Thoughts on: byes, harness racing’s youth movement, the International Trot and whether Muscle Hill has produced potent stallions

Thoughts on: byes, harness racing’s youth movement, the International Trot and whether Muscle Hill has produced potent stallions

October 21, 2019

by Murray Brown

A person on Facebook recently made the comment “as far as I can tell sons of Muscle Hill have been less than potent (meaning successful) in the breeding shed.”

My response is that is just not so.

My strong feeling is that there is no magic formula involved with predicting the success of sires —especially when it relates to who they were sired by.

If you bet AGAINST success, especially on a high level you will be right far more often than you will be wrong.

Arguably, the world’s most influential pacing and trotting sires respectively, Meadow Skipper and Stars Pride, were sired by horses who were considered to be middle of the road at best.

Meadow Skipper was by Dale Frost.

Stars Pride was by Worthy Boy.

Getting back to the initial comment. Muscle Hill’s sons in the stud are young.

The only high profile ones that have foals as old as three are Trixton and E L Titan.

Both are enjoying success.

Trixton, as this is written, is the fifth leading money winning trotting sire of 2-year-olds and the sixth leading sire of 3-year-olds.

E L Titan, from significantly limited opportunity (73 foals in TOTAL from his first two crops) has had his share of good performers and stakes winners.

An amazing 30 of 33 registered 3-year-olds have raced. He is number six on average earnings by his 3-year-olds.

I believe he has done quite well.

It’s far too early in the game to make any accurate assessment of Muscle Hill’s sons’ success.

Actually, I’m of the firm belief that great or not so great sires are not so because of who they are by, although that can play a part in the much larger puzzle.

They are what they are because they are unique individuals, because of their unique genetic makeup.

From my experience, a truly great sire will overcome almost anything, whereas a sire who isn’t destined for greatness will not achieve it, even when given the greatest possible opportunity.

The one ingredient that most, but not all great sires have in common is success on the racetrack.

Most were excellent to great racehorses.

The reverse is more often than not the case.

Far from all excellent to great racehorses have become great sires.

They generally have a lot going in their favor though, the chief being opportunity. Even with great chances most will not make it on a high level.

The bottom line is that the only real answers are provided by time and results.

Thoughts on byes

On Friday, my colleague Brett Sturman wrote an insightful article both for and against the existence of “byes” in major stakes races, specifically the Breeders Crown (full story here).

I believe that he left out one, if not the most important reason for their institution.

It’s that it will often negate the probability of eliminations, consisting of short fields, poor betting races such as we saw at Pocono Downs last year.

Thank you to my brother, Sam

As some of you may know, my oldest brother Sam passed away last week at the age of 95.

He lived a great life and was self-sufficient until the last few months.

Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone for the many messages of condolences. They are greatly appreciated.

Sam was one of the declining remaining members of what has become known as The Greatest Generation.

When World War II first broke out, Sam was one of the first Canadians to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

He was shipped to England where he spent the next four years as part of the allied forces military in that last bastion of freedom in Europe.

When he left, I was just an infant, so I had no memory of him.

One of my longest lasting memories is of this man in a silver blue RCAF uniform and a big white cast on his leg appearing at our residence on Jenne Mance St. in Montreal.

He had broken his ankle in a training accident prior to the Normandy invasion.

What has this got to do with harness racing? For me, just about everything.

It was Sam who first took me to the races.

He owned a small piece of a solid B pacer named Confuscious in the early ‘60s.

Each time Confuscious raced was like a holiday for me.

I’d look forward to it with great anticipation and I’d either be thrilled or disappointed with the results.

I remember Sam taking me to Richelieu Park to see a great horse named Adios Harry who was racing there. It was about then that I first got hooked.

I loved and followed just about every sport. But harness racing?

What was that? I soon found out.

Among many other things, I am most thankful for him introducing me to what has become a life-long passion and occupation.

Thank you, big brother.

Youth movement

Has there ever been a time in the history of this great sport where there has been so much young driving talent in evidence?

I think not.

For purposes of this article I have limited myself to drivers 35 or younger.

Canadians include: Jonathan Drury (30), James MacDonald (33), Bob McClure (29), Doug McNair (29), Louis Philippe Roy (29) and Scott Zeron (30).

At Yonkers we have Jordan Stratton (32) and Austin Siegelman (27).

In Ohio there are Chris Page (35) and Ronnie Wrenn Jr. (33).

At The Meadows young man Brady Brown (23) is making an impact.

Just about everywhere you can find Tyler Buter (33), Matt Kakaley (31), Andrew McArthy (33) and Marcus Miller (30) — veterans, but still young men.

Brown is the very youngest at the ripe old age of 23, but next in line is Western New York’s Drew Monti at 25.

New Jersey’s Joe Bongiorno and Ohio’s Tyler Smith are both 26.

I’ve saved the one who in my opinion is the best, at least at the present time, for last.

He is of course New Zealand’s Dexter Dunn, who at age 30 has made a more immediate impact on the sport than any driver I’ve seen in my 60+ year involvement in harness racing.

Some might say Herve did it at a younger age, but he was always a little behind his mentor Keith Waples.

I remember the epic time in Montreal when the youngsters Michel Lachance and Gilles Gendron battled it out for driving supremacy year after year.

I also remember when the young George Sholty and Del Insko first came to Roosevelt Raceway amid much fanfare.

They made an immediate impact, but there were still guys named Chapman, Dancer, Gilmour, Haughton and Bell to do battle with them.

Never in the entire history of the sport has a driver risen so fast, so high and so quickly as this young man from New Zealand.

Thanks for the replays

A special note of thanks to horsemen Tony Alagna, Tim Tetrick and Mike Wilder who maintain websites that sometimes are more current and inclusive than the ones whose job it is to keep the industry informed.

I especially appreciate their almost up-to-the-minute video replays of horses with which they usually, but not always, have an association.

Thoughts on the International Trot

Special thanks to everyone associated with the 2019 International Trot.

The list includes, but is not limited to, everybody on the Yonkers Raceway staff, the New York SOA, especially its tireless leader Joe Faraldo, the USTA who sent their “A” team of Mike Carter, Mark Hall, Ken Weingartner and Rich Johnston to cover the event., Moira Fanning who is involved with just about everything of importance that occurs in our sport, Rob Pennington and Helene Gregory who sent the lead horses used in the introduction of the participating horses, the media, especially those who came all the way from Europe to cover the race and undoubtedly others whose identity I am unaware of.

Most important of all, the horses and all their human connections who helped make this one of the best days of racing of the calendar year.

I would not be my normal self, if I didn’t mention the scathing letter panning the event which appeared in the next day’s issue of Harness Racing Update.

In it, the writer says that the money spent would have been put to better use spread out over the overnight events at the track.

In my opinion, on a race to race basis, it would have next to no impact.

I strongly disagree with his views on the race. There are no overnight events taking place at Yonkers or for that matter any other track, that garner any media attention, both in and out of the harness racing industry.

The writer is critical of the event because he says that the money will be going to Italy never to see these shores again.

That might be the case, but I doubt it.

The fact is that the Europeans spend far more money in the industry in North America than we North Americans spend there, probably three or four times as much, if not more.

Last year’s winner Cruzado de la Noche is owned by Sweden’s Courant, who this year alone has spent far more on North American horses and racing than the amount that Cruzado de la Noche earned in the million-dollar race.

If we are to remain at or near the forefront of the world’s harness racing, it is only events such as these that get us the attention that is required to be there.

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