01/29/2018 11:30AM

Bergman: ‘Missile’ pointed at Yonkers Raceway this March

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Mike Lizzi
Missile J was successful during the preliminary legs of the George Morton Levy series in 2017.

Trainer Scott DiDomenico went into last year’s George Morton Levy final with the odds-on favorite to win in Missile J. That in itself was a major victory considering the 4-year-old had essentially overachieved defeating older horses to qualify and earn the respect of the bettors.

“The transition from 3-year-old to aged horse is the toughest on a horse,” said DiDomenico, looking back a bit. “The horse was just incredible for those three weeks.”

The trainer was alluding to the preliminary legs of the Levy where the son of American Ideal won three straight races all from off the pace, with the last two coming off slow opening halves.

A third-place finish in the Levy final behind Keystone Velocity and Somewhere In L A was a difficult conclusion to the series, but DiDomenico managed to take it in stride. “I wasn’t disappointed in him,” DiDomenico said.

A mid-season break left Missile J fresh and ready for the late season and though wins didn’t come as often against top stakes caliber horses, he managed some quality miles. “He was a good second in the Hoosier Pacing Derby and a good third in the Dayton Derby,” said DiDomenico. The efforts earned him an invite to the $250,000 Dan Rooney on International Trot afternoon and he finished a solid third in that mile.

Always charging home late, Missile J concluded his stakes season with a fifth-place finish in the Breeders Crown and by year’s end had amassed $321K in earnings. Not bad at all after DiDomenico’s owners plucked him for just $115,000 at the 2017 January auction.

“I’m pointing him for the Levy,” said DiDomenico this week following Missile J’s first victory of the year last Saturday at Yonkers. “He was just waiting on them,” the trainer surmised as Dan Dube went wire-to-wire but saw some pressure prior to the three-quarters that the now-5-year-old shook off with ease.

“I think he’s best racing from off the pace but can race on the front end. I don’t like to race a horse too many times in a row on the front or let them get tired,” DiDomenico said, suggesting a conservative approach and a realistic expectation level.

Considering the retirement of the top 3-year-olds from last year and the diminishing aged population this could be a big year for Missile J. “I think he can go with any of these and be in the hunt,” said DiDomenico. “Of course we’ll see what happens if Wiggle It Jiggleit and Freaky Feet Pete come back.”

That’s a big question in January and Missile J is not likely to race every week prior to the Levy’s inauguration this spring. “We’re going to get him some races at Yonkers, The Meadowlands and Dover and spread them out,” said DiDomenico, clearly hoping to keep his horse sharp while getting ready for the bigger stakes down the road.

Perhaps somewhere under the radar was DiDomenico’s reacquisition of the aged trotter Lou Man. Last year in the spring the trainer had lamented to some degree when his owners accepted an offer they couldn’t refuse. Owners John McGill and Brian Carsey had pretty much owned the Indiana-bred for a majority of his career. DiDomenico took over training in late 2016 when the horse shipped to the East Coast and in less than four months managed to see Lou Man earn over $60,000. When trainer Rene Allard approached the owners with a generous offer they accepted. “He was a fun horse to have and race and was doing quite well at the time,” Domenico said, reflecting on the loss of a horse that had moved to near the top of the trotting class at Yonkers.

The owners along with DiDomenico noticed that Lou Man was entered in an online auction and re-purchased him for just $20,000 prior to Christmas.

“I’ve raced him a couple of times at The Meadowlands and he’s not back yet to where he was before,” said DiDomenico. He’s drawn some outside posts and not had the best of trips. I’m going to put him back in at Yonkers hopefully for Sunday.”

[Editor's Note: Lou Man finished third in the sixth race at Yonkers on Sunday, 1/28]

There have been many occasions where trainers claim and reclaim horses after losing them. It’s rare to see a trainer with Allard’s extraordinary record purchase a horse and see it drop in value as Lou Man most definitely did.

A high-level purchase for DiDomenico and his stable was Normandy Beach, a son of the late Somebeachsomewhere. “We bought him and I raced him a couple of times in the Progress elimination and final. He wasn’t much good there. We’re bringing him back and I’d like to race him in the non-winners of 8 races class at Yonkers. After that we’re hoping he’s a 4-year-old open type,” said DiDomenico.

DiDomenico has projected that Handsoffmychips, a now-3-year-old son of Roll With Joe, could be a horse that many hear of this year after limited victories as a freshman in 2017.

“I think he’s (Handsoffmychips) going to be a much better horse this year and be competitive in stakes races,” said DiDomenico. With just one win in 11 starts as a freshman there is plenty of opportunity for the $9,000 Goshen Sale graduate to prosper.

The high expectations shouldn’t surprise those who have seen DiDomenico find a diamond at an auction for less than market value. He paid just $25,000 for the eventual $1.4 million winning Handsoffmycookie and took home the quality filly Handsoffmycupcake for $20,000, guiding her racing career to a lofty $610K bankroll.

Angels Pride, a 4-year-old daughter of Roll With Joe, earned $180K as a sophomore primarily in New York. “I think she’ll turn into a nice 4-year-old,” DiDomenico said.  Angels Pride closed out the year with a pair of wins in non-winners of 8 company at Yonkers along with a fourth-place finish in the NYSS Championship The mare had but two starts as a freshman and may first be hitting her stride in 2018.