12/03/2012 12:39PM

Bergman: Talent to be found down under

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There’s no secret to the racing business. If you can find a good horse you can do well.

But therein lies the problem.

How does one find a good horse in a highly competitive business that finds most owners protective of good stock?

One way would have been to go to Harrisburg, Pa., last month and take part actively in the annual mixed sale. Some of the best racehorse prospects sell each year in Pennsylvania, and those looking generally have to pay a premium to come away with something with quality.
Another way might be to claim a horse at a racetrack. But just like a used car that’s had multiple owners, purchasing a horse from a claiming race doesn’t come with the “CarFax” associated with a pre-owned automobile.

Lately there has become an even more popular, if not a little pricy, alternative for some horsemen who don’t mind long trips, at least for their horses to travel.

Trainer Darran Cassar, a 35-year-old native of Sydney, Australia, operates a 12-horse stable primarily racing at Harrah’s Philadelphia, the Meadowlands, and Yonkers Raceway. Eight of his horses campaigned originally in the Southern Hemisphere either in his native land or New Zealand.

Owner Joseph Muscara recently purchased a significant number of pacers from down under and entrusted Cassar with five of them.

“I had nothing to do with the purchases,” said Cassar from his Winner’s International training locale. “John Curtin does an unbelievable job finding these horses for Mr. Muscara.”
Importing pacers from down under is not new in harness racing. Throughout the late 60’s and 70’s it was one of the most popular ways for trainers to connect with horses who fit the classes in North America.

“It’s not like the old days,” said Cassar, “It used to be that the exchange rate was so favorable for the Americans that they could buy for 50 cents on the dollar.”

Now with rates more in line it’s far more important to get the right horse or otherwise risk losing an awful lot of money.

“The one thing you have to understand is that it costs $20,000 to ship the horse here,” said Cassar “That means you can’t just be looking for a cheap claimer. You have to buy something that will fit the upper classes.”

At the same time, Cassar claims that Muscara didn’t spend six figures with shipping included for any of the high-level prospects recently imported.
Mr. Hasani N, a 4-year-old gelding by Christian Cullen, is thus far the fastest among the group. He scored in an imposing 1:49 4/5 at Harrah’s Philadelphia on Nov. 23. The victory, his fourth in five starts in North America, gave strong indication that he could emerge as a top class horse in 2013.

“He was actually one of the least expensive of the group,” said Cassar, who hopes to race Mr. Hasani N when the Meadowlands opens later this month and perhaps will look for some late closers there this winter.

“He’s obviously a very fast horse, but we’re not going to know how good he is until he faces a little better company. I’m not so sure I want to put him in against Golden Receiver and those types in the Presidential just yet.”

The trainer believes that Ourcullenscrown N may turn out to be the best of the group. The 6-year-old finished third for the second straight week at Yonkers this past Saturday night in a mid-priced conditioned race.

Before arriving in North America in October, Our Cullenscrown N had won seven races down under and earned well over six figures in 2012 alone. In 73 lifetime starts before his export, Our Cullenscrown N was first or second 36 times.

That’s a pretty nice horse to bring over for reasonable money, and Cassar explains why.

“They have a different class system. When a horse wins a certain number of races they move up in class and can’t ever move down. Some of these horses reach a high level and at some point lose their form. Then they are essentially stuck with no way to earn money,” Cassar said.

For Cassar it’s way too early to know just how good these horses will fare going forward. He does have ambitious plans for the group that include a likely nomination in the lucrative George Morton Levy Series for perhaps three. Our Cullenscrown N could be his best one currently racing, but Cassar thinks that Aussie Reactor A, a 7-year-old he owns in partnership with Between The Pipes Stable, could be the best in his barn.

“I’ve turned him out now and will bring him back in a month,” said Cassar.

Aussie Reactor A made an auspicious debut in the States back in August. Fresh from his long trip to North America, he debuted at Yonkers on Aug. 11 and promptly paced a 1:51 2/5 mile. Aussie Reactor A has earned $74,555 in just 12 starts since his arrival, and clearly with his half-mile track prowess could be in for a big year in 2013.

Obviously anyone interested in purchasing a horse from down under needs to have a top agent. Cassar suggested that it’s very difficult to separate a “fast” horse from a good horse, and until they’ve raced enough it’s impossible to tell what they are or will be.
With dual-hemisphere breeding, the quality of the pedigrees in New Zealand and Australia has improved markedly over the years. But Cassar believes one of the key factors in buying a horse down under is that more than likely they have a limited number of starts by the time they turn six.

“Very often a horse has had the same trainer its entire life and has not raced that often,” said Cassar.

This essentially gives the new trainer in North America a fresh start with a horse he knows has been cared for well.

A close look at the Yonkers program from this past Saturday indicates that Cassar is not alone in pursuit of quality from down under. Owner-driver Shaun Vallee won in 1:53 4/5 with Lightning Raider N, a horse who had earned more than $190,000 in 2011-12 down under, but managed to be eligible to nonwinners of $12,000 in his last six starts because of his lack of recent success in his former home.

With the talent pool in North America somewhat thinned out by year-round racing, don’t be surprised if we see many more high-level imports coming to these shores.