Will the Breeders Crown determine sophomore year-end honors?

by Brett Sturman

With nearly exactly two months remaining until Hoosier Park plays host to this year’s Breeders Crown, divisional honors for almost all of the 3-year-old glamour divisions remain contentious and unsettled. The ‘It all comes down to the Breeders Crown’ saying isn’t necessarily always the case as many times divisional honors are already sewed up prior to the two-day event, but this year may be different come the end of October.

First, the only 3-year-old division that won’t have any suspense and honestly hasn’t been competitive in two years. That’s thanks to the greatness of Ariana G, who can do little at this point that would prevent her from winning the filly trotting division.

Ariana G is six out of eight in the win column this year and both those losses came when she raced against males in the Beal and then last week in the colt division of the Zweig at Vernon. For some reason she hasn’t been able to break through against her male counterparts even though appearing fastest on paper, but she won’t have to worry about that when racing against strictly her own kind in the Breeders Crown. Win, lose or if she doesn’t race for any reason it likely won’t matter as Ariana G should repeat as divisional champion. The only possible bit of suspense could be if something falls apart at the top of the 3-year-old pacing division and Ariana G is spectacular in the Breeders Crown; perhaps she would rate an outside chance at overall Horse of the Year.

If anything, Horse of the Year remains an outside possibility for her. Even if the Breeders Crown for the colts was an open (it’s not, it’s colts and geldings only) she’d probably still race in this division. She’s six out of eight on the year, but a perfect six-for-six against fellow fillies. She seems just as fast on paper as the boys but it hasn’t panned out. Regardless of what happens in the Crown, she’s the likely divisional champion.

For as open and shut the trotting fillies are, the trotting colts couldn’t be any more of the opposite. It starts with the champion from last year, the enigmatic Walner. If Walner had remained healthy, this division would be another walkover as he towers over a rather ordinary 3-year-old crop, but in his absence it’s quite possible that the Breeders Crown will go a long way in determining who the winner of the colt trotting division is.

Reports are that Walner’s injury is minor, but considering he didn’t make his seasonal debut late into July and then had to miss the Hambletonian, it’s doubtful that the connections of the horse would take the slightest risk of further injury to jeopardize any lucrative stud deal that may be in the works.

If Walner doesn’t return then the question becomes, who then? Perfect Spirit was placed first in the Hambletonian but he isn’t even eligible to the Breeders Crown, although he could always supplement for $62,500. An intriguing possibility would be what happens if What The Hill were to win the Breeders Crown; would that be enough to give him divisional honors? Although DQed in the Hambletonian, he did cross the wire first and was inarguably best in that race. Ordinarily, a horse that wins both the Hambletonian and the Breeders Crown would be a lock for divisional honors.

The remaining group of horses that rate just as good a chance of any to claim divisional honors with a Breeders Crown win could include Devious Man, who already has a $500,000 win to his credit from the Beal. Horses with profiles such as Long Tom, Enterprise and even the emerging Yes Mickey who just upset a number of these horses including Ariana G, have comparable resumes any of them could make a legitimate case by closing out their year with a win in the Breeders Crown.

On the pacing side with the colts, the division has been dominated by the same horses all season. Although what once looked like a three-way tossup as to which horse would emerge as the crops best, it’s looking more in recent weeks that the top-rated horse in the Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown poll, Fear The Dragon, is very much in the driver’s seat.

The North America Cup winner has since also won the Hempt as well as the Adios and I think he’s built himself enough of a cushion that if he continues his winning ways he could afford a loss or two – including in the Breeders Crown – and still be a strong possibility for divisional and overall year-end honors. He’s four-for-four in head-to-head against Huntsville and he’s proven his worth against that rival.

The biggest threat at this point to Fear The Dragon is stablemate Downbytheseaside. Downbytheseaside just beat Fear The Dragon at Northfield two weeks ago in the $300,000 Milstein and did it first over from post 7 no less; an herculean effort. These two are also scheduled to meet next month in the Little Brown Jug and if Downbytheseaside notches one or two more wins, the Breeders Crown may absolutely come down to these two Brian Brown trainees.

The pacing fillies sometimes fly under the radar and that has been the case so far this year despite a climatic showdown potentially looming in the Breeders Crown.

The Aaron Lambert trained filly Agent Q has been head and shoulders the best of the division all year, but to the surprise of some, including myself, she actually trails fellow filly Blazin Britches in this week’s edition of the poll referenced above.

Both fillies sport similar records, although Agent Q has defeated the best her division has to offer all season, and her seasonal earnings of $414,975 compared to those of Blazin Britches $123,392 proves it. Blazin Britches has been no doubt sparked by her fantastic 1:48:4 in at the Meadowlands in the Shady Daisy – a race that she tied the track record for 3-year-old fillies that was coincidentally tied three weeks earlier by none other than Agent Q – who was equally as impressive in her 1:48:4 win in the Mistletoe Shalee.

We could debate who’s better, but we should be able to see it play out on the track with any luck. The two are commonly staked to only one race prior to the Breeders Crown. If the Breeders Crown is the first time these two are able to race each other head to head, the winner of the highly anticipated race would be a cinch to claim divisional honors.