04/17/2013 1:04PM

Harness Racing: Conditions perfect for a World Record


If the birds chirping outside your window were not enough of a clue that the harness stakes season is getting ready to heat up, then perhaps the parade of top-notch pacers in qualifying action along the east coast is a good indication.

The possibilities for competition and speed records are infinite in 2013. For the first time in many years we have a multitude of 4-year-olds joining the ranks of the Older Pacing division. Reigning divisional leaders Foiled Again, Betterthancheddar, Golden Receiver and Bettor Sweet will have to contend with a group that includes five newcomers which paced faster in 2012 than any of their elders.

With the talent overflowing, I can’t help but wonder if the 1:46 4/5 all time speed mark shared by Holborn Hanover and Somebeachsomewhere could be in jeopardy. Let’s look at some of the fastest horses from last year.

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At the top of the speed list from 2013 is Panther Hanover. While the son of the late Rocknroll Hanover doesn’t roll off the tongue as the top returning 4-year-old, he did post the quickest mile of 2012 at 1:47 2/5. Now under the care of trainer Bruce Saunders, the lightly-raced speedster is a bit behind some of his peers.

“I schooled him at the Meadowlands the other day and still have some kinks to work out,” said Saunders, who was hoping to qualify the James Carr-owned horse next month and have him ready by the beginning of June.

Hurrikane Kingcole comes in a close second with a 1:47 3/5 mile as a 3-year-old. His speed is undeniable but trainer John McDermott is still hoping that he puts it all together in 2013. Panther Hanover can thank this guy for his 1:47 2/5 mile, because without Hurrikane Kingcole posting a 1:18 2/5 three-quarter clocking, he would not have been the fastest last year.

You can look for Hurrikane Kingcole to qualify soon and return to the track in May.

Sweet Lou, Bolt The Duer and Thinking Out Loud all check in at 1:47 4/5.

Sweet Lou banked over $1 million, yet some thought he did not live up to expectations. He will qualify at the Meadowlands on April 20, May 4 and May 11 before starting in the $100,000 Meadowlands Maturity for 4-year-old pacers on May 18.

“I’m still very confident in him,” said trainer Ron Burke. “I’m excited about racing him this year and even next year. We’ve done well with lesser horses than him, so I’m hoping for the best.”

Bolt The Duer had a brilliant moment in the Adios at The Meadows and consistently displayed the speed to play with any of the big boys of the division. He is scheduled to qualify at Pocono on the next two Thursdays (April 18 and 25) before getting a final trial at the Meadowlands on May 4. After that trainer Peter Foley is hoping to race in an overnight, perhaps at Yonkers Raceway, before starting in the Meadowlands Maturity.

“I worked him off the gate in (1):56 and he was pretty handy,” said Foley, who said he would pick his spots with his prized student this year.

Thinking Out Loud peaked early with his 1:47 4/5 North America Cup win in June at Mohawk. The Robert McIntosh trainee is scheduled for a June return to the races.

Few horses were equal to Betterthancheddar in 2012. He won 9 of 11 races before injury put him on the sidelines for the final three months of the year. Now a 5-year-old, the dynamic son of Bettor’s Delight who paced a career best 1:48 mile last season could be even tougher. Trainer Casie Coleman reports that he will probably qualify at Mohawk in the middle of May.

Golden Receiver had the best season of his career in 2012 and posted a 1:48 winning mile. He has started the year 6-for-7 and continues to race in Opens while he awaits stakes engagements.

Heston Blue Chip is the final member of the 1:48 or lower club from 2012.The Breeders Crown winner has trained in 2:05 and is on track for a mid-May qualifying debut. The Linda Toscano trainee is eligible for all the big races but is likely to miss the Meadowlands Maturity as she eases him into the older division.

“I prefer to let the others battle and have my horse get stronger and stronger as the year progresses,” said Toscano.

All the talent mentioned above does not even scratch the surface of the top players expected to compete on the track. Four-year-olds A Rocknroll Dance, Michaels Power and Pet Rock all earned big money in their second years of racing. Add to the equation Aracache Hanover, Bettor Sweet and We Will See, and it is clear that there will be no easy miles in the older pacing division.

And I didn’t even mention the all time money-winning pacer Foiled Again, who deserves a paragraph all his own. The 9-year-old with the big heart looks for his third consecutive $1 million season and is just a few hundred-thousand from the $5,000,000 mark in career earnings. With two wins in four starts this year, he has his sights set on another George Morton Levy title to go with his 2009 and 2010 trophies.

Now that the major contenders have been introduced, what can we expect on the track? Will we finally eclipse the 1:46 4/5 mark that has been virtually untouchable?

The difficulties of besting the world record clocking are many indeed. Two horses need to hook up in a speed duel and they have to be racing on a track that is conducive to a mile of that caliber. Then the weather has to be perfect with no wind and the track has to be in pristine condition. It is not easy.

Consider that for a 1:46 3/5 mile to occur, the most likely scenario has two horses getting down to the three-quarter marker in about 1:19 and another fresher horse sitting in a perfect spot ready to capitalize with a 27 3/5 final quarter. There is a reason why it hasn’t happened.

“When you start talking (1):46, you start talking ridiculous numbers,” said Saunders of the possibility.

But at least one trainer didn’t see the barrier as unattainable.

“I think my horse can go (1):46 and change at the Meadowlands with the right trip,” said Foley.

The fact is that good older pacers are capable of going a 1:47 and change mile at any time.  They have been doing it for years and five of last year’s 3-year-olds accomplished the feat. Five! And they are supposed to mature and hit their peak in their 4- and 5-year-old seasons, no?

I’m not saying we will see multiple miles in the 1:46 range, but I’d be willing to wager we see at least one. This class of older horses is simply too good not to get at least one pace scenario that sets up the proper conditions for a huge performance.

Obviously there are only a few possible spots on the stakes calendar where the conditions may be favorable enough for a world record. The Meadowlands, Red Mile and perhaps Mohawk are the tracks where it may be possible. So circle July 13 (William Haughton Memorial-Meadowlands), August 3 (US Pacing Championship-Meadowlands), August 31 (Canadian Pacing Derby-Mohawk) and October 5 (Tattersalls-Red Mile) on your calendar. You might just witness history.