Last year at this time, Pennsylvania standouts Fear The Dragon, Huntsville and Downbytheseaside made their rookie debuts en route to sophomore stardom. Thursday, the newest crop of freshman pacing colts made their first PASS starts at Philadelphia. Will they be the talk of their class in 2018?
by Jerry Connors
Last year Huntsville, trained by Ray Schnittker, and Downbythseaside, conditioned by Brian Brown, developed from Pennsylvania-sired standouts to national stars, with Fear The Dragon on the fringes of the spotlight, and that trio of pacers has continued their dominance this campaign.
Schnittker and Brown (along with Jimmy Takter, who figures prominently in almost everything) had the horses generating the most talk going into Thursday’s $158,368 first preliminary of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes for two-year-old pacing colts, and many of these patterns re-emerged, with some interesting shuffling of sulky seats.
The first division saw the morning line favorite, Mason Hanover, scratched. “He didn’t warm up very well,” said Jim King, partner of trainer Jo Anne Looney-King (who trains Donttellmenomore, third in the Hempt Final). “He took a stumble in the paddock yesterday, and he seemed fine, but warming him up I could tell he wasn’t 100 per cent. With so much money on the line down the road, it didn’t seem worth the chance – he might have won today, but who knows how the long-term situation may have emerged?”
Race favoritism at 3-5 then fell to the royally-bred Somebeachsomewhere—Darlin’s Delight colt Pro Beach (a full-brother to $900,000 winner Darlinonthebeach), starting from the rail off two qualifying wins, the faster in 1:54.2 – :26.2. Yannick Gingras and Pro Beach got away in good order and then Gingras was surprised when no one gave him much of a challenge early. “I might not have let anyone go, but no one else wanted the lead,” and so Pro Beach got pedestrian early fractions of :28 and :57.3, with Suddenly Sam in the pocket in a “lineup” situation excepting an early break by Wes’s Delight.
The pace picked up down the backside, with Aleppo Hanover mounting a first-over charge midbackstretch and This Is The Plan on his bumper. Pro Beach reached the three-quarters in 1:25.2, but turning for home 30-1 Suddenly Sam shook loose from the pocket, and second-over This Is The Plan swung wide with pace. Nearing the wire it was This Is The Plan, another Somebeachsomewhere colt, who was the major danger, coming home strongly with a :27.2 individual last quarter, but Pro Beach held him off by a nose in 1:53.3. “One more step …” said “Plan’s connections, driver David Miller and trainer Chris Ryder.
Gingras and trainer Jimmy Takter, on the other hand, were glad the finish came where it did. “He is still a green colt, weaving a little in the stretch,” Takter said. “He has a lot of ability, but he’s still learning. I would rather he could have raced from behind. But he is a fast horse.”
Suddenly Sam, who acquitted himself well and missed the win by just a neck behind the winner, who was making his first purse start for Brixton Medical Inc., Marvin Katz, and Hatfield Stables.
The drama for the second division began on scratch day, when Huntsville’s full-brother Wild Bill, an All-Stars winner at Pocono, was dropped in by trainer Ray Schnittker, putting down Tim Tetrick, who drives star three-year-old Huntsville for him (and also drove Wild Bill at Pocono). Takter’s impressive Nutcracker Sweet, who won in 1:52 – :26 at The Meadowlands in his betting bow, also got into this division. And Takter also named Tetrick, who had driven Nutcracker Sweet – a full-broker to Bettor Sweet ($2.78 million) and a half-brother to Sweet Lou ($3.48 million) – in his first start.
Tetrick picked Nutcracker Sweet over Wild Bill.
“Ray’s been so good to me, Huntsville and all the others — I hated to do that. I thought about it a lot,” Tetrick said. “But I thought that Jimmy’s colt showed me a little more, so I took him. It was just a professional decision, and it’s understood you go with whom you think is best.”
And as sometimes happens, even to the best of them (like Tetrick), you go the wrong way – as Wild Bill came a long way first-over to be an easy winner in 1:52.3 with Scott Zeron in the bike.
There were a host of leavers inside the 4-5 favorite Nutcracker Sweet, who went up gradually past the :27.1 quarter and made the lead going to the 3/8ths, hitting the half in a mild :56.3. Wild Bill was not one of the leavers, but he was flying uncovered from sixth down the backstretch, putting a neck up at the 1:24.4 ¾-pole after trotting his personal third split in :27 raw.
“My horse felt great,” said Zeron. “I saw that Tim’s colt was a little bumpy on the turns, so I went at him with high speed nearing the final turn, and mine was able to go right by. He is such an easy horse to drive.”
The Somebeachsomewhere—Wild West Show colt finished out his mile strongly, winning by 1¾ lengths over a game, if beaten, Nutcracker Sweet (“I don’t think he handled the surface well – I think he might need some borium for a surface like this,” Takter noted after the race). Hayden Hanover, who had pushed the favorite early, stayed on for third, a neck ahead of Venier Hanover, the Pennsylvania fair sensation, who did well his first start against the big boys.
Wild Bill, sent off at 6-5, added this Sires win to his All-Stars victory to keep his record unblemished. He lowered his mark by 3/5ths of a second for owner Schnittker, who also bred the colt with his late partner Charles Iannazzo.
About the circumstances in his getting the drive, Zeron said, “Ray (Schnittker) just asked me that if Tim booked off this horse, would I drive him, and I said fine. And this was a great experience. If it was just a one-time drive, I won a race with a very nice colt. And we’ll just see about the future.”
The pendulum swung the other way for Tetrick just over an hour later – and trainer Brian Brown may have gained the very early 2018 Jug favorite in addition to 2017’s Fear The Dragon – when the Well Said—Dagnabit Hanover colt Done Well indeed “done well,” streaked home in a 1:51.2 laugher, “with the earplugs still in” as Tetrick noted.
No Easy Day and Karpathian Kid argued for early command, with the former getting the top by the :26.4 quarter, with second choice Decoy tucking third and favored Done Well fourth. In front of the stands, David Miller and Decoy made a quick brush to the top, reaching the half in a relatively mild :55.4, with Done Well taking up the first-over charge at that point.
The two were not separated by much as they passed the ¾-pole in 1:23.3, but it was easy to see that Tetrick still had a handful of horse, and the pair gained control on the turn and drew off in the lane, tallying as easily as you please while lowering the season’s record by a second and missing the track record of Rock N Roll Heaven (set two months to the day earlier in the calendar year, a long time for developing babies) by only 4/5ths of a second.
Done Well, owned by the partnership of James Stambaugh, Wingfield Brothers, Milton Leeman, and Alan Keith, was a 3¼ length winner over Karpathian Kid, who escaped a shuffle to be along for the deuce; he in turn was 2¼ lengths ahead of Decoy.
“He’s a very nice colt,” said Tetrick after the race, while trainer Brown said that Done Well, “has been a great colt from day one. He broke well, he’s great-gaited, and he’s raced well in every start, with this being the best one.” Brown also revealed that Tetrick got the drive on this colt “because David Miller, whom I usually use, was at Goshen the day this colt was in at Pocono, and I asked Tim to drive him. We’ll see what happens – we’ll use Tim until he might decide to book elsewhere, and then we’ll see.”
So, off finish time and ease of victory, Ray Schnittker and Brian Brown appear to be the trainers in the best position for success in the two-year-old colt pace division – just as they were last year, and just as they are with the three-year-olds this season.
As the noted philosopher Lawrence T. (Yogi) Berra said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” But we’ll be keeping an eye on who will be filling the sulky seat behind all these promising colts.