Can T C I become the richest 2-year-old in the sport?

by Brett Sturman

If a harness racing season was broken into three separate acts, the first would be all that occurs at the beginning of the calendar year through the first week in August. Most of the top stakes performers from the prior year will have been racing for a couple of months by that point, and the new 2-year-old crop is just a month into getting started. Between that first act concluding with Hambletonian Day, and a near two month-long second act of weekly rapid-fire stakes which would have ended last weekend at Woodbine Mohawk with their stakes laden card featuring 2-year-olds signature events, how will the season’s third and final act close out the year?

Starting with how last week ended, T C I’s break-and-recovered win in the Mohawk Million pushed his 2-year-old bankroll to $1,047,470, according to United States Trotting Association statistics. In last week’s column, I referred to T C I as nearly unbeatable, and last week’s mile may have proved that he simply is not beatable, at least with one exception, noted coming up. The emerging question for him over the next month may be if he can win enough to become the richest 2-year-old in the sport.

Becoming the richest 2-year-old trotter is well within reach.
T C I is already second in that department to only Snow White and trails her by just over $200,000. Communicating through email with co-owner Mark Weaver, it was suggested that the colt had already raced a lot, and that the most likely remaining targets would be to race T C I just the second week in Lexington (International Stallion Series) and the Breeders Crown final. With a $700,000 guaranteed purse in the Breeders Crown, the winner’s share from that race would easily ascend him to the top trotting spot.

It’s slightly more difficult on the pacing side but still highly possible. There’d be 11 pacers he’d have to leap over, the top one being Redskin, who amassed $1,407,263 in earnings back in 1986 (in a whopping by today’s standards, 22 starts).

T C I is not racing this week but assuming he does race in — and win or maybe even finish second in his International Stallion Series race — plus wins the Breeders Crown final, that should be enough to push past as the highest earning freshman horse ever.

There is one massive caveat in all of this, and that is a horse by the name of Karl. Unbeaten, untouched and equally as impressive in his career, he and T C I have yet to clash. They both have the appearance of racing in next week’s International Stallion Series, though it’s possible they could land in different divisions. Even if they avoided each other there, they’d meet for sure in the Breeders Crown final notwithstanding unforeseen circumstances, which would almost certainly determine the division.

On a side note, T C I would be unbeaten if not for a loss in his first career start, and there’s a parallel there between him and the all-time great Muscle Hill, who after losing the first start of his career through no real fault of his own, just like T C I, never lost again over his final 20.

In the other 2-year-old divisions, there will be ample opportunities between Red Mile and Hoosier in October, to Dover and The Meadowlands in November where still-unbeaten horses will be tested by even higher caliber competition that they’ve yet to face.

Top of mind is Geocentric, who, with a 7-for-7 record, is currently the sport’s eighth rated horse in this week’s Hambletonian Society weekly poll. Worth all of that ranking with her 1:49.4 record, she’d have the potential to clash with competition outside of sire stake-restricted races for the first time next week. In addition to Geocentric, Champlain and She’s A Great Lady stakes winner It’s A Love Thing is nominated to the stake too, as are top fillies, Caviart Belle and My Girl EJ. If It’s A Love Thing races in Lexington, it would represent her first time racing outside of Canada. All of these fillies are also nominated to the Breeders Crown towards the latter part of the month at Hoosier Park, as well as combinations of them being eligible to the Matron and Three Diamonds in November, and if any of them could string together a couple of wins in open Grand Circuit races, the top of the division could change quickly. Lyons Legend shouldn’t be forgotten either. Though not as heavily staked, she turned the tables on Blue Pacific in a Bluegrass division on Thursday at the Red Mile and remains only twice beaten in nine career races.

The 2-year-old colt and gelding pacing division is just as hotly contested, and last week’s Metro Final gave an indication of what’s to come over the next two months. In that race, Captain’s Quarters delivered a season’s best 1:49.3 when he held off a first over and game Legendary Hanover, who went down in defeat for the first time in seven races. In that same race, Ohio-sired standout Clever Cody was locked in for the entire length of the stretch. None of those are in action this week, though Legendary Hanover is eligible to next week’s International Stallion Series.

Separate from that group that battled it out in the Metro, unbeaten 2-year-old Newsroom raced against just the once-beaten, PASS Final champion, Captain Albano on Friday (Sept. 29) in a division of the Bluegrass. Newsroom took heavy pressure last out at Hoosier in the Elevation Stakes in a race where it looked like he was surely going to be beaten by one of the many coming to him from all sides, but he somehow stuck it out to go 6-for-6. Something will have to give as these horses move towards more open competition — same goes for Better Is Nice, KYSS winner who also raced Friday — and all of the aforementioned horses with the exception of Clever Cody are Breeders Crown eligible.

On the human side, is Scott Zeron already Driver of the Year? Currently fifth in driver earnings, his magical season already includes wins in the North America Cup, Hambletonian, Jugette, and Little Brown Jug. Horses he’s directly correlated to, Tactical Approach and It’s My Show, could go as Zeron goes.

Tactical Approach has won KYSS races since winning the Hambletonian and despite disappointing in that sire stakes championship, he’s solidified his standing at the top of the division. He races today in a division of the Bluegrass that includes Air Power, a horse that was exceptionally regarded earlier in the summer, clearly has the talent, and can still shake up the division over these next weeks if he gets hot.

Zeron’s other classic winner, It’s My Show currently rates outside of the sports top-rated horse, Confederate, but he’s garnered more support by showing up to the Little Brown Jug, racing in two heats, and overcoming a less than ideal post to win the $850,000 final. It’s less likely than not to happen, but if he were to win out from here and have that include a win or two over Confederate, things will get very interesting.

All of these matters will be answered in the season’s final act, which begins right now.