It’s A Herbie has won four of five starts this year in Indiana and already has more than $300,000 in the bank for Verlin Yoder, but is still somewhat overlooked compared to Swandre The Giant and Yoder’s other star, Woodside Charm.
by James Platz
It is not often that a sires stakes champion with over $300,000 on his card can fly under the radar. In the case of sophomore It’s A Herbie, he is overshadowed by fellow Indiana-sired 3-year-old trotter Swandre The Giant. It’s A Herbie is not even the star of Verlin Yoder’s stable, as he shares the barn with Breeders Crown champion and Dan Patch Award winner Woodside Charm. It’s A Herbie may be overlooked at the moment, but that’s okay with Yoder. That’s the just way he likes it.
Last year, Yoder conditioned the son of Here Comes Herbie—Psychic Image through a 12-race freshman campaign where the colt registered three wins, seven runner-up finishes and a third-place effort. His biggest win came in the $220,000 Indiana Sires Stakes Super Final at Harrah’s Hoosier Park where he defeated favored Swandre The Giant. He finished the year with $242,000 in earnings, but the trainer remembers that it was not until late March 2018 that the trotter finally started coming around.
“I didn’t nominate him for other races. Four days after the deadline in March for nomination fees, I came back to the barn and told my wife she had nominated the wrong horse,” Yoder said. “That was the first time he showed me that he had some ability. I knew he was a Herbie, I knew the cross was right, I knew everything matched up, but he never showed me that much talent until late March last year. He finally stepped up and showed me something.”
Despite the talent, It’s A Herbie was far from a finished product as a freshman. A lack of gate speed often created situations where the trotter gapped off the leaders, leaving considerable ground to make up late in the mile and producing several of those runner-up placings. Drawing outside ‘Swandre’ often did not help, either.
“He drives perfect, but I took a lot of time with him last year teaching him how to race, and now it’s paying off. Because he didn’t have a lot of gate speed last year, I would always have to chase him out of the gate just to get position. He was just going through the motions,” Yoder said. “There were a couple of times when I trained him that I really chased him to start the mile, and he did well, he handled it. But I knew I would have to take my time with him.”
Over the winter, Yoder paired It’s A Herbie with his millionaire veteran Natural Herbie. Grouping his pupil with the two-time Indiana Sires Stakes champion allowed the conditioner to work on those areas that needed improvement.
“Last year he could not sprint. This year, he learned how to sprint, and that was because Natural Herbie taught him how to sprint this winter. He learned how to sprint, how to shut down and start back up,” added Yoder. “Last year he wasn’t going to give you a :26.3, :26.4 or :27 quarter. That’s wasn’t in his vocabulary. He just didn’t know how.”
Now a sophomore, It’s A Herbie has returned to racing a more versatile horse. In five seasonal starts, he has registered four trips to the winner’s circle. The trotter was nosed out in the opening round of ISS competition in late May, his 3-year-old debut. In three of the four wins, It’s A Herbie has taken command early and wired the field, twice after drawing outer posts. In his latest victory on July 4, a $51,940 sires stakes leg, Yoder employed different tactics. Lining up in post eight in a bulky field of 11, the trainer choose to race off the early pace, taking advantage of the cover provided by Sam Widger and second-choice Martini Show.
“Sammy was right beside me, and Sammy had a very nice horse, I thought he was the one to beat. When we both got stuck parked I thought it would work out alright,” Yoder said. “They towed me there, and as soon as I showed him daylight, he was gone.”
It’s A Herbie closed out the mile with a :27.4 last quarter and went on to win by two and one-half lengths in a lifetime best 1:54.1.
Yoder said he is pleased with the progression of his charge, but admits he’s got some work to do before It’s A Herbie could be considered an elite trotter. After
winning an opening division of Indiana Sires Stakes, Swandre The Giant hit the road to compete on the Grand Circuit, finishing fourth in the $500,000 Beal final in his last start. With the Ron Burke-trained trotter out of the picture, it has played to Yoder’s advantage, but he knows It’s A Herbie must continue to move forward.
“He’s doing everything he needs to do, he just needs to make up about 12 lengths somewhere, which would be two seconds and two-fifths, and then I’ll be happy,” he said. “He’s got to have another 12 lengths just to get to Swandre.”
So far this year It’s A Herbie has raked in $75,875 in earnings, pushing his career bankroll to $317,875. Natural Herbie, another son of Here Comes Herbie, brought Yoder his first national recognition, and Woodside Charm earned the owner his first Breeders Crown and Dan Patch awards. Could It’s A Herbie be his next star in the making?
“As far as the way he’s growing and the way he looks, he’s everything you want in a horse. He gained weight over the winter, he got longer and taller; he’s got good flesh on him. Everything is there. The rest is up to him. He’s got to have the will power to do it, and the other night he showed me he has the will power,” said Yoder. “I’ve always said I’d like to have a Natural Herbie that is six inches taller, and I might finally have it.”