11/10/2014 10:59AM

Bergman: Only the strong will survive

Derick Giwner
Can Father Patrick bounce back from some recent misfortune?

Only the strong survive.

So said Jerry Butler in his 1968 hit but the words still ring true today.

The racing season leaves no rest for the weary and through the magic of the New Meadowlands we’ll feast to some impressive racing action in the next three weeks. To many in the three-year-old and aged divisions the stakes season has taken a toll. Remaining sharp through three seasons has become more difficult than ever and entering this critical time period some performances are in the past.

Take Father Patrick, a horse that made the headlines prior to racing last Thursday in the Matron. His connections suggested Father Patrick will be both racing and breeding in 2015. While the possibility does exist there are still some loose ends that need to be closed in order for the horse to breed in Pennsylvania and train in another state.

Regardless of what Father Patrick does in 2015, what he’s done in the last month has been even more shocking than his future plans. To see a horse that appeared letter perfect through July falter in so many ways is a mystery. While this generation of fans requires explanations moments after the outcome of a race, a look at some of Father Patrick’s recent miles would indicate that there is some loss of confidence.

It’s hard to conceive how this dominant trotter willingly sat a two-hole in the Kentucky Futurity at the Red Mile?

Great horses throughout the history of this sport have been given respect when they set foot on the racetrack. Most of them are put in control of the race at some point early in the mile with a general understanding that the competition would rather yield than fight, at least early in the mile.

Yannick Gingras is in the middle of a magical year. What has catapulted him to the top is his aggressiveness. Needless to say Gingras has been far less aggressive with Father Patrick in the last few months than most any horse he drives regularly.

Before Father Patrick made his second break of 2014 in the Matron on Thursday Gingras was methodically working his way to the gate despite starting from the inside post. It was surprising not to see the horse with his nose on the gate or closer to it as the field swung into the backstretch. There’s no sense trying to read the driver’s mind when it comes to strategy because Father Patrick made a break soon after the start.

Yet if we look back in Father Patrick’s past performances we see a few more races where he was chasing horses and not allowing them to chase him. He couldn’t track down stablemate Nuncio in Kentucky nor could he go past E L Titan, a horse he dominated on the front end in the American-National, just three weeks later racing from off the pace at Hoosier Park.

To be fair the last two races Father Patrick competed in were contested on off tracks and perhaps that could be his Achilles heel.

Of course a few good races in the next two weeks could change how everyone receives Father Patrick whether as a stallion or as a racehorse, or both. Right now Nuncio appears the strongest horse in the three-year-old male trotting division.

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The three-year-old male pacing division has an extremely strong Breeders Crown contender in Always B Miki. A horse that raced in both the North America Cup and Meadowlands Pace during the summer may be in better form in November than he’s ever been. Carefully raced in Indiana during much of the summer and early fall, Always B Miki has become a better and more dominant racehorse. Confidence matters whether it is the driver or the horse. In the case of Always B Miki he’s matured into a versatile horse that appears equally comfortable racing off or on the pace. Now that he’s moved to nearly the head of the class we’d expect Always B Miki to be near the lead in the Breeders Crown at the Meadowlands.

Always B Miki enters the Breeders Crown with eight wins in his last nine starts. Perhaps his victory in the Monument Circle at Hoosier Park in 1:52 was his most impressive despite being the slowest of his 11 winning miles this year. The Halloween night conditions were brutal but Always B Miki fought through the cold, wind, snow and track bias to victory.

Trainer Joe Holloway has kept the son of Always A Virgin in rare form while some others in the division have battled each other into submission.

Last Thursday’s Matron at Dover proved such an exercise as Cane Pace winner Lyonssomewhere blasted to the front much as he did in capturing the first jewel of pacing’s Triple Crown. Luck Be Withyou, second recently in the final Triple Crown leg The Messenger, and Tim Tetrick wanted no part of a three-hole trip and midway through the opening bend got on the move. What followed was a vicious :52 4/5 half mile clocking with Messenger winner All Bets Off already on the offensive before the half to challenge. Needless to say the duel worked against all three horses with longshot Big Boy Dreams picking up the spoils at 24-1. McWicked, a colt that enjoyed tremendous success this summer, tried to leave the gate for Dave Miller in the Matron but was quickly looped. He would up trapped inside and came free late with some pace. McWicked will be making his first mile-track start of his career in the Breeders Crown at The Meadowlands. His only big track (7/8 mile) victory this year came in a North America Cup elimination race at Mohawk.

Racing key races in November leaves a few more variables on the table with the chance of wind and cold weather playing a role in the outcome. But in a sport where we like to believe our horses are tougher than the rest champions need to prove themselves no matter what the conditions.

Only the strong will survive.

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