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Bergman: What we should be thankful for
There are many reasons for the sport of harness racing to be thankful this season. Perhaps the biggest reason is the pure generosity of those behind some of the biggest stars. Specifically how can anyone in this business not be incredibly grateful to owners that elected to bring their horses from Europe to the U.S.. The fact that Sebastian K in the spring and summer and Commander Crowe this fall joined the elite ranks of the aged trotting division was something all lovers of this sport must be thankful for.
From a beauty perspective Commander Crowe was a sight to behold. It was hard not to fall in love with the aged warrior, a rare equine that was able to look and play the part through an incredible career. Commander Crowe’s ownership came to North America on three occasions and finally got the job done in what would be Commander Crowe’s finale, a Breeders Crown victory.
The fact that Sebastian K accepted invitations throughout North America and went to bat throughout North American venues is something that should not be lost. While there are some top owners in this country that won’t even consider racing their champions on smaller tracks, Sebastian K came to the U.S. and went everywhere and did everything. Again, true sportsmen take on all challenges. In the case of Sebastian K going to the half-miler at Yonkers was asking the horse to do something he truly was not comfortable with.
Having watched Commander Crowe’s performance in the Breeders Crown over the mile track you could also conclude that his best surface wasn’t a half-mile track, but that didn’t prevent the owners from making the trip and letting the chips fall where they may.
We’re incredibly thankful for the owners that get it in this sport. Despite future restrictions on the Burke stable, the owners are in this business to race and race hard. Sweet Lou just completed a spectacular career that concluded rightfully so with a victory in the TVG Final. Burke and company didn’t get down on the horse and look for an early retirement when things got a little rough for Sweet Lou this year. Instead they kept at it, accepted the bruises and came back to the winner’s circle as a champion’s champion.
Selfishly Sweet Lou’s departure to stallion duty takes away a great horse essentially in the prime of his racing career. As good as Sweet Lou was at two and three, his consistency and impressive command of a difficult division was hard to match during his five-year-old season. He leaves the racetrack looking as sound as ever. Hopefully he’ll have a long and prosperous stallion career. If his speed and heart can be stamped on his sons and daughters there will be plenty to be thankful for in the years to come.
As a father of two daughters I’m grateful that Jimmy Takter allowed his daughter Nancy to follow in his footsteps. Mrs. Johansson has done an impressive job with a select group of pacers and trotters and even better she handles herself admirably when in front of a television camera. In as much as the sport has heralded its drivers who get a majority of the airtime, I would be thankful to see more and more of the top female trainers get deserving exposure.
A healthy sport requires healthy racetracks and there’s a reason to be thankful that tracks like Hoosier Park have joined in the mix to support the premier stakes events in North America. Adding Hoosier to Woodbine/Mohawk, The Meadowlands and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs as locations for the sports’ major events is a blessing for the entire industry.
Nothing happens overnight, whether in this industry or elsewhere, but I’m thankful that the wheels have finally gotten into motion at Yonkers Raceway this year. After years of status quo the horsemen finally took the initiative to try something different. The experiment of sending five trotting races on Sunday morning to Europe for wagering appears to be a success. From a visual standpoint on this side of the Atlantic Ocean the mile and one-quarter races along with fields of 10 and 12 horses is something all racing fans should be thankful for. Like all experiments it takes time for the participants to adjust to the number of horses as well as the added distance but we’ve seen a much more pleasing product over the last few weeks. We’d be thankful if the horsemen and Yonkers management continued using large fields and added distances even after the six-week French experiment comes to an end.
Though I find it difficult to agree with all things Meadowlands I’m thankful that track management continues to look for new ways to derive revenue and improve the racing product.
The sport would not be a sport if not for the countless number of people that never get in front of a camera. I’m incredibly grateful for all of the caretakers and horse lovers that do the intense and often difficult job of keeping the horses in the condition necessary to see them race as often as they do.
The Breeders Crown finals proved just how difficult it is to have a top horse and see them through the big races without heartbreak. Limelight Beach, Always B Miki and Gallie Bythe Beach all won Crown elimination races and all were scratched from the finals. The owners of these three along with so many others need to be thanked for showing the resilience necessary to own and race standardbred horses.
For those who will be putting on the show in the North during the next three months here’s thanking all of you in advance for dealing with the elements. It’s the time of year that bettors look towards this sport for gambling entertainment.
All horsemen should thank the betting public. And they can by contesting every race to the fullest.
Excellent column, Jay, but for the paragraph regarding the Meadowlands: You don't agree with all "things" there, and you applaud them for new "ways" that increase revenue and improve the racing product. This bland, generic sentence begs the question: what "things" and what "ways"?