09/01/2016 8:31AM

Bergman: Schnittker back in the limelight with top pacing colts

Chris Gooden
Huntsville has the fastest mile by a 2-year-old in 2016 at 1:50.

It’s been seven years since trainer Ray Schnittker came on to the Grand Circuit scene with an impressive 2-year-old pacer. Back in 2009 it was One More Laugh, a homebred by McArdle that first dominated the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes winning the rich final. One More Laugh went on to capture the Meadowlands Pace as a 3-year-old and actually won the Governor’s Cup in an epic performance with the race contested that year at Harrah’s Philadelphia ,nee Chester.

Times have gotten tough in more ways than one as Schnittker has remained in the battle year upon year with results on the pacing side having limited national impact. To work hard and remain positive is difficult for many, but perseverance has a way of paying off and this year Schnittker appears to have a jewel in the making in Huntsville. The Somebeachsomewhere-sired homebred will join stablemate Summer Side in the $250,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final at Harrah’s on September 11. That became official this past Saturday when the pair swept the final leg of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at The Meadows. The 1:50 performance of Huntsville, just his second win in five races, was an inspiring effort but not a surprising one.

For Schnittker, who bred the colt, there have been glimmers of hope from the family that didn’t quite hit the big time. Mind you, the first two foals from Wild West Show weren’t exactly disappointments. Cowboy Terrier and Stevensville were both very fast horses at two and have gone on to earn nearly $800K combined.

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“Cowboy Terrier had wicked speed but was hard to control,” said Schnittker on Saturday following the Sire Stakes sweep.

“Huntsville is a much better mannered horse that you can drive with two fingers.”

A lot has changed in seven years and perhaps the biggest difference is the ultra competitiveness of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes for juveniles. With the advent of the Pa. Stallion series or “B” tier, there are now fewer races for the “A” horses and thus each leg carries with it enormous value. Skip a leg and you’re likely not to reach the final. There may have been three eliminations for the Metro on the same Saturday night, but arguably what Mohawk got was a small segment of the Pennsylvania-bred freshman with the cream remaining anchored at The Meadows in search of the rich final.

Although the 1:50 mile posted by Huntsville represented the fastest leg this year, it should be noted that Fear The Dragon won in 1:50 3/5 on July 20 in the second leg of the series at The Meadows.

Preserving a horse for the long haul is something Schnittker has done quite well during his impressive career both as trainer and driver. Whether on the pacing or trotting side, his horses have stayed sound and survived to race as aged performers.

The trainer was once known to have his horses ready early and exhibit speed that took other trainers a while to catch up to. This year his youngsters appear to be improving with each race.

Has Schnittker turned over a new leaf and refigured his strategy?

“I wish I was that smart that I could figure that out,” said Schnittker, deflecting credit for his accomplishments.

At the same time, qualifying two horses for the final is rather impressive and in Summer Side, a son of Well Said he picked up for $15,000 at Harrisburg last year, the advancement has been astonishing.

“He was a colt Fair Winds was selling and he was from the family of Shes A Great Lady,” said Schnittker. “I didn’t see anything wrong with him and the bidding wasn’t going anywhere.”

Summer Side trained down well and was put into the 2-year-olds in training sale at The Meadowlands in June.

“I had a reserve on him,” said Schnittker, “I think the second-place finish to Huntsville got people’s attention.”

In the end the reserve was higher than the final bid and Schnittker retained the horse, yet soon found a partner in the ever-active Howard Taylor, a longtime supporter of Schnittker.

Summer Side went on to capture the Sheppard at Yonkers and in winning this past Saturday managed to earn enough points to make the Sire Stakes final despite only three starts in the series.

“He raced well in the leg at Philadelphia,” said Schnittker of Summer Side, “But he had missed 30 days. He was much better today.”

Indeed, Summer Side came without cover while driven expertly by Tim Tetrick and then drove past a stubborn Downbytheseaside in a career best 1:51 4/5 clocking.

Both colts are over $100K in seasonal earnings with a limited number of starts, but Huntsville is more heavily staked.

“We’ve got him eligible to the races at Lexington, the Breeders Crown and the Governor’s Cup,” said Schnittker of Huntsville, a colt that has finished first or second in all of his career starts.

As a homebred, Schnittker has continued to go to the Somebeachsomewhere well for his broodmare Wild West Show, herself an $85,000 original purchase. “She was a very fast horse,” said Schnittker of the dam. “I own a share of Somebeachsomewhere and he produces horses with high speed.”

While Schnittker’s pacing stock has been out of the limelight for a few years, the trainer and yes breeder is keenly aware that speed, especially during these times, is essential to the outcome. Races even for the youngest horses are demanding and without extreme speed there’s simply no way to compete.

It may be seven years later but Schnittker is returning to Harrah’s in September with a pair of colts that have the speed and staying power to compete at the highest level.

In an era where it’s perceived that you have to have a large stable or an even greater bankroll to purchase yearlings, it’s refreshing to see the product of persistency and a bank account with limits rising to this level.

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