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Bergman: In The Arsenal overcomes adversity
Racehorse careers don’t always follow a straight line.
With so much pressure these days to bring a two-year-old to form early and maintain it, it is probably more the norm that a trainer will hit some bumps in the road.
Trainer Kelvin Harrison had extreme expectations for In The Arsenal, a homebred of Michael Parisi’s White Birch Farms that didn’t bring enough at auction last year to sell. Unwanted by the masses but completely at home with Harrison, In The Arsenal flashed his enormous talent in the Sheppard Pace winning both elimination and final in mid-July at Yonkers.
Winning the Sheppard was once a major accomplishment for the leading two-year-olds in the sport, but in recent years it has become a stop mostly for those looking to get a start on the rich New York Sire Stakes circuit. Harrison was completely ready to take that path when he entered In The Arsenal in a NYSS division at Yonkers on July 31.
While In The Arsenal had won the Sheppard elimination and final in wire-to-wire fashion, the trainer was a bit concerned with his manners. “He got a little hot behind the gate in the Sheppard,” said Harrison.
In his first Sire Stakes effort from post eight, In The Arsenal was taken off the gate and raced from the back throughout, finishing fifth in what had to be quantified as a learning experience.
Harrison had his horse ready for the next leg at Tioga.
“He got sick,” said Harrison, “His temperature spiked to 103.8 for a couple of days. We just took our time with him after that and let him recover.”
Such is the life of a horse trainer. At one moment everything seems to be right, and then something happens and all of a sudden an entire season is called into question.
Yet Harrison had the stomach for it because he’d been through it before.
“Direct Flight got sick for a piece during his two-year-old season,” Harrison said, recalling his two-year-old champion pacer of 1991.
So from expectations of a campaign on the New York statebred circuit, Harrison had to alter his plans and hope for a late season run against the best horses in North America. It’s a daunting task considering how little experience his horse had and just how seasoned the competition is from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ontario.
The son of American Ideal, the 14th foal from the On The Road Again mare Ladyotra, was brought back slowly as Harrison likes to do, with two qualifying miles at Freehold in September.
In The Arsenal was sent to Delaware, Ohio for the Standardbred, a stakes event for two-year-olds. Though he had shown talent winning all of his races on half-mile tracks, the fans at the County Fair allowed him to go off at 10-1.
“He got a little hot that day,” said Harrison. “Brian had to wrestle him back a little and he touched the wheel and made a break.”
The break in stride had to be frustrating for Harrison, but the connections were undeterred and shipped to Lexington for Grand Circuit action.
In the Bluegrass state, In The Arsenal would quickly find out where he stood among the elite juveniles in North America. Inexperienced, yes, but well prepared for what was to come.
In the first week of Grand Circuit racing at The Red Mile, conditions could not have been more perfect and Brian Sears appeared to have extreme confidence in his lightly-raced but clearly advanced colt. Sears didn’t appear to be driving a 25-1 shot given the fact that he made two moves before the half to take control of the race. Indeed the driver knew a lot more than the public on that evening as In The Arsenal blazed his own trail and scored in a wicked 1:49 4/5 mile.
“It was a huge mile,” said Harrison, “But it came under perfect conditions and with times these days you really don’t know what to make of it.”
While In The Arsenal manhandled some decent freshman in his first Red Mile go-around, he would meet the undefeated Artspeak in his next start and perhaps find out where he belonged in the division.
The weather was a little cooler the second week but racing fans had indeed warmed up to In The Arsenal, sending him off as the 9-2 third choice in a field that included New York Sire Stakes champion Cartoon Daddy as well as the unblemished Metro winner Artspeak.
Sears showed the same confidence in his colt, despite starting outside his rivals he sprinted right to the front with In The Arsenal. By the half, heavy favorite Artspeak brushed to the front and appeared in complete control in a modest 56-second opening half.
The fractions remained calm and Sears seemed to be well placed, but Artspeak and driver Scott Zeron appeared to have the edge on all others in the sprint home. That was until that colt made a miscue in midstretch. It paved the way for In The Arsenal to find clearance along the rail and scoot through to victory.
“I thought we were going to go by before he made the break,” said Harrison, obviously believing in his colt.
Not only was In The Arsenal enjoying the spotlight in Kentucky, but his owner-breeder Michael Parisi was as well.
“He told me that he was having more fun with this colt than he did with Captaintreacherous,” Harrison said about the owner who bred and owned a minor share of Captaintreacherous.
Surprisingly, when In The Arsenal moved his tack to Harrah’s Philadelphia for a division of the Historic on October 12 he still wasn’t the fan favorite. That’s because he was up against another undefeated colt in Yankee Bounty, already the winner of eight straight including the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship.
From the outset it appeared as if In The Arsenal and Sears had something to prove and they scorched the opening quarter in 26 2/5 with Sears eventually yielding to the favored Yankee Bounty. The fractions were consistent with this level as Yankee Bounty set the tempo of 54 2/5 and 1:22 3/5 for the middle half, but at no point was he shaking free of In The Arsenal.
When Sears pulled In The Arsenal on the final bend the colt took off and sprinted by effortlessly, coasting to a 1:50 4/5 win by open lengths.
“That was some kind of mile,” said Harrison. “I would say that would be a (1) 48 mile at Pocono.”
“He’s trained great since that race,” said Harrison. “We’re pointing him towards the Matron (Dover Downs November 6) and the Breeders Crown.”
With five wins in eight starts, In The Arsenal has a chance at the divisional crown should he continue his winning form in the next few weeks.
“He’s such a good feeling colt,” said Harrison, “I don’t know where the bottom is.”
Perhaps we haven’t seen it yet.