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Bergman: Master Of Law is no one-race wonder
Order and stability are the cornerstones of civilization. In racing, we like to think what happened last week will happen again this week. Sebastian K arrived on the racing scene in North America with a reputation and within weeks it soared to incredible heights.
Even when Sebastian K lost a race, by a scant nose, he lost few admirers. To many it was a fluke that could be explained away by a wet track.
Yet when Sebastian K had an “off night” at Hoosier Park two weeks ago in the Centaur Trot finishing seventh, again on a surface a little less than fast, the focus was on the track, the horse, and not the conqueror.
True, six horses finished ahead of Sebastian K in that race and that is perplexing when one tries to put perspective on it. At the same time, only one horse came away with a victory and that was Master Of Law.
Sure, there could be the argument that if Sebastian K wasn’t himself someone had to win the race. But again, those comments do little to give enough credit to the victor.
While Master Of Law was essentially winning for the first time against aged competition at the elite level, it’s hard to be convinced that his victory was anything fluke-like. Though we’ve been conditioned to believe that four-year-olds are not supposed to be able to make the jump and defeat horses in Sebastian K’s league, the very presence of Master Of Law in the race indicates that a decent amount of smart horse people believe otherwise.
“He’s always been a talented horse,” said Frank Antonacci, his former trainer and perhaps biggest fan. “He’s got amazing speed and can go all day. It’s just that you have to do it his way.”
Antonacci has always believed in Master Of Law’s ability. “Scott (Zeron, his former driver) did a great job with this horse educating him and bringing him along,” said Antonacci, specifically about the gelding’s three-year-old campaign.
Last year Master Of Law gave glimpses of incredible speed, while at the same time showed characteristics that give trainers grey hairs.
Master Of Law appeared destined for greatness in 2013 as Antonacci had the son of Deweycheatumnhowe poised for a late-season run. Master Of Law did everything right initially, winning six of his first seven starts including an impressive 1:52 4/5 effort in capturing the Kentucky Sire Stakes championship at the Red Mile.
The connections rightfully put him in the major stakes events in the fall. The Canadian Trotting Classic and the Kentucky Futurity were tests that should have brought out the best Master Of Law had to offer.
That wasn’t the case.
Master Of Law’s streak of good behavior and winner’s circle appearances changed dramatically to break after break after break. So even though he finished the year with six wins in just 11 starts and more than $180K banked, Master Of Law exited his three-year-old campaign as more of a horse you had to wonder about than a horse you were convinced could lead a path to greatness.
Master Of Law began 2014 with Antonacci but again showed some of the same quirks that plagued him as a three-year-old.
After a break in stride in his four-year-old debut, the Hambletonian Maturity on July 5 at the Meadowlands, it was time for a change.
“He had post ten and was looking out at the grandstand,” said Antonacci about Master Of Law’s tendency to drift off and lose concentration at exactly the wrong time in races.
Trainer Jimmy Takter was given the horse to train after that effort and his wife Christina purchased an interest in Master Of Law.
“The decision to give the horse to Jimmy was really about what we thought was best for the horse’s future,” said Antonacci. “We’d had great success with Jimmy racing in Europe and Master Of Law seemed like the type of horse that would do well over there.”
Indeed the Antonacci’s had more than their fair share of success in Europe with Takter campaigning the late Moni Maker around the globe.
But Master Of Law had looked nothing at all like Moni Maker in five straight purse starts that were all mired by his breaking habit.
Before any horse is going to cross the Atlantic he’s going to have to show that he can complete a mile without making a break and also be able to handle the elite level of competition.
Giving the horse to Takter gave the owners the expertise of Takter sitting behind the horse in training and again in the races, so that the master trainer could learn every nuance of Master Of Law’s behavior patterns and hope to correct them, little by little.
On July 18, in his first start for Takter, Master Of Law swept the field with a vicious turn of speed defeating a mid-level field that happened to include last year’s Hambletonian champ Royalty For Life in a 1:52 clocking.
Master Of Law would again race from off the pace in an Invitational on Hambletonian Day and trot his final quarter in :26 1/5 while finishing a solid third.
Racing strictly from off the pace in today’s racing environment is a recipe for failure and not success. Such proved the case in Master Of Law’s first encounter with Sebastian K on August 28 in the Crawford Farms at Vernon Downs. Sebastian K went to the front and won effortlessly. Master Of Law went to the back and finished ninth.
Three weeks later, Master Of Law would pick up live cover in the Centaur and even the score with Sebastian K at one apiece with a very easy victory.
“This is more than a one-race horse,” said Takter with confidence last week. “I think he’s the kind of horse that can keep going no matter how long the race is.”
Takter was alluding to the fact that Master Of Law is a horse that has the lung capacity designed for long-distance affairs. Something there is little of in North America. On the other hoof, European trotting races offer numerous chances to race at longer distances than the mile.
Before heading to Europe or anywhere outside of Kentucky, Master Of Law has a third meeting with Sebastian K planned for Sunday in the $173,000 Allerage Farms at the Red Mile.
“I watched him train this morning (last Tuesday) and he looked fantastic,” said Antonacci of his formal pupil.
At the same time, Antonacci cautioned, “Sebastian K can leave so fast and control a race,” he said. “We have to come from behind.”
We’ll see what happens when the rising star meets the biggest star this weekend.
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