10/19/2015 10:43AM

Bergman: Freaky Feet Pete defies conventional breeding wisdom

Linscott Photo
Freaky Feet Pete is by the speedy Rockin Image.

We are a society attracted to name brands.

Harness racing is not immune from an overwhelming attraction to the top names in the sport. Routinely shoppers head to the annual yearling sales looking for pedigrees they are "familiar" with. The names must be recognizable whether they are on the dam’s side of the sire’s side.

At the most recent sale in Lexington, the name Somebeachsomewhere meant an awful lot to those with considerably high taste and even higher expectations.

Brand recognition is a marketing tool that suggests items with a name on them act and perform better than items with other names, or even worse, no names. The less expensive supermarket brands always seems to have a connotation of lesser quality,  but most people already know that those brands are produced under different labels by the same companies producing the more recognized items.

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When Freaky Feet Pete ventured out of Indiana for last Saturday's Breeders Crown elimination he came off a different shelf. There is no Somebeachsomewhere in his bloodstream on either his sires or his dam’s side. A son of Rockin Image out of a Pilgrims Punch mare is not the kind of cross one would be looking for on the top shelf of the standardbred supermarket.

Nevertheless our minds are geared to believe that certain names carry certain characteristics that can't be duplicated from theoretically lesser stock.

The reality in the horse breeding business is that no matter which name is attached to the sire of the dam, a close inspection of the bloodlines would indicate some form of potential.

Building a brand when it comes to reputation is done either on or off the racetrack. It's much more desired for a potential stallion to show great form throughout his racing career. Often there are horses (Garland Lobell to name one) that go on to become incredible sires without an equal-sized performance on the racetrack, but that takes a long time to develop. The biggest names in the breeding business generally are assigned to the horses that left the racetrack as superstars.

But name brands are not always better and in this sport the off-brands tend to rise up with regularity and reach levels unimaginable by those with impeccable taste but a sense of snobbishness about the others.

Freaky Feet Pete was not nominated to the Breeders Crown. He was bred in Indiana and has been raced there exclusively until last weekend. When his trainer and breeder Larry Rheinheimer spoke after his victory in a Crown elimination on Saturday, he had to admit that he had never been to Canada.

So the conditioner and the horse were crossing a new border for the first time and there's always reason to believe the trip won't go well.

It was a brave move to put up $62,500 no matter what economic bracket you have to live in. As last year's Crown races proved, there is no guarantee of a return on your investment. But those who race horses for a living love to compete and no matter who your parents are, or where you come from in this world, there is always a chance you can compete at the highest levels. Economic advantages can only get you so far in this world. Talent is what gets measured and in the son of Rockin Image that was on display on Saturday, there is a horse with an abundance of it.

Since this is the Breeders Crown and Mr. Rheinheimer is in fact a breeder, no one should be quick to say that Freaky Feet Pete's ability is a fluke. Rockin Image was a fresh new face in the stallion market when he was bred to Skyway Lori in 2012. He may have entered stud duty as an "also ran" on the racetrack, but that would only be part of the story of a horse immensely rich in pedigree and at the same time having no shortage of pure speed.

We tend to compare horses many times in an unfavorable way based on one or two performances. It's hard to evaluate the type of competition a horse races against and it's even harder to consider bad trips, or for that matter bad weeks leading up to a big race when looking at the overall performance. That's why horses like Rockin Image can slip through the cracks and end up in Indiana as opposed to Pennsylvania, where Somebeachsomewhere stands.

With the benefit of hindsight we can look back to the Breeders Crown of 2010 for 3-year-old pacers. The races were held at Pocono Downs and everyone can remember then champion and now noted sire Rock N Roll Heaven as the race winner. What few will remember is that Rockin Image, an impeccably bred son of Rocknroll Hanover and Kikikatie, drew post nine on the outside in that race and was parked more than five-eighths of the mile, a mile that saw the first three quarters paced in an eye-arresting 1:19 4/5.

There were winners and losers on that Breeders Crown night in 2010, but not all of the losers fit the "Donald Trump" definition. Some were hard working extremely gifted horses that just happened to meet up with trying circumstances that prevented them from victory.

Rockin Image has been given a second chance to prove himself and given that he not only has Freaky Feet Pete to his credit in a first crop, but also the 1:48 winning 3-year-old filly pacer Rockin Good, he may just prove to be a better sire than some of his contemporaries on the racetrack.

Freaky Feet Pete has not won the Breeders Crown yet, but he was clearly the most impressive 3-year-old on the track at Woodbine last Saturday. He chased down some nice horses but avoided some of the better ones in the second elimination race. He didn't get a perfect trip, at least on paper, but going first over wasn't a particularly bad place to be at Woodbine this past Saturday.

One horse with a negative history after supplementing to the Crown was Always B Miki. The likely favorite for last year's 3-year-old final was scratched from the final at The Meadowlands due to injury. He returned a little less than a year later under the care of Jimmy Takter and effortlessly captured a Crown elimination in the Open pacing division. Returning from any injury that requires a long time to heal and performing to the same level is quite a feat. Returning from an injury and performing at an even higher level is something that can blow the minds of some of the sport's biggest names.

Stars can come from anywhere. Freaky Feet Pete and Always B Miki came from Indiana but will be in the spotlight in Toronto on Saturday night.