09/08/2014 1:15PM

Bergman: New York standout Buen Camino is fast on a half

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Mayra Escamilla
Trainer/driver Trond Smedshammer and Buen Camino.

It’s hard to measure anything in the sport by time these days. With claimers and stakes horses breaking all sorts of speed barriers this season, defining just how good a group of horses are comparatively has become an inexact science.

But at times certain numbers pop out that just seem incongruous with normal thinking. For me the process began back in July when I witnessed a two-year-old in a New York Sire Stakes race at Buffalo Raceway trot a mile in 1:59 3/5 while looking very comfortable doing so. Royal Deceptor, a son of R C Royalty (sire of last year’s Hambo winner Royalty For Life), impressed for driver Mickey McGivern on that night. It was shocking to see a two-year-old trotter negotiate what many horsemen consider the tightest half-mile track in the sport so easily. Even more amazing was the final time. It was obviously a track record and we’ve seen records fall with regularity this year. However, when young trotters stay trotting over the Buffalo track going for money, that’s an achievement. When they break two minutes on a half-mile track, that’s exceptional.

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Even more eye-catching is the fact that heading into Saturday’s $225,000 New York Sire Stakes final for juvenile trotting colts at Yonkers Raceway, there have been 10 miles in preliminary legs trotted under 2:00 just on half-mile tracks. Point leader and without question the most impressive in the group is Buen Camino. The altered son of Cash Hall has won four preliminary legs after missing the opening two rounds. All four have been victories over a half mile track, and yes, every one of them under 2:00. There were bookend victories at Yonkers setting him up nicely for the final, but the 1:58 effort at Batavia on August 20 served notice to his rivals just what they’ll be up against.

“I really don’t like to put my horses on the front end,” said Trond Smedshammer, who doubles as driver and trainer for the juvenile gelding. Yet that’s what Smedshammer has done recently and the gelding hasn’t let him down yet.

In his career debut on July 25 at Yonkers, he scored in 1:59 1/5 while racing close to the pace in third for much of the way before finishing powerfully.

Part of Smedshammer’s thinking is justified for any young horse. Some can get a little too comfortable on the front end and lose their will to fight. Generally young horses are better when they have a target to chase and will fight to go by. The same is not always true when repeatedly put in front.

While the 10 sub-2:00 efforts would appear to be some sort of record, Smedshammer isn’t amazed by the times or impressed. “That’s just how fast they are going. The only way to really measure the quality of a horse is by who they beat and the money they make,” Smedshammer said.

Buen Camino has already done his part in the earnings department. Heading into Saturday’s contest he’s already earned $125,338 for owner Wanda Polisseni’s Purple Haze Stables LLC.

Smedshammer put the yearling into training for the breeder last October and liked the horse enough to suggest Polisseni purchase him.

“I gelded him immediately,” said Smedshammer, suggesting that offspring of Cash Hall have indicated some attitude problems in training and he didn’t want to suffer through them while training down.

Buen Camino has been a perfect gentleman on the racetrack, and his speed and handiness is a major plus. As for missing the first two legs of the Sire Stakes despite having the horse qualified, that’s a different story.

“I wasn’t going to send him to Buffalo for his first start,” said Smedshammer. “We had him entered in the second NYSS leg at Tioga but they had a screw up in the race office and they didn’t put him in.”

That could have been a problem if Buen Camino hadn’t gone on such a major roll during the tail end of the preliminaries.

The trainer is well aware that post position will be a factor, but at the same time Buen Camino appears to be separating himself a little from the rest of the colts and geldings heading postward Saturday night. Gabe The Bear Dean, a colt from the first crop of Lucky Chucky, had two sub-1:59 half-mile track New York Sire Stakes triumphs to his credit heading into last Friday’s final preliminary leg. Gabe The Bear Dean followed Buen Camino around the track and couldn’t keep up with him in the final eighth-of-a-mile.

Crazy Wow is one of a few sons of Crazed that has been successful on the circuit in 2014. A 1:54 clock-stopper at Vernon makes him the fastest horse heading into the finals. He scored easily in 1:58 2/5 for catch-driver Dan Rawlings on Friday at Yonkers. Crazy Wow has been an all-or-nothing type thus far, having made a few breaks along the way.

For Buen Camino, Smedshammer will give him a chance to race against the best if he comes out of Saturday night in good shape.

“He’s eligible in Lexington. I think he can trot in the 1:54-1:55 range,” said Smedshammer.

While Buen Camino has been tearing up the NYSS circuit, Smedshammer has another two-year-old a little below the radar. The undefeated Donatomite has captured his first three career starts with relative ease. The trainer thinks the Donato Hanover-sired colt has a bright future. “I think he’s the real deal and could be a Hambletonian horse for next year,” said Smedshammer. “He hasn’t been completely sound and I’m not going to push him.”

Donatomite has a 1:54 4/5 mark taken at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on August 28 in a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes “Stallion Series” leg.

The $4.2 million-winning Arch Madness is a horse near and dear to Smedshammer’s heart. The trainer seemed to be nearing a call on when to end the 10-year-old’s brilliant career. “We’re getting closer to making that decision,” Smedshammer said. Heading into this past Saturday’s Modern Family Open at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Arch Madness had only one win to his credit in 11 starts this year. That number didn’t go up on Saturday as the war horse didn’t fire once again with a trip that surely would have suited him in any other year that didn’t end with a 14. The last thing the owners of Arch Madness want to do is see him race anywhere below the top level he’s maintained through the course of his career. Much like all great athletes there comes a point when age catches up. If this past Saturday’s fourth-place finish was to be his last, at least it should be said that the horse fought valiantly to the wire, only held back by Father Time.