Star pacing mare So Much More trapped in a classification conundrum

How much more?

February 26, 2023

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Star pacing mare a classification conundrum. Breeder Doug MacPhee speaks out about mares racing the boys week after week.

by Melissa Keith

Last Saturday night (Feb. 18) at Woodbine Mohawk Park, the 2022 O’Brien Older Pacing Mare of the Year went behind the gate against males for the second time this season.

So Much More (p, 5, 1:49.2s; $966,342) belongs in Canada’s top preferred class, where she was a decisive 1:50.2s winner in the Dec. 10, 2022 preferred handicap, sent off as the 6-5 favorite by the betting public. The Big Jim—Ladysai daughter went undefeated in the last nine WMP filly and mare preferred/preferred handicap/open classes she entered last year.

Last Saturday night, the petite pacer parked the largest horse on the grounds, new millionaire Wheels On Fire, through a :27.1 third quarter.

“It’s Wheels On Fire outside, inside, So Much More. Barely anything separates them,” track announcer Ken Middleton said.

As the gigantic gelding gradually inched ahead of the gutsy mare, Middleton said: “Boy, did he do that the tough way!”

Doug MacPhee speaks for no one but himself, but still thinks of So Much More as his “little girl.” The New Haven, PEI breeder is proud of her achievements for trainer Don Beatson, who co-owns the mare with Kenn Beatson and Cole England. Discussing So Much More, MacPhee stressed that he wasn’t putting forward any viewpoint other than his own.

“She’s a Beatson now…They never encouraged this,” MacPhee said. “It’s just me being concerned for my little foal and wanting the best for her.”

Watching last week’s WMP preferred, MacPhee was acutely aware of the classification conundrum presented by his former homebred.

“In my opinion, generally speaking, over the last few years she has been a clear cut above other regular overnight mares,” MacPhee said. “Plus, she’s extremely consistent and versatile. She’s really tough to beat even if another mare appears to be equally talented. She’s super smart too. She gets that from mom.”

When So Much More is entered against her own sex, she tends to overshadow rivals unless it’s a Grand Circuit event.

“I understand why they want her out of the mares’ preferred,” MacPhee said. “With already-small mare fields and her talent, it’s not a great race to bet. So, what do you do with a [mare] like that? You move them up to race the boys.”

Show wagering was actually barred on Jan. 27, when she took on distaff company. She finished fourth as the 1-2 beaten favorite on a blustery night, racing near the back of the pack, closing with a 27-flat last quarter.

So Much More isn’t the first mare to beat top-class stallions and geldings at Mohawk, but it remains a rarity. Canadian Hall of Famer Dreamfair Eternal (p, 8, 1:49.0f; $2,478,093) was an off-the-pace winner in Mohawk’s Nov. 10, 2010 open; scratched from the open the following week; and returned a winner in the Dec. 10, 2010 filly and mare open.

Unlike the 2009 O’Brien Horse of the Year Dreamfair Eternal, So Much More must frequently hold her own in mixed company.

“She’s competitive with the boys, but it’s rough out there,” MacPhee said. “She can take it. However, who wants to rough up a mare week after week for a potential marginal increase in winnings? I think it’s fun to race the boys once in a while to see what she can do, but it shouldn’t be a regular thing. When you see a full field of mares in their preferred race, like this week [Feb. 24], and she’s not there, it is disappointing. Any horse can be defeated in a large field. Her presence in there wouldn’t ruin the race for betting.”

VET STUDY PROVES THE GENDER DIFFERENCE

Physiological differences between male and female horses matter. A 2014 veterinary study noted that trotting and pacing mares reach their maximum speeds one year ahead of stallions or geldings of the same age/gait, but will remain, on average, one second slower over a mile distance. A mare reaching the speeds of the best males is working harder to do so.

MacPhee said So Much More’s small size isn’t a particular disadvantage against males. She’s competitive for reasons that are at least partly psychological.

“Her size probably helps her soundness,” MacPhee said. “I’ve been around horses all my life and I can tell anyone, out in the field, mares don’t care who is small and who is large. The most aggressive mare is always the boss.”

