07/07/2016 10:43AM

Bergman: Timing is the key to success on the track

Michael Lisa
Brian Sears has taken over the driving assignment on Control The Moment.

Timing plays a critical role in the standardbred sport. Trainers have the task of putting together the proper balance of conditioning in order to peak a horse for the big money stakes races. Drivers are required to show split second reaction within a contest. Very often it’s the timing, both good and bad, that makes a huge difference in the bottom line for the sport’s trainers and drivers.

Just like handicappers, owners and trainers must look at the results of each race and question the timing. From a trainer’s perspective, poor results are sometimes a reflection of a horse’s health on that particular night. No matter what the preparation and care in advance, not every situation plays out with a performance matching preparation.

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In the case of a driver’s moves on the track, they are much more in the focus of the trainer, owners and bettors, and continued visual replays can make the most minor error appear major in the eyes of all.

Driver Brett Miller made a huge mistake when he went to the rail with Pure Country in the Fan Hanover stakes a few weeks back at Mohawk. Fortunately for him, he didn’t cause a major disturbance to rivals when he edged off the pylons and the judges didn’t deem his movements to be in violation of the rules.

This past Saturday at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, driver Randy Waples made a similar mistake and it cost him and the connections of Control The Moment perhaps as much as $85,000 on the low end.

Waples, driving one of the two Hempt elimination winners, had the poor luck of the draw with post eight compared to Racing Hill’s two spot. That said, Waples did the right thing at the start and left the gate pretty hard. When faced with other leavers inside, both Brett Miller behind Racing Hill and Randy Waples behind Control The Moment took the opposite approaches. Miller, who confessed in the post race winner’s circle critique that he didn’t want to be first over to Control The Moment at any cost, got after Racing Hill and forced rivals to tuck instead of challenge him past a harsh opening quarter.

One of the three horses that took position behind Racing Hill was Control The Moment, with Waples putting the second-betting favorite in the four-hole.

Waples’ reluctance to stay on the outside and continue towards the front in the long homestretch worked to the benefit of Miller, who proceeded to shut down the pace in a major way. By the time Waples pulled Control The Moment (about three-eighths into the mile) it was too late.

For the sport’s leading drivers it’s often these split second decisions that separate victory from defeat. Given a similar situation, driver Brett Miller didn’t take back with Pure Country in the Lynch, instead she marched on from the outside to secure the lead before the half. At Pocono, any effort to relax while coming from off the pace can prove futile and most drivers recognize that quite often the best chance to clear the front comes between the quarter and half and not anywhere past that point.

In the Hempt, Waples didn’t force Miller to make a decision early enough in the race and thereby lost whatever competitive advantage he could have had. In hindsight we can wonder whether Racing Hill would have yielded to Control The Moment had Waples stayed outside and reached his rival before the second turn. At that point Miller would have assured himself at worst a two-hole trip.

That’s why it wasn’t at all that surprising to see the name of Brian Sears listed behind Control The Moment this Saturday night when he makes his Meadowlands debut in a single Meadowlands Pace elimination.

The third-place finisher in the North America Cup is clearly on the talent level of the top three sophomores in North America and perhaps that’s why a fourth-place finish in the Hempt, behind two horses that essentially “tripped out”, could be hard for anyone to seriously swallow.

Essentially Waples forgot to read the moniker of the horse he was driving. Instead he allowed Miller and Racing Hill to control the key moments in the Hempt leading the horse to his first major victory of the year and leaving the other without a significant score to date.

The results may change dramatically when the two meet again in the Meadowlands Pace.

JAYWALKING: The Ben Franklin final was probably won by the best horse, but what I found most interesting about the race was that seven drivers decided in advance that they were not going to get in the middle of the action and spoil it for the big three. When the gates unfolded, only the prime players took the first quarter with any purpose, leaving the top three to duke it out as they saw fit.

Always B Miki was powerful and dominant once again and it’s not as easy to be critical of driver Montrell Teague’s decision to yield to Freaky Feet Pete in the early stages as opposed to the previously reviewed Waples move. Teague could have pressed on and parked “Pete”, but had he done that and given up the lead past the quarter, he may have still been left with a 3-hole trip later in the event. Having given up the lead early, Wiggle It Jiggleit found himself in the 3-hole and had to rough it without cover, ending up third but beaten just two lengths by his older rival.

Thankfully both Wiggle It Jiggleit and Freaky Feet Pete get to renew their rivalry this Saturday in the Graduate final.  The rules of that race could have kept Freaky Feet Pete out of the final because he made just one start in the three preliminaries and was tied for tenth in the standings with the higher money-winning Wiggle It Jiggleit.

While it’s way too early in the 2-year-old season, the most impressive juvenile trotting colt I have seen is Walner, a son of Chapter Seven trained by Linda Toscano. A handsome, big and powerful colt, Walner has been equally impressive in his two baby race tallies at the Meadowlands. A $90,000 purchase by Ken Jacobs at last year’s Lexington Selected auction, Walner is out of the $658K winning Random Destiny.

[MEADOWLANDS: Watch the Meadowlands Pace elimination & Graduate Finals on Saturday--Live on DRF!]