03/28/2016 9:47AM

Bergman: Wiggle It Jiggleit ready to dance with the best older foes

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Derick Giwner
Wiggle It Jiggleit makes his 2016 debut on Monday night at Dover and will likely head to Yonkers Raceway next.

There’s a lot of activity that goes on behind the scenes in harness racing. Heading into 2016, much has been made about the impending clashes between 2015 Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit and the crop of aged pacers that includes 2015 Breeders Crown aged winner Always Be Miki.

While trainer Jimmy Takter has made it abundantly clear to anyone and everyone how he feels about Always Be Miki, Wiggle It Jiggleit’s owner, George Teague, has taken a different approach.

“I’m not going to make this the WWE,” Teague said. “Let the horses speak for themselves on the racetrack.”

Perhaps a combination of both would do this industry well, but for the time being the racing public is going to have to wait for an on-track confrontation, with Wiggle It Jiggleit making his 4-year-old debut on Monday at Dover Downs in a $60,000 Invitational and Always Be Miki still prepping for his debut.

What the two horses have in common is immense lung capacity. What they lack in common is extreme versatility. While Wiggle It Jiggleit proved his proficiency over all sized tracks, Always Be Miki has stayed away from the half-mile ovals to date and that avoidance is likely to continue in 2016.

To some it means nothing to stay away from small tracks.

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Teague wasn’t going to enter the fray of who is avoiding whom, though there are claims that he’s been forewarned to keep Wiggle It Jiggleit off the big track or otherwise risk embarrassment.

“I’m very happy with the way he’s come back,” said Teague of his pride and joy. “He’s grown a little and put on maybe 100 pounds.

“The first qualifier he was jumping shadows all over the place and never relaxed. When Montrell drove him in the second qualifier, he did it easily with the earplugs in.”

The second qualifier for Wiggle It Jiggleit was more like so many of his miles in 2015—just a walk in the park. Clocking a 1:50 1/5 mile with a 26 3/5 concluding quarter, the $2.18 million winning horse was ready for more.

While Teague did make Wiggle It Jiggleit eligible to the rich Levy series at Yonkers, he will have missed the first two legs of the series, making an appearance in the rich final a bit more difficult to navigate.

“There’s a lot of good horses in the Levy,” said Teague. “I thought it would be best to give him a start before going to Yonkers.

Teague by no means believes that Monday’s Dover race is a cakewalk either.

“There’s some very nice horses,” said Teague. “Rockeyed Optimist and Bettor's Edge are quality horses.”

Much like a year ago, Teague is ready for a long schedule and enough races, but he won’t get ahead of himself.

“We’ll see how he races on Monday. If he races as I expect then we’ll enter him right back in for Saturday’s third leg of the Levy at Yonkers,” Teague said.

The transition from 3-year-old to 4-year-old tends to be difficult and Teague understands the type of horses he’ll be facing this year in addition to the aforementioned Always Be Miki.

“There are lots of good horses out there. State Treasurer, Freaky Feet Pete and Always Be Miki are just a few of them. I’m not sure we’ve had a group like this in a long time,” said Teague.

What fans of Wiggle It Jiggleit may be seeing this year is a different version of the horse as Teague more than acknowledges the change in competition could lead to modified racing strategy.

“When you are 1-9 every week, it really dictates the way you have to race the horse,” said Teague, referring to the front-end style that marked most of Wiggle It Jiggleit’s races during his 22-win campaign in 2015.

“I have always thought he’s a much better horse racing from off the pace. The race he went at Pocono showed that,” Teague said.

George was referring to the dynamic 1:48 victory at The Downs at Mohegan Sun in the $500,000 Battle of the Brandywine in late August, where Wiggle It Jiggleit came up without cover after a 54 4/5 opening half and paced a final half in the 53-second neighborhood to win convincingly.

He didn’t look too shabby either in the Meadowlands Pace eliminations, sitting off a methodical pace and rolling home in a personal 52 3/5 half to victory.

The excitement level is building in a division that appears to be brimming with newfound talent as the Levy series has unearthed a bevvy of imported stars that has added to its depth.

While half-mile track racing may not be for everyone, the Levy has already shown that more than enough horses can traverse the half-mile track with slickness and durability.

Wiggle It Jiggleit proved in last year’s Little Brown Jug that he can pace a turn as fast as any horse in modern times and that should set him up nicely for the next few weeks at Yonkers.

Looking further down the road, Wiggle It Jiggleit will be eligible to every major test and Teague didn’t sound too concerned that he would have trouble finding races for the defending champion.

“There’s a big race every week. We’ll have to miss a few obviously, but we’ll try to make as many as we can,” said Teague.

Monday should be a good first step and while Teague did concede that he wouldn’t mind finding races exclusively for 4-year-olds with an understanding they could be a little easier on his horse, don’t expect this horse to be ducking any of the competition no matter what level or size track.

In as much as I’m looking forward to some tremendous heat on the racetrack in the aged division this year, I can’t help but fantasize about the benefits of some behind the scenes scuffles caught on camera “backstage” if you will.

Can’t we get “The Manager,” Brian Sears’ Grand Wizard of Racing super fan, to chime in?

Hopefully fantasy meets reality both on and off the racetrack in the months ahead.

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