12/08/2014 12:56PM

Bergman: Mission Brief is supernatural

Derick Giwner
Mission Brief leaving the competition in her dust, as usual.

This column is not intended to influence the voters for Horse of the Year. As we reach the final days of voting for the prestigious award there appears to be more motivation than ever to get the word out and hopefully gain wide acceptance.

In truth, much like the Bowl Championship Series that chose the top four college football teams on Sunday for a playoff, those voting for this years Horse of the Year are likely to draw different conclusions based on a “body of work.”

As we saw on Sunday, going undefeated didn’t appear to hold the weight it once did. The lone undefeated team, Florida State, ranked only third despite not having to explain away a loss.

We too have undefeated ones in the mix this year and judging from the recent outpouring of opinions ours could receive the same fate.

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It matters not to me who the winner will be. I’ll place my vote and not announce it to the public. The horse that it won’t be is the one I believe to be the most “brilliant” performer of 2014—Mission Brief.

While voters find it hard to compare the body of work that a two-year-old filly must go through when compared to a grueling three-year-old season or an even tougher aged campaign, those who have witnessed enough horse races over time know when they have seen something extraordinary.

Make no mistakes and you are perfect.

Make mistakes like Mission Brief did during her two-year-old season and people can label you as flawed.

We can say a lot about Mission Brief, but we can’t say she was a natural.

She is in fact supernatural.

“Buck I St Pat was the only trotter I ever had that I thought could win from anywhere,” said Ron Burke, trainer of Mission Brief. “Look at what she did in the Breeders Crown. She went as fast as the older mares and wasn’t tired. Yannick (driver Gingras) said he had more in the tank.”

Comparing horses based on final times has become more than an inexact science over the years. In spite of that, age generally separated horses more distinctly, and the Breeders Crown 1:51 4/5 effort was as stunning as they come leading some to suggest she deserved an invite to the TVG Trot final.

Perhaps most interesting about Mission Brief is that she has more than lived up to her pedigree. We have had champions before and will have them again, but rarely, very rarely do we see a perfect racehorse such as Muscle Hill throw one that may prove superior in every way. Niatross couldn’t do it. Somebeachsomewhere hasn’t done it yet.

It was admiration of Muscle Hill that led Burke and company to pay dearly for Mission Brief. The group has been known to pay a lot but essentially spend wisely for racehorses. Going out on a limb and speculating on an unraced yearling trotter for $150,000 wasn’t how the Burke stable made its name.

“I don’t think Brian (Sears) ever had to push Muscle Hill to the limit,” said Burke, comparing Mission Brief in many ways. The juvenile trotting filly has made breaks during her first season at the races but has never finished a mile on empty.

As easy as Burke makes it look on the racetrack with a reputation for success that has never been matched in this sport, the path was far from easy putting Mission Brief on the track.

“Training down she never went a flat mile,” said Burke. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t a surprise to the trainer she made breaks during races. At the same time, the trainer had enormous confidence in her ability and finally reached the conclusion.

“We just had to figure out a way to let her do it her way,” said Burke.

With nine wins in 13 starts and a bit under $600,000 in seasonal earnings, Mission Brief certainly left money on the table. She made breaks in two of the richest races of the year, the Peaceful Way and Goldsmith Maid, both held in Ontario.

When she did not break, she did not lose. Better yet, when she did not break fillies in her class had a hard time getting close to her. Only Danielle Hall, a courageous filly in her own right and runner-up in the Breeders Crown, came within a length and a quarter of her in the Goldsmith Maid trials. It was a race that Mission Brief strolled around the track and that Gingras never asked her for speed.

While time may not be the measuring stick anymore, ease of effort or for that matter what appears to be lack of needed effort can define greatness. Mission Brief was clearly in a class all by herself in 2014.

The 1:50 3/5 world record mile at The Red Mile will certainly stand out as an incredible effort. We will only know just how great that performance is years from now if it remains unbroken. While the track was uncommonly fast in Lexington at times this fall, that effort still appears light years ahead of this generation of trotters.

Given history, there’s little reason to expect that any from this freshman class that were unraced in 2014 will rise dramatically to the level of Mission Brief as three-year-olds. We’ve seen this picture over and over again. Those that didn’t compete at two have a long and difficult road to reach the top level of trotting and capture the classics.

Burke has turned out Mission Brief and expects to begin training for her three-year-old campaign in January with no rush. He’s careful not to become overconfident in her ability, suggesting that a break in stride will always be a possibility.

The Hambletonian has gone through its longest drought without a filly winning the coveted prize. Continentalvictory was the last to capture the sport’s most prestigious event when she did so in 1996. Mission Brief has established herself as the clear favorite to win the classic in 2015.

She’s already The Horse of this year.