11/24/2014 10:37AM

Bergman: Breeders Crown winners and losers

Nikki Sherman
Father Patrick secured his spot as the richest horse of 2014 at $1,693,081 earned.

A dozen Breeders Crown races were contested last weekend at the Meadowlands and there were some major winners and some unfortunate losers in the game. The two-day event probably worked best for those close enough to the Meadowlands to avoid horrendous Friday night traffic issues. When a five-mile distance crossing from the Bronx into New Jersey takes 85 minutes (by car), it may be a deterrent for some.

Traffic was hardly an issue on the racetrack, with the exception of one particular event, the Crown for juvenile pacing colts that saw the unpopular Traceur Hanover score a mild upset for the second straight week at the expense of In The Arsenal. This time it wasn’t just post 10 that hurt In The Arsenal, but two breaking horses and the need to check and go around that made life difficult.

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The sport’s “Pylon Rules” were the biggest loser of the night as Lyons Levi Lewis, a breaker on the first turn that managed to go inside a few pylons before reentering the course, was miraculously left on the board by the judges. The explanation: “Did not gain an unfair advantage.”

When USTA officers meet again to bring about a universal rule regarding pylon infractions, I would say it’s about time we abandoned any reference to the term “Gain an unfair advantage.”

Perhaps the judges making this call don’t believe that a horse that goes inside the pylons and travels a distance less than a mile has gained an advantage over those who traveled at minimum a mile, but there are mathematical laws that prove them wrong.

Trainer Jimmy Takter once again deserves an awful lot of credit for not just getting his horses to the Breeders Crown but coming away with three solid victories. Most important in the group was the triumph of Father Patrick. After failing to see the lead in the races he’s lost, driver Yannick Gingras had the son of Cantab Hall on the bit and ready to fire, and that proved to be the difference. It was extremely important for Father Patrick to go out a winner in 2014 given the many potholes he had not dodged during the fall season.

While Takter’s team had the option to race Father Patrick in this Saturday’s $500,000 TVG Final, they declined to take the entry pointing to the fact that he is going to race as a four-year-old.

Here’s a situation where the Meadowlands and the sport could profit immensely at least in the public’s eye if Father Patrick would race against the older trotters a week after his smashing Breeders Crown success.

One scribe in the press box said it best: “They keep saying he’s the best. If so, why not prove it on the racetrack.”

Timing and luck tend to be the requirements to bring great horses to the same stage on the same night.

The greatest example of that is the good fortune that the owners of Commander Crowe wished to see their champion come to the States and finally get that elusive Breeders Crown victory. The fact that the 11-year-old overcame post nine and an extremely determined Maven in the process, only adds to a final resume that’s hard to match.

His 1:51 mile, after being parked to the half way point, was astonishing for any horse let alone one winning for the 61st time during a brilliant career.

Two of the brightest spots of the night came in the same race on Saturday night and it just so happens the duo were once inseparable, but are no longer.

Of course, we’re speaking of likely Horse of the Year J K She’salady and her former driver Yannick Gingras.

First, give the sport’s leading money-winning driver his due for capturing one third of the Breeders Crown events over the weekend. Sometimes when a driver is going down the road to victory as often as Gingras, you tend to think it’s all about horsepower and less about strategy. Nothing could be further from the truth and in his second-place finish with Sassa Hanover, Gingras proved that part of the game is not only driving your horse, but forcing other drivers into moves they would rather not make. In this instance, Gingras left from the outside with Sassa Hanover and managed to find a hole directly behind the 1-9 favorite J K She’salady. The move wasn’t just about putting Sassa Hanover behind the favorite, but more about forcing Tim Tetrick behind J K She’salady to contemplate putting his filly on the front end for the first time in her undefeated career.

It’s a question we posed about the filly early on and there was certainly speculation prior to Saturday night that J K She’salady may not have the same drive on the front end as she had shown coming from behind.

In the end, Gingras and the rest of the racing world found out that J K She’salady could in fact lead the way. The Nancy Johansson-trained filly proved she could take on pressure and look at a long homestretch with no horse in front of her and keep fighting. In a sense Gingras’ move, while not driving the winner, was able to get the best out of her. In holding off Sassa Hanover in stakes record time J K She’salady proved she’s more than just a fast filly.

Trainer Ron Burke has certainly proven his superiority as the sport’s top conditioner, but you have to feel as if despite his extraordinary success with a majority of pacing stock he gets chills every time the two-year-old trotting filly Mission Brief goes on the racetrack. Her 1:51 4/5 mile on Friday night was done in-hand while last year’s Horse of the Year, the four-year-old Bee A Magician won her Crown in the exact same time under magnificent handling by Brian Sears.

Whatever quirks Mission Brief has shown this year when she didn’t mind her manners are easy to overlook when you consider just how dynamic this daughter of Breeders Crown winners Muscle Hill and Southwind Serena is when she behaves.

It is not too early to begin thinking about a filly winning the Hambletonian in 2015.

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