07/30/2012 9:32AM

Bergman: Adios and Hambletonian trials a treat for racing fans


It may sound corny, but every now and then harness racing fans are treated to “real” racing.

The occasion was this past Saturday when both three-year-old pacers and three-year-old trotters were on display in the afternoon and evening. The Delvin Miller Adios, reduced by two defections to but six horses at the Meadows in the daytime, turned into the race of the year, and perhaps the best six-horse race the sport has ever seen.

Who would have thought that such a small group of horses could put on a show of such magnitude?

Perhaps those who have been watching the three-year-old picture unfold in recent weeks could have had a clue that among the six were some very serious horses, including last year’s champion Sweet Lou, this year’s North America Cup winner Thinking Out Loud, Meadowlands Pace champion A Rocknroll Dance, and Bolt The Duer. The last horse came into the Adios with the pole position and theoretical “also ran” credentials, but proved when the dust settled that he’s among the five best of what may confirm the deepest three-year-old pacing crop we’ve seen in some time.

While Bolt The Duer walked away with a world record and the lion’s share of the $500,000 purse, it was A Rocknroll Dance’s day in the sun. The brilliant son of Rocknroll Hanover has been amazing, putting together a string of sub 1:50 performances that the sport has never seen. This past Saturday he went the race of his life only to come up short in the stretch of a 1:47 4/5 mile.

“It reminds me of Somebeachsomewhere in the Meadowlands Pace,” said Dave Palone. The driver had just arrived at the Meadowlands for the Hambletonian trials and couldn’t believe the effort of A Rocknroll Dance, comparing it to the past champion who was defeated by Art Official in 2008.

Palone was disappointed in the outcome but not in his horse Sweet Lou. “I tried to get out of there but Yannick’s colt stepped out faster. I think it might have been different if the two horses hadn’t left inside of me,” Palone said.

With both Bolt The Duer and Bettors Edge both sprinting at the outset, Palone saw himself squeezed and made the only logical choice to take back.

A Rocknroll Dance actually looked like he was ready to make a break shortly past the start while a half-length in front of his rival. “You know sometimes when they do that they catch a pace and accelerate,” said Palone of A Rocknroll Dance’s impressive first quarter.

By now we know that the pace was incredible, with fractions of 25 1/5, 52 4/5 and 1:19 2/5 paving the way to the world record clocking. The first quarter will forever stand out in my mind as a vivid example of the fierce competition that can take place when contenders understand the importance of reaching the front. Certainly Palone and the Sweet Lou connections lamented the long first-over journey their horse was forced to endure all along knowing that A Rocknroll Dance was not going to simply let them go to race behind the favorite.

Driver Mark MacDonald also knew that despite his trainer’s smokescreen earlier in the week about getting away fourth from the pole, he had to make certain that he was no worse than second at any point in the mile for Bolt The Duer to have a chance at victory.

If anyone is interested in promoting the racing side of this sport, I would suggest video with the epic opening quarter of the 2012 Adios as must see entertainment.

The trotters put on a very different type of show at the Meadowlands in the Hambletonian eliminations. With three divisions dividing the 25 entries, only those finishing in the top three were assured a position in the final.

That ensured some very spirited action and produced some driver behavior I guess reserved for special occasions like only qualifying for a $1.5 million race can produce. That meant driver Sylvain Filion, behind Prestidigitator, wouldn’t simply be allowed to float out for position with the assurance of a tuck. No, this wasn’t Mohawk on a nightly basis where “gentlemen’s rules” offer a seat to anyone wearing a colored shirt. It was the Meadowlands and the Hambletonian eliminations and Sylvain was pushed out three wide for much of the early going as drivers wanted to protect every inch of real estate possible.

Filion’s horse was more than capable of traveling the added distance and finished sharply to make the final.

The final Hambletonian elimination saw A Rocknroll Dance’s pilot Yannick Gingras again in the heat of battle. Once again handicapped by the outside draw behind Little Brown Fox, Gingras left with authority at the start but was three wide heading into the turn with race winner Market Share and Gym Tan Laundry to his inside in pursuit of the lead. Normally in this situation Gingras would have been able to follow Market Share and get the lead past the quarter, especially while driving the race-time favorite.

Jim Morrill Jr. obviously wasn’t looking at the odds board, nor did he care about giving another horse the advantage over his mount Archangel. What Morrill did was recognize the situation and look to give his horse the edge and at the same time make the trip even tougher for Little Brown Fox.

In shorthand Morrill wasn’t looking to win any popularity contest with his rivals but instead do his best for those paying for his services. The driver was able to line up Archangel in the two path directly behind Market Share and as that one cleared over to the rail Morrill guided his horse two wide keeping the favorite parked. The move worked like a charm as Little Brown Fox jumped it off under the added pressure.

There are those who are content with the racing product. This past Saturday’s examples are the exceptions to what passes as the general rules of racing. They are exceptions because the top drivers have determined that the game be played differently when $500,000 or $1.5 million is riding on the outcome.

It kind of makes you wonder what would happen if horses raced for higher purses and had only a minimal amount of racing opportunities annually.