Being tested in WMP mixed company began on Feb. 8, 2020, when she beat American Virgin in a 10-horse field that included another mare.

“She won an open preferred early in her 4-year-old year,” MacPhee said, referring to the Feb. 15 victory over Easy Lover Hanover. “I believe that set a precedent. She won the fillies’ [Ontario Sires Stakes] Grassroots final only a few months prior. It was a very rapid rise. So Much More and Kendall Seelster were both moved up as they were the standout performers at the time. So Much More only won once or twice in the mares’ preferred when the initial move up in class occurred.”

Her breeder suggested that once So Much More had established credibility in the top class, she was viewed as a rare mare who could step up whenever there might be “an otherwise-short field for the boys.”

Faster miles take their toll over time. While Friday (Feb. 17) night’s quickest mile (1:53.1s) was paced by Major League N over a fast racing surface, that mare beat a class to which So Much More was ineligible: Fillies & mares, non-winners $20,000 last 5 starts. Also eligible: starters for a purse of $15,000 or less last 4 starts. Also eligible: non-winners of 8 races lifetime.”

So Much More paced a personal 1:50.4s mile the following night, identical to winner Wheels On Fire and nearly a second faster than the quickest winning mile by a mare in Canada this year (Snow Shark, 1:51.3s on Jan. 7 at WMP).

MacPhee understands that some performers defy easy classification.

“My father owned a mare in the 1970s that reminds me of So Much More,” MacPhee said. “Her name was Ann Truder Abbe [p, 6, 2:02f; $33,758]. Marcel Barrieau drove her. She was the pride of the entire family. She was also tough as nails and could leave like a jet.”

That mare was competitive in Exhibition Park Raceway’s top class, defeating top male pacers Analizor (p, 6, 2:01.2h; $ 77,718) and 1975/1977 Gold Cup and Saucer champion Ventall Rainbow in the defunct New Brunswick track’s heyday. 

Refinement of classifications came later.

“Back then, mares never had their own races,” MacPhee said. “Boys and girls raced together. I can remember a trotter, Overtizer, who raced pacers because there wasn’t a trotter who could beat him in Charlottetown. How times have changed, in this case for the better.”

So Much More’s stats challenge the status quo. She began last year with three place finishes in a row against males at Woodbine Mohawk Park’s highest level, finally finishing off the board on Jan. 29. She won her first 2022 race against WMP preferred mares on Feb. 4, kicking off a four-race win streak in that class.

By April 9, she was in with Jimmy Freight and Wheels On Fire again, finishing fifth, before bouncing back in the April 15 filly and mare preferred handicap, winning from the outside post as the 2-5 favorite. By season’s end, 15 of her 16 victories had been in Mohawk distaff preferred/preferred handicap/open company, with just one — Dec. 10 — in the unrestricted preferred handicap. She made nine starts against males, hitting the board in six, never missing a check.

Where does So Much More fit best? Assigned post positions in mares’ handicap races haven’t leveled the playing field.

“That’s been done many times in her case,” MacPhee said, adding that incentives to attract more high-caliber female pacers could be effective.

“I think purse increases would help to draw more mares,” MacPhee said. “And a mares’ series could help. Have one a bit before or after the [Blue Chip] Matchmaker [at Yonkers]. And as some have said, if she has to race boys, there should be a bonus to any mare that can win the open preferred. If a mare has to race boys, it should be worth it to do so. Typically, the difference in the winners of the preferred events has been $2,000 or so. That’s very little for a top mare. Something like a $5,000 bonus is deserved in my opinion.”

Of the mares who raced in the 2022 Breeders Crown final at Mohawk, only Racine Bell (8th), Easy to Please (9th), and Chase Lounge (10th) have made starts this year, as of Feb. 24. Meanwhile, So Much More (3rd) is going into the eight-horse WMP Feb. 25 free for all as the 5-2 morning-line second choice.

“We have to remember, though, in the end So Much More is a mare, not a horse or a gelding,” MacPhee said.

He admires how the “little girl” from PEI has raced for the Beatsons, whom he counts as friends. He would also like to see So Much More earn more for her toughest efforts, and not be excluded from distaff competition at her home track.

“She should not have to work so hard for her money,” MacPhee said.

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