03/30/2015 10:48AM

Bergman: Bier on the comeback trail with a strong pair

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Fotowon
Bandolito

Triumph and tragedy went hand in hand for trainer-owner and part-time driver Daryl Bier in 2014. Early on last year the trainer appeared to be heading for the top in both the aged pacing and trotting division with the speedy Bandolito and the improving Modern Family. The extraordinary pair looked to be primed for a big summer and fall campaign until tragedy struck. First it was Bandolito, going to Western Fair for the Molson and leaving the Ontario track with wounds that would take a long time to recover from. Then there was Modern Family, a top five horse in the aged trotting ranks that died unexpectedly after finishing fourth in the Maple Leaf Trot final in July at Mohawk.

“I’m not going back to Canada,” said Bier, a bit more subdued today now that Bandolito has made a remarkable comeback.

The five-year-old has been trudging along during the winter racing at a high level at Dover, but without the consistency or the incomparable speed he showed before the Molson.

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“I don’t think he likes the cold weather,” said Bier earlier this week of the son of Ponder that recently paced wire-to-wire in 1:48 1/5, just a fifth off the mark he took almost exactly a year ago at the Dover five-eighths mile track.

“We’ve been nursing him back,” said Bier. “He’s been wearing corrective shoes to help with his feet.” Bier took off the bar shoes and replaced them with all aluminums before the March 26 race against Open 3-5 year olds and that combined with spring-like temperatures catapulted Bandolito through fractions of 25 3/5, 54, 1:20 4/5 and a final quarter of 27 2/5 to complete the mile.

Bandolito’s most recent effort has propelled him back to a level predicted for him last season, but Bier wasn’t expecting it.

“I didn’t stake him at all,” said Bier. “I would like to see him get invited back to the Van Rose at Pocono. He finished second in it last year.”

Indeed, the Bandolito that finished second in the Van Rose did so behind Dancin Yankee and at that point in the season appeared to be in the midst of a big campaign. But Bier accepted an invitation to Western Fair and the mile his horse had to go was far too taxing. Bandolito went off as a 9-2 offering in a field that was stacked. The four-year-old was parked by Foiled Again after making an early move and wilted after a 1:23 three quarter clocking.

“That 1:23 is like 1:21 over that track and doing it against Foiled Again,” said Bier, who admitted that the horse was not the same after that.

Some months later Bandolito returned to race but not at the same level and not with the same speed.

“He’s a small horse and he can’t rough it like that,” said Bier.

Perhaps that’s why for the most part the last few months have been spent building up the horse’s strength and racing mostly off the pace. But this past week Bandolito was full of himself. Feeling good and with a brand new set of shoes, he found that incredible speed that brought him to the forefront approximately one year ago.

For the immediate future Bandolito is likely to meet a bit tougher competition at Dover and then Bier plans to move him to the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono where he should be able to compete against open company.

“He came out of the race really well,” said Bier, surprised that Bandolito has made it all of the way back and hopeful that he can do well this season while not forced to challenge the best in the business.

“I’m fine with racing him against Open company,” Bier said.

As far as putting Bandolito on a half-mile track, the trainer didn’t shy away from that. “I wouldn’t have a problem going to Yonkers if they have an Invitational, but we’re not going back to Western Fair,” Bier said.

With the loss of Modern Family, Bier is hopeful that last year’s purchase of Wind Of The North may at least fill the void in some way. Wind Of The North trotted a mile in 1:51 at Pocono on June 28 as part of the undercard on a night when Sebastian K broke the world record. The mile was memorable to me as I recall Sebastian K’s assistant trainer Bernie Noren checking Wind Of The North’s past performance lines following the mile to assess just how fast Sebastian K might fare. Incredibly Sebastian K trotted a full two seconds faster.

Since Bier purchased Wind Of The North last fall, he’s been working on bringing the five-year-old around and perhaps have him reach the top. “He’s getting a little closer each week,” said Bier of the five-year-old by Cantab Hall that finished second behind Melady’s Monet in his last start at the Meadowlands.

Unlike Bandolito, Bier has nominated Wind Of The North to many of the major stakes. He hopes to have him fine-tuned before the Cutler Memorial in mid-May at the Meadowlands.

There’s no question Daryl Bier prefers quality over quantity when it comes to horses. Bandolito and Wind Of The North are the only two horses he’s currently training, but there’s one on the way that has him intrigued as well.

“I’ll start training Higher And Higher’s colt in October,” said Bier. Higher And Higher was a top pacing mare for Bier that earned $923K during her racing career. Now a broodmare, the daughter of Western Terror’s first foal is a son of Somebeachsomewhere.

Bier and Charles Dombeck share ownership in the mare and her first foal named Highalator, a play on words that Bier noted, “It’s like Nihilator”. There is plenty of reason for optimism and grand expectations since Higher and Higher was not only a classy racehorse but has a pedigree that includes the great pacing mares Darlin’s Delight and Town Pro.

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