07/22/2012 9:32PM

Bergman: Gural, Meadowlands need to put spotlight on horses

Lisa Photo
Jeff Gural

During his campaign to save the Meadowlands last year, Jeff Gural made a successful effort to alter some rules regarding eligibility to major races. Gural’s belief at the time was that too many horses were being retired after their three-year-old seasons thus robbing current and future fans of a champion with name recognition. The new rules would prohibit horses from retiring at four and going to stud or risk their foals would be ineligible to major stakes races.

The feeling was obviously that by the time racing fans become familiar with a great horse he was gone from the racing landscape. Perhaps two years is not enough time to cultivate a name, but two years is a long time to keep a horse going and keep him good.

A week ago the Meadowlands Pace was contested and by all handicapping accounts it contained as many as seven horses with legitimate chances to win. It also included last year’s brilliant Sweet Lou, who was a runaway winner in the Breeders Crown in record time. He returned this year, and while not undefeated, had paced the fastest mile of the year in his North America Cup elimination race.

What’s notable about Sweet Lou is that at no time did the Meadowlands seek to exploit the brilliant pacer in television ads leading up to the $600,000 Meadowlands Pace. Instead the Meadowlands went with the generic commercial about the fun time with all of the additional events at the track trumping the equine stars.

This is the same track that heavily promoted “No Name” camels and ostriches yet somehow couldn’t promote an actual racehorse with incredible credentials.

I asked Gural last week if there was a particular reason he and his marketing team neglected to focus on any specific three-year-old in their advertising. “None of those horses would draw flies,” Gural said in reference to the Meadowlands Pace horses.

The answer seemed odd considering that Sweet Lou entered the race with four wins in five starts this year and 10 wins in 12 starts as a two-year-old.

Why wouldn’t he draw flies?

But more importantly why should owners be forced to bring back their horses at four when the very person who spearheaded the campaign chooses to handicap their credentials as three-year-olds?

That’s right: handicap! Gural was an avid fan of Googoo Gaagaa and wanted to promote that horse until of course he broke in the Yonkers Trot and followed it up with a break in the Dancer.

If Gural and company aren’t willing to promote Sweet Lou and give him name recognition in the metropolitan New York area, just how will the sport benefit when the horse goes on to race as a four-year-old as his owners have already suggested?

Whether Gural likes it or not there is no way to handicap what the sports future stars will look like. But there is a way to give our current stars name recognition. Even the bird that replaced Gural making selections at the Meadowlands has a name.

Floodgates open for Hambo

The likelihood for three eliminations may have been what scared off Check Me Out from entering the $1.5 million guaranteed Hambletonian this week. Three divisions are anticipated when owners drop in the box on Tuesday for eliminations.

Archangel tries to become the first New York-sired colt to win the Hambletonian since Armbro Goal captured the classic in 1988. Armbro Goal was from the last crop of Speedy Crown, a horse that dominated the New York Sire Stakes program from the moment he entered stallion duty until the end.

While Archangel’s victory in the Yonkers Trot was significant, he will have to prove that he can face more than a couple of good horses and turn them back.

This year is probably like no other in recent history with most of the top three-year-olds spaced out through North America and only meeting each other on limited occasions. This past Saturday, Riccolo made a successful debut at the Meadowlands in his first start since entering the Trond Smedshammer stable. The Illinois-bred didn’t work up a sweat winning for the ninth time without defeat in 2012.

Trainer Jeff Gillis had a huge night at Mohawk on Saturday. In addition to the stunning track-record performance of Mister Herbie in the $750,000 Maple Leaf Trot, Gillis’s top three-year-old prospect Knows Nothing was an impressive winner in the Canadian Breeders Championship for sophomore colts. Knows Nothing is eligible to the Hambletonian.

Many story lines in Adios final

No one has won more Adios finals than John Campbell. The Hall of Famer will be after his ninth title this Saturday behind Thinking Out Loud, a colt that showed the same kind of brilliance in defeat last Saturday as he had prior to his victory in the $1.5 million North America Cup in June.

While the chart caller may have forgotten to label the horse “parked out” as he most definitely was in his Adios elimination, Thinking Out Loud’s final half was clocked in 52 2/5 and that included him being three wide through the final turn.

Trainer Bob McIntosh, who has yet to capture this prestigious race, hopes Campbell’s Adios magic can rub off on him with the homebred son of Ponder.

Roger Huston, the Hall of Fame announcer, didn’t think much of Thinking Out Loud when compiling his morning line for the Adios trials. Despite the fact that Thinking Out Loud had gone off as the betting favorite in the Meadowlands Pace a week earlier and is the richest horse in 2012, Huston tabbed him the longest shot of the eight betting interests at 10-1.

While Thinking Out Loud has done his best racing from off the pace, another son of Ponder continues to confound when leading in this extremely contentious division. Bolt The Duer again shied away from the winner’s circle after appearing to have his Adios elimination race sewn up. Much like in the Art Rooney at Yonkers Raceway, Bolt The Duer had a clear lead and was outkicked by a pocket horse. Two weeks ago, Bolt The Duer seemed on the verge of a breakthrough. Now it’s anybody’s guess which horse will show up for the final.

Lastly, how can anyone not marvel at Sweet Lou and A Rocknroll Dance? The two could have gone the way of Warrawee Needy (who has yet to recover from that 25 1/5 opening quarter in the North America Cup) but instead have come back as warriors. Both colts were used in the numbing opening quarter with Sweet Lou used a second time in the race and A Rocknroll Dance getting caught behind the tiring speed. While some have speculated that perhaps A Rocknroll Dance has raced too many weeks in a row, the colt showed no ill effects in his Adios elimination, providing his customary two-move effort from post eight and obviously living to tell about it.

It’s been 35 years since I stood on the roof of The Meadows and watched Governor Skipper and Hall of Famer John Chapman win the Adios in 1977. I can’t wait for this Saturday’s edition.