10/29/2012 10:17AM

Bergman: Commander Crowe and team an inspiration

Derick Giwner
Intimidate, trainer Luc Blais, and driver Ron Pierce shake after win in the 3-year-old Breeders Crown Trot.

Bad races can make you sick. Great races can rejuvenate the soul.

Such was the case on Saturday night when a clash of cultures emerged in the Breeders Crown Open Trot. It was far from business as usual and certainly not the mundane atmosphere that permeates too many overnight races.

The connections of Commander Crowe indicated prior to Saturday night that their horse was not as sharp as he’d been early in the season.

They were not wrong.

Yet true to the spirit of competitive racing that sometimes seems to go on with more regularity overseas than on these shores, the Commander Crowe team refused to go down without a fight.

While Commander Crowe finished third, his appearance was inspirational. Just watching his connections hours before the race walk out onto the wet racetrack to inspect the racing surface first hand, showed just how every aspect of the race matters so much.

Clearly the trainer and owner wanted to make sure the horse would cover the track smoothly and that didn’t appear to be a problem.

What was a problem was Chapter Seven’s presence in the race. Without North America’s best horse even at less than a peak Commander Crowe could have won this race.

What separated this harness race from the norm was that both Christophe Martens (Commander Crowe) and Tim Tetrick (Chapter Seven) knew their fate from the early stages of the race. Martens made it clear prior to the race that he was going to cut the pace. Tetrick didn’t want to be coming from last given the potential negative circumstances and left the gate.

There were no holes.

Tetrick took his medicine well and raced Chapter Seven in European style.

In other words, parked and pressing the pace.

Last year’s Breeders Crown Open Trot produced similar fireworks, with San Pail’s reputation swelling as his gameness was tested repeatedly during the mile by the European invaders.

I’m not sure why harness racing has maintained its popularity in Europe through the years.

It could be because they ONLY race trotters.

It could also be they have higher standards of competitiveness.

For me the feel good story of the night had to be Intimidate’s stunning showcase in the Breeders Crown three-year-old trot.

Having spoken with his connections prior to the race, there was such a feeling of respect and admiration for the horse. The bond between Luc Blais and Intimidate was like no other I have seen. He bred the horse. He raised the horse. He trained the horse. And according to Luc he “listened” to Intimidate when the horse insisted he needed an opportunity to prove just how talented he is.

Steve Katz, a former colleague at Sports Eye was an original owner of Justice Hall, the sire of Intimidate. I’m sure Katz, in Kentucky now, will be smiling for a long time over this victory. And who could blame him?

In my travels, too often I run into elitists. Those people who believe that champion horses can only be produced from a specific genetic model. Those who frown with regularity when they see the pedigree attached to an Intimidate.
Of course it doesn’t happen every day.

But the fact that it can happen on “One” day is all that matters in providing a landscape that can make the racetrack one of the best sites for the phrase “equal opportunity.”

Tim Tetrick won four races on Saturday night, but I think one of his best drives came in the very same three-year-old colt and gelding trot with Hambletonian winner Market Share.

What we’ve seen with Tetrick over the years is that he’s an incredibly fast learner. Not only did he know by the time this race was run, how the track was playing, but he also knew after Market Share was run down by Intimidate in the final, that he needed to put Market Share on our close to the lead.

Market Share’s game has never been racing on the front end, but Tetrick couldn’t let that piece of information dissuade him from the change in tactics. What the driver knew was that his horse was not going to outkick Intimidate from behind that horse.

Market Share raced brilliantly in defeat. He only allowed the first-over Little Brown Fox to pass late, which was no disgrace considering the strong bias favoring first-over types the entire Breeders Crown night at Woodbine.

There will be plenty to debate at year’s end about this year’s three-year-old colt pacing class. Despite Heston Blue Chip’s triumph in the Crown on Saturday, it will be difficult for him to earn the division title.

That’s not saying Heston Blue Chip’s many victories couldn’t convince the less educated voter that he was the best in this class. That remains a possibility.

What Heston didn’t have over the course of the year was a two- or three-move effort under intense pressure.

Sweet Lou, for all of his losses and A Rocknroll Dance with a string a grueling sub-1:50 battles, may not have gotten the advertising exposure they deserve this year. But the two colts were significantly instrumental in raising the bar wherever they went. Their efforts produced better racing and more unpredictable results.

In the large scheme of things, Sweet Lou and A Rocknroll Dance have done for North American racing exactly what Commander Crowe did for the Crown Open Trot.

They have elevated the effort on the racetrack and by doing so showed clearly just how great this sport can and should be.

The fact is that results will vary when our horses are asked to race “all out” on a week-to-week basis.

Maybe it will one day be obvious to those who believe our overnight horses need “more” racing opportunities, that this sport’s future would be brighter with less but more meaningful races that can closely resemble those of the Breeders Crowns.