03/23/2015 11:45AM

Bergman: Finally, back to the racing

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Ken Weingartner/USTA Photo
Foiled Again battled gamely in his 11-year-old debut on Saturday at Yonkers Raceway.

As a fan of horse racing I hate politics.

The sight of five divisions of aged pacers going around the half-mile track at Yonkers Raceway on Saturday night was a breath of fresh air both literally and figuratively. The range of rancor across the social and otherwise uncivilized media in recent weeks diverted attention from the sport. Finally, with actual horses racing in five events with no coupled entries, a modest change appears to have made a major difference.

Make no mistake, in political circles rhetoric is earth shattering as those seeking change continuously blast the status quo. But change when done wrong can lead us on a path of ruin, while change done with thought and moderation can improve things dramatically.

Trainer Ron Burke for years has taken advantage of the rules set out in the Levy series. With his arsenal of quality older pacers, all capable of getting around a half-mile track with little difficulty, he just put horses in the box around this time of year and waited for the checks to clear. Track management realized, perhaps in a painfully slow manner, that all Burke’s entries did was produce boring preliminary legs of a series designed to show the best of what the sport has to offer.

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Surprisingly, when the box for the first leg of the Levy closed this past Tuesday 35 of the 39 eligible horses had entered. There were only five entries from the Burke stable and a unexpected five from trainer Jennifer Sabot. Needless to say the races were split nicely.

The results indicated that there were fewer 1-5 shots and more well-matched divisions despite the fact that the mix produced many horses that were making seasonal debuts and some that were razor sharp for the first round of $50,000 races.

Warrawee Needy and Michaels Power were both vicious as upsetters and the recently imported Polak A took advantage of his first race ever in this country, and the good fortune of meeting up with Yannick Gingras. The pair marched to the fastest of the five divisions, a 1:52 effort. For those of us that have been around long enough, there is nothing as satisfying as watching a “new” horse come to town for the first time and look as imposing. We expect the old ones to do what they’ve done repeatedly in the past, but watching an unknown for the first time is truly exciting.

Speaking of the old ones, now that the vitriol has passed as some in the industry rewrite rules to re-correct problems that didn’t actually exist, Foiled Again, an 11-year-old, returns to redefine the rules of being a standardbred. No restrictions could keep this warrior from his appointed rounds and despite a second-place finish on Saturday night, the old guy really hasn’t lost a step.

What’s truly remarkable about Foiled Again is how he seems to always get into some trouble in a race but fight his way out of it, like a boxer working out of a corner. Gingras and Foiled Again left the gate, to the surprise of literally no one on Saturday night. While many of the other first-time starters looked for the easy trip around the track, Foiled Again knew it was a pari-mutuel race and that meant to do anything and everything to try to win. With Gingras urging him on, Foiled Again went through the first turn and didn’t have an easy time. Driver Jody Jamieson had come down for just one drive with Apprentice Hanover and Jamieson either intently or because he couldn’t control his horse, appeared to come out in the turn slightly forcing Foiled Again wide in the early sprint. Gingras and Foiled Again were both visibly working to secure the front and the first quarter appeared exhausting. Like the warrior he’s been for so many years, Foiled Again shook off the effort and was composed through the middle half. P H Supercam, last year’s Levy final winner, was able to take advantage of the passing lane and his sprinting power earned him the victory. Yet anyone watching the race had to notice that Foiled Again wanted more after the wire and perhaps once seeing the winner accepted the challenge and kept going.

Champions are determined on the racetrack. This year’s Levy series with its new horses and its old horses has the potential to be the best in quite some time. A slight revision in the rules was all that was necessary to assure a level-playing field for all. Most of the trainers not named Ron Burke applauded the change and thankfully they entered in numbers so that there were five divisions in the opening leg and none of Burke’s horses were deprived entry. It is fitting, however, considering how adept Burke is, that he nominated exactly five for the Levy. Did he actually know how many horses would be named?

Fond memories of Jim Doherty

The last time I saw the late Jim Doherty was at opening night for the New Meadowlands grandstand in November of 2013. He was there at the beginning and he was there at the rebirth and each time he was genuine and hopeful. Doherty was incredibly upbeat about his horses and the sport. He was able to sidestep his personal issues and talk freely about horses as if nothing else was going on in his world.

The true horseman, Doherty generally understated his success and moved past disappointment with deft ease. He was genuinely happy when others did well, something often lost to the general public but not to those who admired him.

The first horsemen that came to the Meadowlands in the early years were fiercely competitive while racing for unheard of money, but at the same time had compassion for their horses and respect for those they met on the racetrack.

While times and horses change over the course of a lifetime, to me Jim Doherty was the same in 2013 as he was in 1976. Whether competitive at the top of the sport or campaigning just one or two horses, there was no difference in gentleman Jim.

May he Rest in Peace.

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