by Brett Sturman
The 12 Breeders Crown races that took place over Friday and Saturday lived up to their billing as far as race quality goes, but in many ways only added to the complexity of trying to sort out where horses stand with year-end awards. That’s because only a small number of the races were won by the respective divisional leaders going in, and how much is given to the notion that it all comes down to the Breeders Crown will go a long way in determining who ultimately ends up on top. Also, there’s still more racing to take place in the Matron, Fall Final Four and TVG series, but here’s how I see things as of this moment following the Breeders Crown.
Starting at the top with Horse of the Year, the two front running horses both lost in their Breeders Crown races. In the current Hambletonian/Breeders Crown top ten poll, the older pacing mare Shartin N led slightly over the 3-year-old colt trotter Greenshoe, with both splitting nearly all the first-place votes in the poll.
It’s impossibly difficult to split these two with comparable records and similar relative dominance over their divisions, but let’s presume that Horse of the Year was Shartin’s to lose since she went into the weekend with the slight edge in the poll. Sent off at odds of 2-5 to win her Breeders Crown and close the deal, she was upended for the second consecutive time by Caviart Ally, who also bested her prior in the Allerage. It’s still been a brilliant year for the 6-year-old Shartin and there’s no question she’ll be the older mare pacer of the year, but she hasn’t won a race now since Sept. 1 having dealt with sickness and hasn’t won a six-figure stakes race since the middle of August. With her loss, it opened the door for Greenshoe to step in and claim the top spot.
However, it wasn’t meant to be for Greenshoe either. Sent off also as odds-on at the price of 50 cents on the dollar, in a race reminiscent of his loss in the Beal at Pocono, Greenshoe found himself with too much ground to make up following stalled over and could only rally to be second best. As with prior, the defeat was more a result of poor race circumstance much more so than the effort he put forth. With both horses losing, conventional wisdom would say that Shartin remains ahead, but I think her stock is a bit more tenuous than Greenshoe who overall remains sharper. For my money, Greenshoe may be slightly ahead in the eyes of voters and will have a chance to solidify his standing in at least one more major stake race this season.
Within the individual divisions, the 3-year-old’s seem more settled than the 2-year-old ones. Starting with the glamour 3-year-old pacing colt division, Bettor’s Wish went into the Breeders Crown ranked #3 in the top ten poll only behind Shartin and Greenshoe, and despite his loss to Dancin Lou he remains a cinch to claim that division’s top honor. The top spot was held earlier in the season by Southwind Ozzi but was overtaken in recent weeks by Bettor’s Wish and no matter what happens from here on in, he’ll top the division despite a late season surge from Dancin Lou. For the 3-year-old pacing fillies, Warrawee Beaut already had the division locked up but put an exclamation point on it with her comfortable win Saturday over rival Tall Drink Hanover.
On the 3-year-old trotting side of things, Greenshoe is obviously a foregone conclusion on the colt’s side. The fillies side, though, is far more debatable. If I had to guess, I’d say the right now the divisional honor would fall back to last year’s divisional winner in this category, When Dovescry. She’s tailed off somewhat in the latter part of the season and her record for the year stands at just four wins from 11 starts (though she’s yet to miss the board including a runner-up spot in the Breeders Crown), but who else would the award go to? The next logical choice would be Millies Possession, but When Dovescry owned her in head-to-head meetings throughout the year. It’s too bad that Millies Possession had to scratch from the Breeders Crown final because she would have been in a favorable to position to win, but without being able to compete in the final I think it’s hard to place her in front of the division.
For the rookies, the most clear-cut division are the colt pacers. This one will go to Tall Dark Stranger whose only loss of the year came in his Breeders Crown elimination, though things could have gotten interesting if Papi Rob Hanvoer were kept up in Friday’s Crown final. That would have meant a split for the duo between the Metro and the Breeders Crown, and a case could have been made for either.
In all other 2-year-old divisions, the divisional leaders lost as those Breeders Crown races were highlighted by big upsets. For the filly pacers, Lyon’s Sentinel lost by a neck to Reflect With Me only after being raced over-aggressively where she brushed to the lead through a :53:3 half mile. She held well considering, with a record of eight wins and four seconds through her 12 starts, she’s done more than enough to take home the top spot in the division. Credit though to Reflect With Me who won’t win the division, but proved far better than her longshot odds indicated in winning the Breeders Crown and no one would be blamed for giving her outside consideration.
The two 2-year-old divisions for trotters get interesting. Up until last week, it seemed to be a no-brainer that the Doherty Memorial and NYSS winner Hypnotic Am would win up the divisional champion. But she was slightly less than her best in the Breeders Crown and out of nowhere Ramona Hill has come on to make a strong late season case for herself. She’s now won the Bluegrass, the International Stallion Stake, and the Breeders Crown, along with a mark of 1:52:2 from Lexington. This division could still be determined, but at the very least Ramona Hill has put together a very credible resume to warrant the top spot for the division.
It’s a similar situation on the colt side although perhaps to a lesser extent. Real Cool Sam entered the Breeders Crown with a perfect 9 for 9 record. He didn’t get a good trip in the final and regardless I don’t know if a single loss would suddenly take the division away from him, but Breeders Crown winner Amigo Volo is starting to build a case. With the same type of recent wins as Ramona Hill on the filly side, he’s peaking at the right time. The division still should belong to Real Cool Sam, but it’s subject to seeing how the rest of the year plays out.
Manchego is a lock as older trotting mare and that was emphasized by her resounding Breeders Crown win. McWicked didn’t have as much luck in the Open Breeders Crown pace but he will win the division again, nonetheless.