11/18/2016 9:33AM

Bergman: Reliving the Always B Miki vs. Wiggle It Jiggleit battle

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Derick Giwner
Always B Miki will make a final appearance at The Meadowlands for his retirement ceremony on Friday night.

There was sadness in the voice of Jimmy Takter when we spoke last week prior to the final race of Always B Miki’s career. Takter has always had a soft spot for his horse and that’s understandable. Yet it appeared on my end of the line that Takter wanted to see his champion go out in style, not just win but forever put to rest the decision in the Wiggle It Jiggleit debate. That final match-up didn’t take place as Wiggle It Jiggleit’s season came to an end prior to entries being drawn.

Like Takter, I looked at the TVG as an important race, yet without one of the two stars in the lineup, how could it actually live up to what we’ve become accustomed to during this incredible racing season?

As we’ve come to understand in this sport, purses and finish times matter very little when assessing the top athletes. How they perform against one another is the sole determining factor that remains.

[DRF HARNESS LIVE: Real-time analysis and LIVE Video from Yonkers Raceway this Sunday afternoon.]

For Takter and the rest of us there is no need to be sad. Through the power of replay, we no longer have to attempt to visualize the great races of the past we witnessed only once and are left with our imagination to expand or contract its virtue.

Saturday night left us with a nice going away present from Always B Miki, as he showed up in a big way to vanquish rivals that were not expected to give him a race down the stretch.

There were so many great races this year that 2017 may be hard-pressed to come close simply because the horses won’t be able to match the ability, stamina and competitiveness of this extraordinary class. It’s too early to say for some, but the races we witnessed may stand in the once-in-a-lifetime category, depending how old you are today.

Always B Miki’s first big race of the year didn’t happen to come against Wiggle It Jiggleit, but at the time there seemed to be another horse in the lineup that had stepped to the top. Mel Mara had defeated Always B Miki at The Meadowlands in a race that he had sped away from his rival and gained enough separation early. So on June 25 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, the two would do battle in an epic elimination for the Ben Franklin.

Corey Callahan had the reins behind Mel Mara from the pole position in the Franklin elim and after allowing outside horses to cross over in the 26-second opening quarter, he made a blistering speed move to take control into the stretch the first time. David Miller with Always B Miki pretty much had a similar strategy in mind and he sent Always B Miki full throttle to try to gain control of the issue before the second turn. It was a split second decision to make for Callahan and he chose to park the favorite as opposed to yielding. What ensued was an epic battle past a 53-second half and through a 1:19 4/5 three quarters that would sap the strength of most horses. Instead what it produced was a weakened Mel Mara and a powerful Always B Miki in the homestretch of the 1:47 mile. Times were incredibly fast at Pocono on that evening, but the two other elimination winners didn’t spend three quarters of the mile on the outside as Always B Miki did to accomplish their victories.

The Franklin final was a much easier race for Always B Miki to navigate as Miller gained control in the early stages. It was a race where Montrell Teague took severe criticism for allowing then bitter rival Freaky Feet Pete to cross over before the quarter thus pushing Wiggle It Jiggleit into the three-hole when Always B Miki assumed control. The Franklin final did produce an epic struggle, as Teague forced the issue from the half and the duo dueled through a 26 2/5 third quarter that appeared at the time to set it up for the pocket-sitting Freaky Feet Pete. In the stretch the top three maintained their positions, with Always B Miki too strong for either rival.

While the mile track may be the fairest of all for every horse, it appears as if this year’s best races came over the five-eighths mile tracks, with Ohio the beneficiary of two of the best races of this or any other year. The Ewart on September 10 at Scioto Downs could be the one race where the connections of both horses agree that their horses went perhaps the biggest miles of the year.

George Teague suggested that Wiggle It Jiggleit’s slim defeat on that night was an incredible and courageous effort for the 4-year-old considering how hard (25 2/5) his horse had to work just to clear the lead and that he had no time to rest before Always B Miki was quickly at his flank. What made the Ewart such a monumental event in my mind was that Brett Miller was in the bike substituting for David Miller behind Always B Miki. Brett didn’t just move off the rail with Always B Miki and methodically grind up to the leader. Instead Always B Miki was sent full throttle in pursuit of Wiggle It Jiggleit and the two horses were eyeball-to-eyeball through a hellacious 26-flat quarter, with neither giving ground and both drivers actively urging their horses on. If there’s one bit of footage to show the entire world that would best capture the spirit of this sport, I would suggest we replay that piece of the mile for eternity.

Always B Miki got the best of Wiggle It Jiggleit in the shadow of the wire in the Ewart but the runner-up earned more respect at the same time.

In the end, as we review the memories and the video of both horses, the races need to be put in perspective. Always B Miki was a horse that improved with each year of racing and recovered from injury to do so. As a 5-year-old he was a bit stronger than his younger rival and that may have given him the slim edge at the end of the year.

Wiggle It Jiggleit will race again as a 5-year-old and if he improves just a little, as he did between his 3 and 4-year-old seasons, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2017.

I’ll enjoy replaying these races for a long time and will always think of the Takters and the Teagues that made it all possible.

Thanks again.