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Bergman: Ben Franklin is a race for the ages
It’s “The Race.”
It’s that simple.
Through more than 40 years of my life following as a fan and covering this sport, it’s impossible to find another spectacle equal to this year’s $500,000 Ben Franklin on Saturday night.
Writers look for story lines and last week’s elimination races appeared to be structured more perfectly than chance would allow us to imagine. That the three big players in this division managed to find comfort in separate divisions, allowing entry into the final, was the luck of the draw for a sport in desperate need of a main attraction.
Sure, Always B Miki did not get a free pass in his elimination heat and maybe that was part of the curve implied in that 5-year-olds are in fact bigger and stronger than their younger counterparts.
Needless to say, if the main course can in any way live up to the shared appetizers served up at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono last week, the racetrack will see far more fireworks on July 2 than it does during a planned visual display the following night.
First let us thank Indiana for its part in creating this explosion of impressive talent on one stage. I’ve listened for years to those with their noses of blue proclaiming that the greatest, most perfect specimens could only be foaled from an elite group of stallions and pacing mares. That such perfection can exist from mere mortals is a testament to that flawed logic.
What Wiggle It Jiggleit lacks in a pureness of gait at times and an unwillingness to pose for pictures afterwards, he more than makes up in an uncanny ability to pace turns like no other standardbred has ever done.
Freaky Feet Pete enters the Franklin as the horse that has pretty much stayed away from the limelight for much of his racing career, winning countless races close to home. That strategy has paid off in a major way, and last week’s scintillating performance, a training mile if you will, indicated just how special this son of Rockin Image truly is. Some horses need prompting to keep going and others are naturally gifted and make the pace or chase the pace with equal aplomb. Freaky Feet Pete can relax and sprint with the same sense of calm, making him a dangerous proposition no matter what the competition.
Always B Miki has hinted at greatness from a young age but appears now at 5 to have finally put all of the pieces together. Master horseman Jimmy Takter hasn’t been bashful speaking up the son of Always A Virgin and last Saturday those not privy to the training track got to witness what Takter has been talking about.
Combining an incredible turn of speed with the toughness required to win championship races is a rare commodity, yet it’s one that Always B Miki clearly possesses.
Make what you wish of these three, the fact remains that they form just 30 percent of a field and the drop off in talent might be a lot less than people expect.
Perhaps driver Corey Callahan thought he had the better horse when he elected to keep Always B Miki parked in the prelim, giving Mel Mara the lead and refusing to yield. That is a scenario that has come and gone and could have proven to be a learning experience for both horse and driver.
What Mel Mara does represent is a horse with incredibly high speed and the capacity to win any race, perhaps as long as he is not put to pressure while setting the pace. In this incredible daily struggle we call horse racing, very often the same animals look entirely different when following as opposed to leading under duress.
As in all major races, post position dictates at least some of the possibilities in advance, but only when the gate opens does the public find out how the race will unfold. With the major players landing posts 3, 6 and 7, the door is wide open for a first turn skirmish that involves some of the longshots, since early position could lead to a reasonable paycheck. Last week’s trials proved that outsiders have little to lose and much to gain if they can find a spot second, third or even fourth on the rail through what figures to be an aggressive mile.
The draw worked out poorly for team Burke, with his threesome banished to the two widest spots on the gate of nine and a trailing position that is not likely to give Always At My Place many early options.
That said, will All Bets Off (post 8) take the gloves off and simply rocket out of the gate or otherwise be relegated to following from ninth or tenth?
There will be many tough decisions in this race and perhaps experience and big race savvy will play into the hand of Always B Miki and driver David Miller. Despite the histrionics of last week’s 1:47 world record performance, it was Miller who kept cool under fire and settled his horse down after an all-out assault on the lead which still left him parked out halfway into the contest. Miller’s years of experience cannot be understated in a race of this nature.
It would be easy to proclaim both Trace Tetrick (Freaky Feet Pete) and Montrell Teague (Wiggle It Jiggleit) not to be in the league of David Miller, but perhaps what they lack in overall experience they more than make up in knowing their respective horses. That said, with 10 horses in a race we can all expect that any pre-race plans may be blown up in the first two seconds of what could be a 1:46-timed race.
The suggestion that winners choose their posts is a nice concept but it can also lead to a more predictable outcome. The Franklin draw almost appeared to handicap horses based on their elimination performances. We’re not just referring to the race winners but Mel Mara landing the pole position is by no means an advantage in this race. Driver Corey Callahan may have to worry more about how to react should the rejuvenated State Treasurer (post 4) or Sunfire Blue Chip (post 5) attempt to take him on in the early stages.
The Franklin final is the first time Wiggle It Jiggleit, Always B Miki and Freaky Feet Pete have met each other in one race. That all three arrive for “The Race” in peak form is perhaps more than any of us could have asked for or expected.
After more than 40 years this is “The Race” I’ve been waiting for.
I dont think Callahan tried to park Miki , it was more that Miki was pacing so fast that Miller had to grab up to avoid out pacing himself going into the turn , it was only the greatest mile I have ever seen ( Art Official Med Pace ) was , that being said can Miller get close enough to outkick 2 really good horses ,he figures to be parked the mile with/out cover ,there are others who can compete with big 3 , but the horse to watch is Miki to see if tonight he is truly a great horse
Outstanding write up.....going to be one hell of a race!
Picking mel mara to upset the applecart and defeat all theee elimin winners and in the process break the all time winning race mark of 146.4!!! Mel was a little short last week with his first race in three weeks, and please keep in mind He does have a two length win over micki in a world record 147. At the big m june 4th, pacing an uncontested last half of 52.2 last quarter 25.4 and I have never seen that kind of mile from anyone in 55 years in this business!!!!
great story my friend ,miki the horse to beat , best horse ,best driver , FRANK C VERONA N Y
excellent write up which has me excited as a kid on christmas, so many different scenerios have me sifting through the race and who will get the better trip. as far as excitement for a race can only equate it to as a teenager attending the cam fella its fritz match up and still have my its fritz button they handed out. should be a classic duel and just dont see any soft fractions and probably see the fastest mile, still tons of questions, miki hasnt raced a ton in one year , my concern is that he might get worn out from rough trips which he seems to find himself in
Certainly the best race THIS year..........I really think Mel Mara will be very very good here.....only real knock on WJ is the driver ...
Nice article. Magnificent race. I will attend the local teletheater and bet and watch it with glee. Wish I could discuss it with friends and acquaintances that used to frequent the races with me in the old days when they were knowledgeable and cared.
Unfortunately the reality is, I will probably have to ask the attendant to find the Pocono races for me and put it on a screen because no one in attendance will even know that this epic match is taking place. Most will be watching and wagering on the grasshoppers and insulting the "buggy horses". A tempest in a teacup. Sorry. Reality bites.