lost a little sizzle. This year’s three-year-old crop doesn’t feel deep, and with the injury to Betting Line, it felt like even less of an event. Just when you think you shouldn’t get excited, well, we see a barnburner of a horse race. That sure was some old-school hardball. Racing Hill has been great all year, but had some real question marks heading into tonight. It was nice to see that it was him who benefitted from the action to take all the chocolates.
I get that the Crown is not the Breeders’ Cup. It’s not movie stars and billionaires, sunshine and blue-bloods. No, the media is not out in full force for this event, and we all saw the crowd tonight wasn’t overly large, and the bet, well, it is what it is.
But, ask yourself, for us as harness fans and participants, what we’d do without it. We would not get to witness these great horses, great trainers, and fabulous drivers assembled all in one place on one weekend. We wouldn’t get to see all the interesting, wonderful stories we saw tonight. There really is nothing like the Breeders Crown, and it’d be a pox on harness racing’s house if this event ever went away.