by Dean A. Hoffman
Coming into the Breeders Crown, six of his 10 rivals had earned more money than Walner, but when the bettors invested their money, Walner got almost all of it. He was sent off at odds of 1-9 despite coming into the race with only a half-dozen starts.
But he had made the most of those starts, flashing speed far superior to any freshman trotting colt of this season — or of any season. His 1:51.2 jogburger win at Red Mile lowered the world record for juvenile trotting males by two full seconds.
It was much the same in the Breeders Crown: Walner in front, the rest nowhere.
His Breeders Crown wasn’t so much a race as it was an exhibition of this extraordinary trotter’s talents.
He was given a confident steer by Tim Tetrick and assumed command as they headed down the backside. In deep stretch, Walner boldly stepped away from his hapless pursuers to trip the timer in 1:53, a track and stakes record.
Moonshiner Hanover and Sortie were next across the wire.
Walner is by Chapter Seven from Random Destiny by Ken Warkentin. He was purchased last fall at the Lexington Selected Sale by Ken Jacobs for $90,000.
Looking at Walner’s pedigree, you realize that he is about as complete an outcross as we find today in trotting. Weaving together the blood of Speedy Crown, Super Bowl, Garland Lobell, and Valley Victory —often with some tight inbreeding — has resulted in astonishing increases in trotting speed in recent decades.
Yet the first four generations of Walner’s pedigree doesn’t have a single male ancestor more than once. You pick up Valley Victory once in the fourth and again in the fifth generation. Then you get Speedy Crown, the great-grandsire of Valley Victory, three times in the fifth generation.
Chapter Seven’s first crop consisted of 84 foals (48 colts and 36 fillies) and they included the colts Seven And Seven and Big Man Ev and the good fillies Mamora Bay and Amber Ella.
But that quartet pales in comparison to Walner, who is assured of being the champion juvenile trotter of the season and the pick for the 2017 Hambletonian.
Walner’s success is particularly rewarding to trainer Linda Toscano, who managed his sire Chapter Seven through his trio of seasons at the racing wars, culminating with his Horse of the Year campaign in 2012. In 28 career starts, Chapter Seven found the winner’s circle 20 times and was runner-up four times. That’s class and consistency and his 1:50.1 win at the Meadowlands as a four-year-old tells you he had speed aplenty.
When Linda Toscano spotted Walner as a yearling, she was drawn to him by his handsome head and the fact that his neck and shoulder evoked memories of Chapter Seven.
“He was the one who reminded me most of Chapter Seven,” she said. “He was a larger and leggier version of Chapter Seven. That’s what drew me to him.”
Walner is the second foal of the mare Random Destiny, a top Ontario Sires Stakes trotter in her two seasons in stakes competition. Trained and driven by the superb Finnish horsewoman Riina Rikila, Random Destiny compiled a 11-5-2 slate in 18 starts and banked $658,314 along the way.
Most of that money came in sires stakes competition. As a sophomore, she tried her luck without great success in open completion. She was ninth in the Casual Breeze behind Ultimate Cameron, and then fifth in the elimination and seventh in the final of the Elegant Image, again trailing Ultimate Cameron.
Random Destiny was owned by the Overseas Farm, a partnership between trainer Rikila and industry veteran Esa Lahtinen, both natives of Finland. They bred her first to Andover Hall and got a colt that fetched $50,000 as a yearling. Then she was bred to Chapter Seven once on April 24, 2013 and delivered Walner on April 12, 2014.
Toscano has been around long enough not to allow herself to get too high on young horse.
“I’m the worst one to say that a horse was good from the start, but Walner really was,” she said. “He broke easily, trotted most of the time, and he did everything effortlessly. Timmy (Tetrick) matineed him for me at Pinehurst. I told him I liked the colt, and after the race he came back nodding and smiling. And that was when Walner had only been in 2:20.
“Chapter Seven was not like that. He had an attention span problem. He would see a bird flying by and make a break. He was just immature all around.”
The son proved to be more precocious than his sire.
“You never know if they’re really special until they go behind the gate,” Toscano said. “Walner is a complete overachiever. I was just hoping for a really nice horse.”
What Toscano and owner Ken Jacobs got in Walner is a world champion and Breeders Crown winner.