08/02/2016 3:57PM

Bergman: Ups and downs of racing 2-year-olds

Derick Giwner
Walner looks like a 2-year-old trotter with a future.

A few weeks ago I stood outside the Meadowlands paddock and was talking to trainer Jimmy Takter about his sensational juvenile filly Ariana G. The trainer had been careful to keep the gifted filly under wraps, but on this evening he was talking about her 1:53 4/5 mile in the New Jersey Sire Stakes final.

“They really have to be ready to go right out of the box,” said Takter. “Some of these horses aren’t ready to go and I think it’s going to show down the road.”

Here was a moment where Takter seemed torn between the obvious demands put on trainers and horses, most notably 2-year-olds that are going faster and faster earlier in their careers than ever before.

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For every Ariana G, there will be countless others that never recover from being pushed too hard too soon in a career.

Even a closer look at Ariana G and driver Yannick Gingras this past Saturday night would indicate just how precious these young horses are and just how important it is for drivers and trainers to recognize the woes of overextending them. I couldn’t help but watch just how many times Gingras turned behind him to see if there was any imminent threat to a victory while at the same time controlling the pace and not extending his filly unnecessarily. It was a luxury that the filly has earned during her short career, but Ariana G appears to be the exception to the norm in juvenile racing these days.

Just this past Saturday trainer Brian Brown probably found his horses in the same situation. On the undercard of the phenomenal effort put forth by Racing Hill in the Adios at The Meadows, were divisions of the David L. Lawrence, a stakes event for juvenile pacing colts. Brown has always been a trainer who has his 2-year-olds ready from their first race and Downbytheseaside, a son of Somebeachsomewhere, is one of two standouts from his barn with a victory this year of 1:51 or faster. While stablemate and 1:50 3/5 performer Fear The Dragon had captured a $19,291 division of the stake a few races earlier in 1:52 4/5, for David Miller, the driver was not about to engage Downbytheseaside the same way.

Having drawn post eight in the $19,291 race, Miller didn’t look too closely at the odds-board that had his horse at 1-5. Instead he decided to drive the youngster making just his fourth career start in a more conservative manner. That meant while Bettor’s Western and Filibuster Hanover blasted out in 27 3/5, Miller tucked comfortably in sixth and allowed the half to go in 56 4/5 before beginning an arduous overland journey.

The result wasn’t pretty for chalk players, with Downbytheseaside finishing third in the 1:52 mile. At the same time, those who didn’t make a wager on the horse have to believe that the best horse simply didn’t win this division, he finished third.

On Friday night at Tioga Downs, trainer Ross Croghan unleashed a first time starter by Rock N Roll Heaven that was more than ready at first asking. Rock The Boat put away some very nice horses in a blowout 1:52 4/5 effort over the five-eighths mile track. Perhaps driver Jim Marohn Jr. could have gone slower and still gotten the victory, but at the same time the colt is going to need to go faster if he’s going to match the kind of seasoning juveniles are getting in Pennsylvania. Rock The Boat is a homebred from the $1.8 million winning Tug River Princess and just her second foal.

Finishing second behind Rock The Boat was another colt we’ve been following that appears to have a future. Very Special Agent, a son of Art Major, has been raced off the pace thus far for trainer Nancy Johansson and that alone may be what is keeping this colt from finding the winner’s circle. Again, here’s what happens when you try to race a horse a bit easier by taking him back at the start. This colt is from the same immediate family as the rugged $1.8 million winning Western Ace, an 11-time winner as a 2-year-old for George Teague in 2005.

Perhaps the shortness of racehorses has compelled tracks throughout North America to card more 2-year-old races for wagering. As someone who started in this business when there were virtually no 2-year-old races on the betting card, I’m not interested in going backwards. At the same time, it’s hard to get excited when so much money is getting flushed with bettors expecting “everyone” to give a full account once behind the gate. While occasionally these “overnight” events may yield a first glimpse of a potential champion, all too often they can leave bettors frustrated by lack of a concerted effort to actually win.

Trainer Linda Toscano and owner Ken Jacobs are both well aware of the downside to aggressively racing 2-year-olds. Though Toscano would have liked to see Jacobs make an exception to his limitations when it came to staking Walner, both she and the racing world may have to wait to find out just how good the son of Chapter Seven is and will be.

A 1:55 4/5 victory in his first career start, a New York Sire Stakes event at Vernon Downs on July 21, was as impressive as a colt could be. Walner, driven by Tim Tetrick, raced off cover as expected and only trotted at high speed in the stretch, finishing out the mile with a 27 2/5 final quarter while appearing well in hand.

Walner will make his second career start on Tuesday night (8/2) at Saratoga Harness in a $53,500 New York Sire Stakes division. While the half-mile track may not be everybody’s cup of tea from a trotting standpoint, Toscano has enjoyed tremendous success over the four-turn ovals in New York throughout her career. Walner faces but five rivals in Tuesday’s contest.

I was very said to hear of the passing of George Berkner last week. The long-time trainer and most recently part-owner of Rockeyed Optimist will be remembered as someone with an incredible sense of humor and impeccable story-telling timing. My longtime colleague, the late Charles Singer, retold a story about a run-in Berkner had with the presiding judge after a questionable performance by a Berkner trainee.

“George went into the judges and explained his horse’s performance this way: ‘didn’t you guys hear, my horse’s father died earlier today and he was upset,’” Singer sad, explaining that the horse’s sire Meadow Skipper had indeed passed away that week.

George will be missed.

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