by Brett Sturman
There’s been some truly great rivalries in the annals of harness racing history. Some that come to mind are Albatross and Nansemond, Silk Stockings and Tarport Hap, Cam Fella and Its Fritz, and more recently Bettor’s Delight and Real Desire.
This Saturday, the rivalry of Huntsville and Fear the Dragon resumes in the 51st edition of the Delvin Miller Adios Pace for the Orchids at the Meadows and while these two alone don’t draw comparison, just yet, to the legends previously mentioned, there are similarities to another famed rivalry when Downbytheseaside is considered into the mix.
In the year 1993, that I’ll admittedly remember far more for the Philadelphia Phillies improbable run to the World Series more-so than harness racing, perhaps the best single season rivalry between three horses took place when all-time greats Presidential Ball, Life Sign and Riyadh all took turns slugging it out with one another. It was one of racing’s best (if not the very best) 3-horse rivalries in the course of a single season.
That year, Presidential Ball was ultimately able to emerge as the 3-year-old pacer of the year, successfully defending the divisional honors he won the year prior at 2. In just those two seasons, Presidential Ball banked over $3 million in earnings. Looking to turn the same trick this year is Huntsville.
Presidential Ball defeated both of his arch rivals Life Sign and Riyadh in the Meadowlands Pace, and Huntsville was able to gamely win his Meadowlands Pace against nemesis Downbytheseaside. But Presidential Ball (who also won the North America Cup that year; a race in which Huntsville was second this year), was defeated at times in his battles throughout the year just as Huntsville has been so this year. It happens when racing continuously against such a high level of near equals.
Still only in July, this season’s rivalry amongst the top three 3-year-olds could approach the special place that harness racing has for Presidential Ball, Life Sign and Riyadh before this year is all said and done.
To date, Huntsville won the Meadowlands Pace over Downbytheseaside, but lost to Fear The Dragon in the North America Cup. Fear The Dragon also beat Huntsville in a Pennsylvania Sire Stake race at Pocono in May. Downbytheseaside is yet to beat either of those rivals this year, although to his credit he’s won the Rooney final, a North America Cup elimination and a Hempt elimination. He also bested Huntsville a single time last year when he won the Governor’s Cup at Woodbine. Both Huntsville and Downbytheseaside accomplished 1:49 records as freshmen last year, and Downbytheseaside also set a new world record by winning in 1:50 over the Delaware County Fair half mile track – Fear The Dragon was a distant second in that race.
The Adios, which is to be run on Saturday, was won 24 years ago by Riyadh. In addition to the Adios, Riyadh won the first two jewels of the pacing Triple Crown that year, the Cane (over Presidential Ball) and the Messenger (over Presidential Ball again). But Riyadh was denied the Triple Crown in the Little Brown Jug by Life Sign in what would go down as one of the best harness races of all time. In that race, Life Sign overcame an impossible trip to surge past Riyadh at the wire with Presidential Ball being right there for third. That fall, Life Sign completed his year by winning the Breeders Crown at Freehold in a race not remembered in such regard as his Jug win, despite the fact he still went an almost equally tough first-over trip.
In addition to the records, similarities between the groups of horses a generation apart exist based on the conditioners behind them. Both Presidential Ball and Riyadh came from the same barn (Bill Robinson) as does two of the top three horses this year with Fear The Dragon and Downbytheseaside (Brian Brown). Interestingly enough, Life Sign picked up his win in the Little Brown Jug for trainer Gene Riegle who is an Ohio native and a win in the Jug by either Fear The Dragon or Downbytheseaside would give another Ohio native a Jug victory as that is where Brown is from. Huntsville is not nominated to the Little Brown Jug.
Since winning the North America Cup, Fear The Dragon has been atop the Hambletonian/Breeders Crown poll, but Huntsville cut into that lead and peeled away some first-place votes after winning the Meadowlands Pace. If Huntsville were to win the Adios, he might vault all the way from his current position in sixth to first.
There is still much racing between now and the rest of the year and all three of these horses are likely to rack up wins in signature races, but with conflicting schedules it’s possible that we don’t see all three again in the same race until the Breeders Crown at Hoosier towards the end of October – they are all staked to the event.
At that time, not only bragging rights and divisional honors could be on the line but also how history views this group of talented pacers. Just the way it was for Life Sign, Presidential Ball and Riyadh.
Hambletonian Oaks thoughts
With breaking news on Thursday that prohibitive Hambletonian favorite Walner will no longer enter the race due to injury, it suddenly opens up a new set of possibilities for the filly Ariana G. Elected to stick with fillies in the Hambletonian Oaks, Ariana G will still race on Saturday in her elimination, but depending on how she comes out if, it’s possible she could still point to the open Hambletonian the following Saturday.
For purposes of this week, she comes off another solid win from two weeks ago and is likely to go off at around 1-9 or perhaps 1-5. Perhaps the real value could be trying to play against Glitzey Gal from the rail in the exotics who comes off a break in her most recent although I’m not so sure how well she was going to do regardless. Dream Baby Dream took a bold run at Ariana G in the Del Miller in her most recent and hung in there pretty well; not without a chance. Fine Tuned Lady comes off a lifetime best win and trainer Butenschoen is having a noticeably good year.
In the other Oaks elimination, Overdraft Volo closed in :26:4 last out and that was on the heels of her perfect trip to win in 1:52:2 two weeks ago on Pace night. She’s in sharp form for team Miller and will be going right to the front early. Feed Your Head has really put it all together in her last couple for Takter although the price is far shorter now than it was as recent of two starts ago; another that’ll be going forward early. Magic Presto was able to track right in behind Ariana G last out and will probably go off as the favorite on that basis alone. That’s All Moni was flat last out but closed the week before in :26:1; go figure that.