11/03/2014 12:49PM

Bergman: Horse of the Year is too close to call

Derick Giwner
Undefeated 2-year-old pacing filly is certainly a Horse of the Year contender.

The campaign season is about to end for many politicians in this country. Election Day generally offers voters a choice of two candidates while some races are actually unopposed.

With one solid month remaining on the campaign trail and the ballots a long way from being tabulated, harness racing’s Horse of the Year is likely to go down to the wire both literally and figuratively. In a year that has been filled with some amazing performances, voters’ memories will be tested more so than ever. Usually by this time of year collective performance has been accomplished and there are one or two horses that fit the profile expected of a horse worthy of being granted the title.

Yet 2014, at least to date, will have an entirely different conclusion and more than likely in spite of its “All comes down to the Breeders Crown” slogan, still have some open-ended questions when the racing ends and the voting begins.

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Certainly opinions are wide-ranging when it comes to favorites and longshots in the battle for Horse of the Year. At this point in time there is but one horse racing that has a perfect score. Last year Bee A Magician did win all of her races and earned the honor, but there were many voters that weren’t swayed by a filly that dominated a class. Some were let down by her unwillingness to tackle male competition. That said, as we’ve seen in 2014, winning every race, especially 17 in one season, is an extraordinary feat.

JK She’salady has only raced 10 times to date and all have been wins. It’s hard to put her in the same category as Bee A Magician regardless of the obvious age and gait differences. One of the biggest differences in the two-year-old and three-year-old years is competition. Quite often juveniles are simply far more advanced than their foes. Some take longer to mature than others and perhaps that is the case with JK She’salady.

However, there is another school of thought in voting for champions at the end of the year. I like to look back and ask if there were one or two or even three exceptional races that set horses apart from the rest. In an era where fast times tend to be a little too routine to distinguish their meaning, sometimes you have to focus on breathtaking moves or unquestioned courage under adverse conditions as key factors.

In the case of JK She’salady, I had voiced concern early in the year that she had been purposely raced from off the pace. During a time where front end speed has been so dominant and horses that do their best work from off the pace tend to sacrifice wins in the process, JK She’salady has been spectacular. Her ability to win this way suggests two very important qualities that have been recognized. First, she is simply far better than her competition. Second, driver Yannick Gingras has such extraordinary confidence in her ability to go by any other two-year-old filly that he has the luxury of waiting until he’s ready and then letting her fly by her rivals.

No race this year captured the beauty of the filly and the exquisite timing of her driver than her victory in the Eternal Camnation at Mohawk in August. Lagging far off a dawdling pace, the Art Major-sired filly made a wide burst on the final turn and circled the entire field in what seemed like an instant. It was a moment that rarely happens in the sport today. To date J K She’salady’s move was the most breathtaking event I’ve seen in 2014.

Does she earn the title?

That’s a sticky proposition because again we have to compare her to the type of fillies that she’s beating. The fact that she’s never had to race on the front end and has never led a race at the halfway point calls into question not only her strengths, but the quality of those she is buzzing by.

Then we have Sebastian K. No horse in recent times has come on the scene to captivate trotting fans in such a remarkable way. As an eyewitness to his 1:49 score at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs it was something to behold. When Niatross was the first to break the 1:50 barrier for pacers at The Red Mile in 1980 it was an emotional and unexpected moment. On the trotting side it was hard to imagine any horse with a natural gait could go that fast.

Set aside if you will Sebastian K’s recent efforts. Niatross was nearly at the end of his career when he was asked to do the impossible. Sebastian K was just beginning his season when he rewrote the record book.

Losses during this time of year seem to weigh heavier than in the spring and summer. No matter how those behind Father Patrick explain his sudden bout with mortality, the record will show at year’s end that he did not capture one Triple Crown race. He has earned more than any horse in North America and that’s quite an impressive feat when you consider he earned not a dime in the Hambletonian.

Father Patrick will get a few more chances to right his ship starting Thursday at Dover in the Matron, and then likely moving on to the Breeders Crown.

Sebastian K’s level of extraordinary performances this year may have come to an end (he has one more start in the TVG final on 11/29 at the Meadowlands), but that shouldn’t rule him out of any Horse of the Year argument. What he achieved from the first time he set foot on the track on U.S. soil should count for something no matter at what point during the year it took place.

Driver Ron Pierce was trying to make a convincing argument for Shake It Cerry, a filly that has been close to perfect this year but not quite. She devoured stablemate and Hambletonian Oaks winner Lifetime Pursuit at Hoosier Park on Friday in the $193,000 Moni Maker. She’ll be looking for her 14th win in just 16 starts on Thursday in the Matron at Dover Downs. “I think she can beat Father Patrick, but there’s no way Jimmy (trainer Takter) would allow them to race each other,” said Pierce.

How true. At this point Father Patrick doesn’t need any extra competition. He must secure his status in his division and Shake It Cerry will need others to slip up while she remains dominant to have an outside chance at Horse of the Year.

This one’s too close to call.