06/16/2014 12:47PM

Bergman: "Game of Thrones" in the older pacing ranks

Derick Giwner
Captaintreacherous is one of the top contenders to wear the Older Pacing Horse of the Year crown in 2014.

Harness racing’s Game of Thrones will make its debut this Saturday night at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. Much like the suspense-filled HBO epic series, the standardbreds will fight valiantly to secure what currently is a vacant seat.

The return to action of Captaintreacherous on Friday night calmed the waters of many of those non-believers that questioned what capacity last year’s three-year-old champion would return to as a four-year-old. Post 10 was not nearly enough to put the son of Somebeachsomewhere off course as he coasted to victory in the $100,000 Meadowlands Maturity.

Captaintreacherous’ owner and manager Myron Bell was happy with his horse’s first start and was looking forward to the Ben Franklin, a $500,000 event that will have eliminations on June 21 (probably two) and a final the following Saturday. “He won four of five races there and the only loss came when Sunshine Beach got a wheel under him,” said Bell of Captaintreacherous’ prowess at Pocono.

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Yet as we all know, that was last year when the champion raced exclusively against his age group and was dominant. This year finds a new cast of characters for him to face, but much like Game of Thrones, some of them have gotten closer to the crown and others appear further away.

Trainer Ron Burke appears to have as many alliances as the Lannisters (family of characters from the show) and is likely to send out a wide-ranging army in pursuit of the Ben Franklin title. Perhaps that is something that the Captaintreacherous camp will have to deal with on a regular basis this year. Last year there was no stable deep enough to team up to defeat the “Captain” but this year Burke has more than enough in his arsenal to make life more difficult for any “single” entry.

The leader of Burke’s team right now is unquestionably Sweet Lou. A great two-year-old, Sweet Lou had a solid, if not dominant three-year-old season. He, like many before him, had difficulty making the transition from three-year-olds to aged horses and managed to taste defeat more regularly last year than he had during his first two years of racing. The son of Yankee Cruiser has come back with a vengeance after Burke spared him the half-mile track at Yonkers and allowed him to regain his form on the bigger tracks. A recent victory in the Roll With Joe at Tioga was convincing enough for most to give him a top ranking in the division. Certainly from the caliber of horse he faced at two and three-years of age, and then the very rude treatment he got last year when Foiled Again and Pet Rock had vintage campaigns, Sweet Lou has been more than battle tested.

Burke’s Foiled Again and Bettor’s Edge both raced well in the Mohawk Gold Cup this past Saturday night, but neither came away from the race victorious. It’s always too early to declare Foiled Again past his prime in spite of the fact that an 80-1 shot named Evenin of Pleasure defeated him. At the same time, Foiled Again may appreciate the move from the big track to the five-eighths mile at Pocono where his speed and stamina have worked well for him in the past.

Bettor’s Edge is no slouch either. His 1:48 1/5 effort two weeks back was for real and though he gave way in the late stages on Saturday, he is a horse that can make multiple moves and live to tell about it.

Bolt The Duer, another five-year-old in the crowd of top free-for-all pacers, finally got his act together on Saturday night over the five-eighths miler at Pocono. No match for Sweet Lou in the Roll With Joe, the son of Ponder faced a little weaker company and showed speed, making multiple moves in a 1:48 2/5 mile, a strong indication that he probably needed some real racing to get tight.

That’s where we have to wonder about Captaintreacherous and the game plan to enter him in qualifiers only until June 13. Sure, he looked every bit the same horse coming back on Friday that he had during a long and prosperous three-year-old campaign, but it’s hard to imagine any of his qualifiers or even Friday’s mile, clocked in 1:49 2/5, can tighten him the way a few extreme speed miles would.

Sweet Lou took time and racing to get this sharp. Bolt The Duer took time and racing just to reach the winner’s circle for the first time.

What will definitely make the racing over the next two weeks interesting are the questions that need to be answered. With the HBO series on hiatus, we need to find out, is Captaintreacherous ready and able to race against and dominate his rivals? Can Sweet Lou begin to collect hardware in 2014 much as he did in 2011? We need to know whether Bolt The Duer will tease us with his amazing quick speed or will he reach the plateau his connections have long anticipated? And then there is Sunshine Beach, a one-time conqueror of Captaintreacherous by a nose last August in the Battle of the Brandywine held at Pocono. Is his one start on Saturday enough to have him ready to repeat some of his awesome efforts at three?

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Myron Bell appeared excited to see his horse in action and to witness what will play out. “He’s an athlete,” Bell said of Captaintreacherous, “He does things so easily.”

Asked if Captaintreacherous was a better horse racing from off the pace?

“You saw the way he raced in the Hempt last year (at Pocono), he wants to pass horses,” Bell said. “But the drivers want to be near the front in races to give the horse a better chance to win.”

And therein lies the most difficult question to answer. How easy will it be against a solid group of horses for Captaintreacherous to secure the lead?

With this group getting together each week the story lines will be genuine and the quality likely to be far more exciting than anything on TV this summer.

Let the “Games” begin.