03/18/2014 3:03PM

Bob Marks: Comparing the past and present

Derick Giwner
David Menary trains 2-year-old champion pacer He's Watching.

The almost improbable Cinderella-type story of 2-year-old champion He’s Watching (American Ideal-Baberhood) is somewhat reminiscent of former superstar Adora’s Dream (Knight Dream-Adora) at a similar stage of development.

Back in 1962 to be precise, there was no simulcasting or internet videos, making it impossible to document more than superficial similarities between the two colts other than that the fact that both He’s Watching and Adora’s Dream were undefeated 2-year-olds each without competing in a single Grand Circuit event.

He’s Watching is the reigning New York Sires stakes champion and ultimate divisional champion. Adora’s Dream raced primarily in Maryland and Delaware at two but his divisional championship was won by the Good Time colt Coffee Break, with Stanley Dancer’s Lehigh Hanover the runner-up.

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While the legion of Roosevelt-Yonkers regulars didn’t see Adora’s Dream at two, from the backstretch buzz told of trainer Charlie Wingate’s undefeated “wonder colt” from the Maryland shore, we were anticipating his arrival in the spring of 1962.

As the drama built leading up to Adora’s Dream’s 3-year-old seasonal debut at Roosevelt Raceway, it was reported that he “worked” a quarter mile in 26 seconds and a tick, which was virtually unheard of on half mile tracks back then.

Talk of a pending superstar was rampant and Adora’s Dream did not disappoint, winning his overnight debut at Roosevelt in 2:01 by open lengths despite a brisk opening panel of 28 4/5. That prompted speculation for the upcoming Messenger Stake until it was discovered that the colt had not been made eligible for that Triple Crown leg.  It was discovered that he could be supplemented for a sum of $16,500 and thus Adora’s Dream became the first stakes prospect to pay his way in via supplement.  The New York veteran Morris McDonald was designated as his driver.

Prior to the Messenger, Adora’s Dream won a prep soundly defeating many of his Messenger rivals and was installed as the prohibitive favorite for the final. On Messenger night, the crowd numbered 37,355 and a total of $170,652 was wagered on Adora’s Dream. Actually, that was the largest number bet on a single horse in Roosevelt Raceway history. Back then, other than the daily double, exotic wagers were non- existent, thus the $170,652 was the sum of his win, place and show pools.

As it was, Adora’s Dream was roughed up, getting parked through the first two turns by co-favorite Lehigh Hanover. The race eventually became known as Thor Hanover’s miracle Messenger, as that Adios youngster with John Simpson driving, launched a furious stretch drive to get up at the wire, returning a mutuel price of $144.00.

That ended Adora’s Dream’s superstar aspirations, though he remained one of the better colts of his crop, winning the Battle of the Brandywine as his seasonal highlight. Thereafter he emerged as a solid Free-For-All pacer through age seven, amassing over $400,000 in what was considered an excellent, though non-championship career.

He’s Watching, a totally overlooked $3,000 purchase from the 2012 Harrisburg sale, created similar buzz  of his own by winning his 2-year-old qualifier at Mohawk in 1:56 4/5, tacking on an eye-catching 26 1/5 final quarter and coming from seven lengths back at three quarters to win going away by two lengths at the wire.   

Three weeks later in a New York Sires Stakes at Saratoga, he overcame a break at the start, regaining at least 20 lengths to win in 1:55. In his next start at Buffalo, he overcame another break at the start with a furious second quarter sweep to be in front at the half en route to a handy 1:55 4/5 victory.

In all, He’s Watching won all of his eight of his outings, pacing in 1:50 career best mile at Tioga and earning $291,722.  Despite only competing in New York sired events, he was voted the Dan Patch 2-year-old Pacing Champion.  

While comparing horses from different generations is difficult if not impossible, it is possible to note the similarities between the two at comparable stages of development. He’s Watching will be starting his 3-year-old season as the one to beat and will be slated to meet Grand Circuit competition in such events as the North American Cup and Meadowlands Pace. Whether or not he is able to make the jump from the New York Sires level to the Grand Circuit level remains to be seen.

Adora’s Dream wound up winning 13 in succession prior to his Messenger waterloo, while the saga of He’s Watching is yet to unfold.

One might note that despite less than auspicious origins, both Adora’s Dream and He’s Watching had the genetic background to be what they were.  Also, their genetic link-ups are remarkably similar.

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Adora’s Dream was by Knight Dream, a trotting-bred Little Brown Jug winner and a leading sire of his day who was responsible for luminaries like Torpid, Duane Hanover and Lumber Dream. His dam, the noted Adora, was by Adios, the leading sire of that era. Significantly, Adora’s Dream’s full sister, K Nora, would go on to become the foundation mare for Brittany Farms, figuring prominently on both sides of He’s Watching’s pedigree via granddaughter Leah Almahurst, the dam of American Ideal’s sire Western Ideal.  In addition, He’s Watching traces back to Leah Almahurst on his dam’s side through Western Ideal’s sister, Cheer Me Up. And American Ideal provides an even further link to K Nora through his dam Lifetime Success, she by Three Diamonds, who in turn is from K Nora’s daughter Ambiguity.

Adora’s Dream and He’s Watching—it’s all in the family. The more things change, the more they stay the same. It will be fascinating to look back and see if the trails correspond in the months to come.