07/20/2015 12:18PM

Bergman: Measuring greatness in 2015

JL Cruze has defeated some top foes in 2015.

How do we measure greatness?

The subject is forever bandied about in the sport of horse racing and unlike other sports where statistics help galvanize opinion, horses careers can’t always be measured in pure numerical form.

A horse like JL Cruze is a perfect example. By most statistical standards his career before this year was that of just an ordinary performer. Cast off at the end of his 3-year-old season and thought to likely live the remainder of his racing days at the lower levels, the gelding has been a January to July mega-success story. To those of us—including myself—that expected a bounce in his performance line returning just seven days from his record setting 1:49 4/5 effort, the Eric Ell-trained phenom set another world record covering the 1-1/8 mile distance in 2:04 2/5 in the Hambletonian Maturity on Saturday at the Meadowlands.

[DRF BETS: Sign up for DRF Bets & wager on your favorite harness tracks - $200 Signup Bonus + Free 10-card Harness Eye PP plan + 20% Bonus on Exotic wagers!]

The back-to-back record miles, especially for trotters, is something to behold.

Is JL Cruze a great one?

That’s something that requires context and that’s where final times alone can’t tell the complete story.

The context in this case is the level of the horses he’s been facing. Early in the year that level was certainly well below the top level of trotters in North America. Then he started beating Father Patrick and took the measure of the world’s fastest trotter Sebastian K in a huge mile at Mohegan Sun Pocono.

But if we are truly talking about context, you have to look deeper at those two champions. Sebastian K was making his first start of 2015 and ironically his last one as a suspensory injury put an early end to what was to be his final year on the racetrack.

Father Patrick on the other hand looked like the 2 and 3-year-old edition only in his 4-year-old debut in the Maxie Lee at Harrah’s Philadelphia. After that there hasn’t been one single dominant performance by Father Patrick. Saturday’s effort in the Hambo Maturity was perhaps the worst of Father Patrick’s brilliant career.

True, you can only beat the horses that you race against, and that’s no knock against JL Cruze. Yet at this stage of the racing season, the Open trotting class is extremely thin in North America. Just a look across the pond in Europe and you see horses like Nuncio, Maven and Creatine and you ask how well they would be doing right now if they were in the States?

On the pacing side, the rise of Wiggle It Jiggleit to the plateau of Meadowlands Pace winner is not a real surprise. The gelding avenged his lone defeat by putting away North America Cup winner Wakizashi Hanover with authority on Saturday night. Though we never like to accept excuses when a horse gets beat, it’s hard not to give credence to the Teague explanation for the North America Cup loss as just a matter of the horse’s bridle not giving the vision necessary to see the opposition.

Just because Somebeachsomewhere’s name was resurrected for comparison last week is no reason to swing one way or the other about Wiggle It Jiggleit’s standing for greatness in the sport. To be fair, the 2015 Meadowlands Pace victory was an evenly rated (actually slower first half) wire-to-wire effort that offered the race winner no extreme quarters for this class and no serious threat early in the mile.

Somebeachsomewhere’s loss in the 2008 Meadowlands Pace will always go down in my mind as the greatest second-place finish in the history of harness racing. The 2015 champion was not parked to the half in 51 4/5 and therefore there are no metrics for a fair review of the two, at least when considering this one event.

George Teague suggested after the contest that his horse would race more than the 15 times Somebeachsomewhere did in 2008 and that’s great for the sport. However, it’s difficult at this juncture to see if there is an Art Official or any horse in this class with the talent to push Wiggle It Jiggleit far enough so that we might test his character to championship caliber.

Without question Wiggle It Jiggleit is the best horse this year and providing he stays healthy enough the wins should keep on coming.

JAYWALKING: From a longshot players perspective, Saturday’s Meadowlands Pace card was a bonanza. Give Tim Tetrick credit for putting horses in play to succeed in the big events, as he gave Mach It So a great drive to capture the Haughton and then magnificently sent Anndrovette smoking out of the gate in the 1-1/8 mile Golden Girls 12-mare division. That sprint appeared to catch the rest of the field either sleeping or unaware, and the champion tripped-out nicely despite post 10. Tetrick also put Wakizashi Hanover as close to the action as he could without blowing his chances entirely in the opening quarter of the Meadowlands Pace.

There are a few schools of thought when it comes to analyzing a horse’s effort after recovering from a break in stride. I couldn’t believe my eyes when Centurion ATM, a horse that disappeared from the screen totally after making a break in a Stanley Dancer division on Saturday night, roared back to catch the field on the final turn and then swung wide and was gaining menacingly in a 1:50 4/5 winning mile by  The Bank. Trainer Ake Svanstedt is proving that he’s far from a one-horse success story in North America. Even though Centurion ATM has yet to win a race in four tries in 2015, he’s given plenty of indication that he is not lacking in speed. However, there have been countless examples historically of horses not living up to the recovery hype in the following weeks. Some believe that the break in stride frightens a horse to such a degree that they perform over their heads to catch the others. From a pure gambling point of view, I wouldn’t accept short odds on the horse next time, not just because I don’t accept the recovery as true, but because the break in stride could happen again.