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Bergman: Final thoughts from record-setting Sun Stakes
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
That was the feeling on Saturday night at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. Even Ferris Bueller would be excused for missing some of the action during a hectic and way too fast-paced evening where five exceptionally great races that produced world records beyond belief, were stapled together so tightly it was hard not just for the horses to catch their breath, but those watching as well.
It’s difficult to say that any fan of harness racing could be let down by the action that took place at Pocono, with the sport’s greatest stars looking to shine under the Sun Stakes program.
I was fortunate to be in the paddock at Pocono on Saturday and that gave me an early glimpse of what true expectations were. For those who had witnessed the flawless Sebastian K at the Meadowlands, Pocono brought with it what appeared on paper to be the chance for a first “true-test” for Sebastian K.
Driver Dave Palone commented to me before the race. He had driven his horse Modern Family to a victory over the five-eighths mile track at Scioto in the Charlie Hill and would be starting from post six directly inside Sebastian K.
“This horse can fly out of the gate,” Palone said of his rather accomplished trotter. He’s going to have to get around me.”
Palone didn’t go in the race without knowledge of how good Sebastian K had been in North America. “I’ve seen all of his races, he’s awesome,” said Palone pre-race.
On the other side of the fence stood Bernie Noren, assistant trainer to Ake Svanstedt and the Sebastian K team. Bernie was trying not to say too much before the race or give anything away. He told me that the horse has a strict routine of training twice a week and spending the rest of the time in the paddock. While cognizant of the reputation the horse had built on this side of the Atlantic, Noren didn’t want to focus on anything other than Sebstian K winning the $100,000 Sun Invitational Trot. The idea of the horse becoming the first to break the 1:50 mark on a track of a mile or under was not in the conversation.
But after Wind Of The North captured the second race trot in 1:51, Noren got very curious. The trainer went over to the driver’s board in the paddock where each page of the program is fastened to the wall. It’s a place where drivers generally go to see who their next mount is or to assess what the competition looks like. Noren, caring for two horses on the card, couldn’t resist. I spotted him checking the program page out to find out just what kind of horse Wind Of The North had been prior to Saturday night and just how fast he’d trotted. A smile came to his face when he noticed previous times in 1:53 and 1:54. For someone trying to conceal what he already knows about the enormous ability of Sebastian K, Noren’s actions indicated to me that he fully expected an otherworldly performance.
So it was kind of surprising not just that Sebastian K could get the lead early in the Sun Invitational, but that his driver would not be rolling down to the half in a big hurry.
“Yannick (driver Gingras sitting the pocket with Archangel) was yelling at Ake to pick up the pace,” said Palone after the race.
The 55 3/5 opening half left no one a clue that a 1:49 record-shattering mile was in the offing. The beauty of all great European trotters that I’ve seen is their uncanny ability to start and stop and start again. Sebastian K wasted no time at the start getting around even the previously quick-footed Modern Family in the blink of an eye. “He was going as fast as he could and I almost lost him,” said Palone of Modern Family in the early stages. “I could do nothing to keep him from going around me.”
Sebastian K followed his 26 2/5 opening quarter with a 29 1/5 second quarter. Then suddenly he was shot out of a cannon again blasting a 26 1/5 third quarter before leaving the field for good on the final turn with a 27 1/5 breathtaking last panel.
For someone who had been at the Red Mile in the Fall of 1980 to witness Niatross become the first pacer to break the 1:50 barrier, the Sebastian K performance was different but no less special.
“Bueller . . .Bueller . . .Bueller.”
Ben Stein’s monotone delivery could hardly wake up a class and that’s pretty much the feeling I walked away with from the $500,000 Ben Franklin Memorial.
While Ben’s classroom was disinterested, I was more focused before the race on Captaintreacherous and whether he could be a leader, as his name suggests on Saturday.
Early indications were not good as I spoke candidly with trainer Tony Alagna.
“This is his last race on a five-eighths mile track this year,” Alagna said pre-race. “He’s got the Haughton next week at the Meadowlands. We’re not going to kill him. But I haven’t talked to Tim (Tetrick) yet so I’m not sure what he wants to do.”
While I was not certain what Tetrick thought before the race, during the mile it was rather clear that neither Tetrick, nor his horse were interested in “going down with the ship,” so to speak.
