05/18/2015 11:45AM

Bergman: Top pacers gear up for the Rooney at Yonkers

Fred Brown
In The Arsenal won his 2015 debut at Tioga Downs on May 17.

If you want to be in the big leagues of harness racing you have to be ready to come to play. These days, for the top three-year-old pacing colts and geldings in North America, bringing your “A” game means being ready to pace in 1:50 the first time money is on the line. For two of the likely major players in this year’s coming wars, the make believe competition of qualifying races was instantly cast aside with impressive first go-rounds.

On Saturday night, the first of many three-year-old battles will take place at Yonkers with the Art Rooney eliminations scheduled. Artspeak, a 1:49 winner in his sophomore debut at the Meadowlands this past Saturday, won’t cross the G.W. Bridge to compete as he was not made eligible. In The Arsenal, the son of American Ideal that came overland to capture a New York Sire Stakes event in a spirited 1:50 clocking over the five-eighths Tioga Downs strip on Sunday, is likely to be in the line-up. The Kelvin Harrison-trained colt didn’t work up a sweat in two qualifiers at The Meadowlands, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t ready. Driver Brian Sears clearly knew the caliber of colt he was sitting behind on Sunday judging by an impeccably patient steer behind the heavy favorite.

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For those that didn’t get to witness In The Arsenal on Sunday, it was typical Sears, not getting caught up in a 26 1/5 opening quarter. His experience calculating pace and keeping horses calm is uncanny, and on Sunday he kept In The Arsenal in fourth under rating in the early stages while the impressively quick Soto made two moves to gain control.

Sears came up without cover but didn’t overwork In The Arsenal. Instead he allowed Brett Miller behind Soto to sprint the third quarter in a hot 27 1/5 while not advancing. When it came down to the business part of the mile, Sears and In The Arsenal were focused and determined to go by.

One could say that both horses went huge miles at Tioga on Sunday afternoon without an argument, but Soto was making his second start of the year and In The Arsenal his first.

The Rooney will likely see In The Arsenal and Soto in the box on Tuesday afternoon when declarations are due. A total of 36 were nominated to the Rooney and it appears as if elimination races are more than likely.

Here’s a look at where we rank the top contenders in a race that should at least give a glimpse of what we can expect in the weeks and months to come:

(1) In The Arsenal has an opportunity to become the first horse to win both the Sheppard and Rooney in consecutive years. Both two and three-year-old stakes events respectively have long histories, but to date no horse has accomplished what In The Arsenal seems favored to do. The fact that In The Arsenal handled the half-mile track early in his career with aplomb means that there’s every reason to believe he’ll be even better as a sophomore.

(2) Dealt A Winner looked as good as a horse could look winning his second qualifier on May 1 in 1:52 flat with a 26-second final quarter. The Cams Card Shark-sired gelding won five of his six starts as a two-year-old including an impressive 1:55 victory in the $100K Babic at Freehold last September. He’s been raced off the pace throughout his career and David Miller followed that script on Saturday when facing Artspeak. Dealt A Winner paced a final three quarters in 1:21 1/5 but was further than five lengths off Artspeak at the finish. Despite his lack of early speed, Dealt A Winner’s pedigree (his dam Lazan Hanover is a half sister to 2004 Jug and Cane winner Timesareachanging) bolsters his standing.

(3) Soto came up a little short on Sunday but that was still a wicked mile. Unlike In The Arsenal, Soto was stung through a 26 1/5 opening quarter. That could be an undoing for a lot of horses but this colt from the first crop of Rock N Roll Heaven paced right through the wire. Trainer Jimmy Takter sent out the filly See You At Peelers to victory against the boys in the 2011 Rooney so there is every reason to believe this $130K yearling purchase handles the turns.

(4) Cartoon Daddy did not come out with a 1:50 mile in his debut but the 1:51 4/5 was good enough for a Sire Stakes victory on Sunday at Tioga. The beaten favorite when he broke in last year’s Sheppard will look for redemption. Cartoon Daddy did rebound from that effort winning three times at Yonkers as a juvenile including the $225K NYSS championship final. Trainer Ron Burke sent out last year’s Rooney champion All Bets Off.

(5) Sonofa Sizzle is likely the sleeper in this year’s Rooney. One of only 13 horses sired by Life Sizzles in 2012, the Delaware-bred has been flawless winning three straight races as a sophomore after a solid two-year-old campaign. Sonofa Sizzle swept the field to capture the final of the Delaware Breeders Fund last December at Dover Downs. He’s come back strongly this year sweeping the same event for three-year-olds that culminated with a 1:50 2/5 effort in the $100K final on April 9. He has since returned for trainer Josh Green to score in a qualifier over the half-mile track at Harrington, likely preparing for his Yonkers debut.

The jury is out on National Seelster, a winner in a NYSS division at Tioga on Sunday. The son of Bettor’s Delight still seems kind of green when asked to respond. Add J Eagle Feather, another sharp-looking son of Bettor’s Delight to the mix. Trainer Linda Toscano’s stock always seems to do well on the half-miler. J Eagle Feather finished just two lengths off of In The Arsenal on Sunday, flashing pace to the wire in but his third career start.

From what we’ve seen on the racetrack in the last few weeks 2015’s, three-year-old stakes season will have plenty of questions. In the next two weeks some of the answers will materialize.