10/26/2016 10:28AM

Bergman: Walner brings memories of first Crown champ Workaholic

Derick Giwner
Walner will likely race in the Kindergarten final after the Breeders Crown.

The Breeders Crown has come a long way since its inception in 1984. Still, the names remain the same.

In 1984 the first Swedish invasion was having an impact on the trotting sport in North America and it was led to some degree by Hakan Wallner, who sent out the very first Crown champion Workaholic at The Red Mile in the fall of 1984. Wallner, along with assistant Jan Johnson, were a formidable pair in the training ranks and they enlisted Berndt Lindstedt’s cool-as-ice talents in the sulky to perfection.

Fast forward to this Saturday’s Breeders Crown to find the homophonic Walner, the heavy favorite in that very same division.

Walner’s trainer Linda Toscano has come a long way herself since the beginning of the series and has firmly established herself with the trotting set. Champions like Chapter Seven and Market Share provide vivid proof that she’s far from a one-gait conditioner.


As is the wont of most trainers, it’s of no surprise that Toscano along with owner Ken Jacobs were able to find a colt to their liking from the first crop of Chapter Seven at last year’s yearling sales. That Walner not only happens to be the best Chapter Seven to make the races this year would prove Toscano’s talent at yearling selection. That he is a world champion and perhaps the best of this generation is something else.

Toscano’s nerves were at odds prior to Saturday’s Crown elimination race and that is certainly understandable considering The Meadowlands environment was noticeably different than the conditions at The Red Mile, where Walner had just set the world mark.

“I didn’t make any changes,” said Toscano in regard to Walner. That was somewhat of a surprise considering how many trainers have actually taken the shoes off when racing trotters over the clay surface at The Red Mile.

Yet Toscano did confess that there has been a good deal of healthy back and forth between her and driver Tim Tetrick about the equipment that Walner needs to be at his best.

“We had a difference of opinion,” said Toscano, who confessed that after the horse made a break at The Meadowlands in a leg of the Kindergarten both parties agreed to go back to the way the trainer had suggested from the start.

In his last two victories Walner has looked brilliant and very much within himself. At the same time, it was more than noticeable that his head was twisting out in the homestretch on both occasions.

“That’s Timmy. He likes to let him go like that. It’s worked fine so far,” said Toscano, confirming that there is no soundness issue at this point.

“I’m really happy Ken (owner Jacobs) let me race him this way. I know he would have preferred to race in the New York Sire Stakes and especially the final. I asked him if he’d rather win the New York Sire Stakes final or have a horse ready for the Hambletonian in 2017,” said Toscano.

While it has been a rather brief campaign for Walner this year, Toscano said she’d like to race him in the Kindergarten final to cap off his season after the Breeders Crown final.

It’s hard not to be superstitious when training trotters since the slightest error in judgment can have an everlasting impact on the future of the horse. Walner has been very well protected during his first year at the races.

If there is one note of caution to anyone wishing to wager this weekend on Walner, it is that it will be the first time he’s ever raced three times in about three weeks. The 1:51 3/5 victory at Red Mile was followed by last week’s 1:53 3/5 score on a blustering night.

Considering that Workaholic had to race in an elimination and a final within a few hours of each other to capture the first Breeders Crown, Walner’s workload doesn’t seem that taxing.

JAYWALKING: The Meadowlands 40th anniversary brought out some veterans of the early days including one-time leading driver Ted Wing. The one-time New England star caught on quickly during the Meadowlands infancy and his style of driving helped revolutionize what mile track racing would become. Prior to the Meadowlands, mile tracks offered very little movement during the first three quarters of a race with a long sprint to the finish in the straightaway. With Wing and others, the Meadowlands action started when the gate opened and featured plenty of movement throughout the mile contests.

“The horses are much better now than they were back then,” said Wing in the paddock this past Saturday. “It’s the breeding. I can tell you I went to Blue Chip Farms to look at some yearlings and they look like 6-year-olds already. It’s like they’re ready to go quarters in 32 seconds from the moment you break them.”

Trainer Jimmy Takter said that Ariana G, his prized 2-year-old trotting filly, would undergo some equipment changes for Saturday’s final. “She was too grabby,” Takter said. “She’s the best of that group.”

Ariana G was an impressive winner in the closing week at The Red Mile, defeating Chezatter decisively in that contest. This past Friday Chezatter sat the pocket behind Ariana G and rolled right by her in the stretch.

I hated to see Betting Line scratched from the Breeders Crown eliminations this past Saturday. No matter what the reason, the North America Cup champion was a dominant presence this year and his defection from the final major contest could cast a negative light on what his true stature was. What remains of the 3-year-old colt and gelding division appears to lack even one horse that could warm up Wiggle It Jiggleit next year. On the other hand, what we saw in Betting Line when he was on his game looks very much like a horse that could go with Wiggle It Jiggleit.

Hanover Shoe Farm’s Jim Simpson was paying close attention to Triple Crown winner Marion Marauder in the paddock this past Saturday night. Trainer Paula Wellwood was non-committal about Marion Marauder racing as a 4-year-old. “I’m good either way,” Wellwood said.

[DRF HARNESS LIVE: Real-time analysis and LIVE Video for the Breeders Crown this weekend at The Meadowlands.]