11/30/2015 11:54AM

Bergman: Dot Dot Dot Dash has grown into a winner

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Sean Hamrock
Dot Dot Dot Dash won the Yonkers Open Handicap on November 22.

Sometimes when you look out at the racing world today you can forget what the past looked like. Big stables, big breeding farms, rich owners and fast horses tend to have much in common. Winning is for those with big dreams but bigger pocketbooks.

It’s rare in this day and age for the homebred to achieve success. It’s even more rare to see any successful horse in this era make it big without racing primarily as a 2 and 3-year-old. It’s not that it is impossible for a horse to prosper without the experience, it’s more that most owners and trainers don’t hold on to horses long enough to find out.

Such is not the case with the Vandervort family residing in New Jersey and now prospering in a major way in the Open ranks at Yonkers Raceway. The family has stayed together and stuck with what they believed in. Dot Dot Dot Dash is living proof of what can happen in horse racing if those supporting a standardbred are willing to be patient and spend the time to see it through.

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“She was so small as a 2-year-old we couldn’t find a harness to fit her,” said Shae Vandervort, who’s dad William Vandervort Jr. owns and bred the 5-year-old. “She always trotted, that wasn’t an issue. Dad put a saddle on her and rode her.”

By the age of 3 the daughter of Classic Photo had matured enough to find the proper harness and late in 2013 she made it to the racetrack.

Dot Dot Dot Dash started only four times as a 3-year-old winning twice and really didn’t set the world afire last year, earning just $36,972 in 16 starts. That has changed in a big way this year. Following Sunday’s impressive second-place finish in the $40,000 Open Trot at Yonkers, Dot Dot Dot Dash has earned $114,380 in 2015.

The 32-year-old Vandervort took over the training of Dot Dot Dot Dash last year from his sister Leah, who has taken on the more important responsibility of raising a family.

“She’s my older sister and she did a great job,” said Vandervort. “She still comes around and tells me what I’m doing wrong.”

Clearly the Vandervorts have done everything right when it comes to a trotting mare that has grown in size and stature and continues to do so.

“She’s always loved to chase down horses and go by them,” said Vandervort. “Unlike so many, because of her size I actually think she can accelerate around the turns better on the half-mile track than most.”

Since October 1 Dot Dot Dot Dash has won four of seven starts while finishing second twice and third once. She has accumulated the strong record while climbing the class ladder first at Harrah’s Philadelphia and most recently at Yonkers. The highlight during that period was an impressive upset in the $50,000 Open Handicap on November 22 at Yonkers at the mile and one quarter distance. A slow last quarter mile in that race may have given the impression to some that the mare lucked into it but that wasn’t the way the trainer saw it.

“Matt (driver, Kakaley) said she was really strong coming into the stretch,” said Vandervort. “I think she belongs at this level.”

On Sunday Dot Dot Dot Dash came from ninth in the early stages to finish second in a photo in the premier trotting race of the week at Yonkers. She made up a huge amount of ground and only lost by a head to a horse that had been sitting in the pocket the entire journey.

While many would suggest the small stables are at a disadvantage, in numerous respects care is not one of them.

The Vandervorts train off a 100-acre farm in Wrightstown, New Jersey owned by Shae’s grandfather Joe Greene, at one time a leading horsemen in the Del-Valley at Liberty Bell and Brandywine.

“She (Dot Dot Dot Dash) gets turned out with a couple of other mares in the field. I think it does a world of good for her,” said Vandervort.

Dot Dot Dot Dash is the last foal of Ringside Gigi, a mare trained and raced by William Vandervort Jr. Ringside Gigi and full brother Ringside Rocket, a $583,000 winning gelding that finished third behind greats Magician and Moni Maker in the $1 million Breeders Crown at the Meadowlands in 2000, were both trained by Vandervort Jr.

What’s key for the Vandervorts is they take a lot of pride in what they do. Breeding your own horses and raising them from the ground up can be extremely rewarding and satisfying, but at the same time comes with a certain amount of risk.

Unlike horses purchased at auction, a family breeding operation requires keeping the right mares and breeding them to the right stallions. The difficulty enters when a foal doesn’t look the way you want it to. That could have been the case with Dot Dot Dot Dash. Her size perhaps would have made her difficult to sell at public auction. The fact that she’s doing what she is today is a testament to those that believed she would grow into a solid racehorse.

“There really wasn’t a lot of pressure,” Shae Vandervort said. “We were hoping she would grow and would make the races. She’s a bit high strung but liked to do her work.”

Now with just 44 lifetime starts, Dot Dot Dot Dash appears to have figured out the trotting sport and has found the most lucrative location to get the job done. Yonkers is clearly a place where size is not as important a factor as it might be over a big track. That the mare can be successful racing from off the pace in a business dominated by speed bodes well for her future.

“She got sore on us and made a break in the SOA Trotting final. We gave her some time off,” said Vandervort of the series at Yonkers in April. “It’s tough to race more than three straight weeks over the half-miler at Yonkers so we usually give her a week off afterwards.”

The SOA final was her fourth start in four weeks.

Dot Dot Dot Dash is sound and in good spirits and will likely come back to race on the final Sunday program of the year on December 13 at Yonkers to close out her campaign.

In a world where everyone is looking for instant results, it’s refreshing to find out it’s not the only recipe for success.

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