It was somewhat ironic to me that Larry Karr, part-owner of Sweet Lou and Foiled Again, had Tweeted me earlier in the week when I posted a comment that the Burke-stable’s four horses in the Franklin final should be coupled. Karr agreed that the three horses—Sweet Lou, Bettors Edge and Foiled Again—should be coupled, but that Allstar Legend shared ownership with Captaintreacherous.
Karr before the race on Saturday tried to convince me that despite having four horses all on the inside of the Franklin, Burke was not orchestrating driver strategy. “I’m telling you he doesn’t talk to these guys,” Karr said before horses had warmed up.
Clearly anyone who watched the first quarter-mile in the Franklin would have to agree as all four Burke-trained horses clogged the racetrack while sprinting hard for the lead. The most curious of the quartet though had to be the aforementioned Allstar Legend and driver Scott Zeron. “I don’t know what he was thinking,” said Sweet Lou’s driver Ron Pierce in the winner’s circle after his 1:47 world record performance. “Did he think he was going to step around Bettors Edge; that horse can leave real fast.”
Zeron has done a lot of driving this year for trainer Tony Alagna and the owners of Captaintreacherous. Allstar Legend, the longest shot on the board at 166-1, was doing what the 2-1 Captaintreachous should have been doing in the first quarter.
That is fighting for the lead.
Despite the presence of a rogue stablemate, Pierce rolled on with Sweet Lou and survived a wide first three-eighths and a brutal 25 2/5 quarter before taking the lead.
Reputations are built on toughness and taking on challenges on the racetrack, not in the commentary that explains it either before or afterwards.
Sweet Lou has taken the long road to get here and deserves the warrior badge. He has true battle scars from taking a punch and giving a punch every time the bell rang.
Liz You are so right. I forgot to mention three cheers to the owners for bringing him to the U.S. so everyone can share in this special horse. And I'm glad for you that you have been able to get a first hand look at this champion. I always thought Niatross was the most beautiful standardbred I had ever seen. Years ago I had a friend in the business who took me to the farm where Niatross was standing stud the year after he retired. The led him out of the stall so we could see him and it took my breath away. He was stunning in both looks and confirmation. I haven't had a chance to see Sebastian K in person as I now live in Las Vegas, but thank God for computers and the ability to view video of just about any race that's been run. He looks special.
The joke is allowing four or five horses with the same connections in the final. The punch line is expecting that there will be no suspicions.
Doug and Jay, I think that we are watching a superior horse , in fine form and trained and driven the minute by someone who knows him inside out. Bernie has been around him since December, so he has a good idea of how he is doing and what he needs. I was lucky to be around him as he completed his import quarantine at the farm I work. He exudes class . I for one am enjoying the ride so far, and applaud his owners gamble of bringing him over here. They set some lofty goals and so far are more than fulfilling them. He has speed on both ends , is very smooth gaited and looks to be very obedient and tractable. Let's sit back and enjoy the show !
I Think most of the races he has lost in europe is on longer races then the mile.He has stiff competion over 2140meters and over.But on the shorter races,hes has always been hard to beat.Sorry for the bad English.
Doug, Can only say that Dave Palone called Sebastian K the best standardbred he'd ever seen. I'm not quite ready to pass judgment for the same reason some others have commented. I wish I honestly knew just how good the competition Sebastian K is facing really is. This horse obviously didn't win all of his races in Europe, just a good percentage. Gingras claimed that he still had horse with Archangel when his horse broke at the three-quarter pole. That's the way it looked to me while watching the race.
As someone once said "time only means something when you are doing it in jail". Sebastian K is a magnificent animal and should be celebrated not just for his amazing swiftness but for his beautiful gate and unbelievably good looks. He looks close to the perfect horse. Watch his races and he is absolutely flying with nary a hair out of place. His ears are pricked, and his gait is magnificent while those around him (and they are some pretty good horses) strain to stay within shouting distance. Is he the best ever? That would be hard to say after only four races, but I've been around this game since the 70's and haven't seen any better. Your thoughts Jay?
Sweet Lou struggled at 4 and is really good at 5. Hopefully Captain isn't gonna struggle at 4 because he won't have the chance to redeem at 5 like Sweet Lou has had. I have no idea what driver and horse were doing in that race, but the race was over as soon as it started for Captain. Maybe he's just not the same horse, but come on, he couldn't leave any better than 7th???
These times are a joke..last night 12k claimer went 1:48 ticks..the surface is biased and merrygoround..check out the handle on any non event night there too that will make you laugh too...these times do nothing to benefit standerdbred racing