04/08/2015 8:42PM

Gisser: The best trotter you never heard of?

Conrad Photo
Berlin Flyer finished in-the-money more than 200 times in his career.

He may be the best trotter you never heard of. An unfashionable Ohio-bred 1991 son of Flyer Lauxmont, he was pretty much a failure at age 2, but he went on to win 83 of his next 293 starts from ages 3 to 12. At 11, he took his career mark of 1:56 on the half mile track at Northfield Park, a year AFTER he was inducted onto that track’s Wall of Fame. He earned over $617,000 in his career, but if you lived outside of Ohio, you probably don’t know the name Berlin Flyer, who passed away at age 24 on March 14 at the home of his caretaker for 21 years, Char Kuchta, who had been with him since early in his career.

Over the years I cashed a lot of tickets on Berlin Flyer (Flyer Lauxmont- D.J. Coaltown). But that’s not what made him special. The bond between the horse and his team—trainer Jeff Conger and caretaker Kuchta—that began late in his 2-year-old season and continued throughout his life, combined with his grit and determination, is what made him a special horse. It’s what eventually led to his consideration for inclusion in the remarkable Standardbred Old Friends book by Barbara Livingston and Ellen Harvey (available on drf.com). Unfortunately, logistics prevented the inclusion of Flyer and his stablemate Anastasia Abba, although their CVs were impressive.

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When owners Tom King. Jr., David King and Kevin O’Donnell sent him to Conger, they had no idea what would happen. But they knew the patient young trainer was exceptional with trotters and they had high hopes. They had no idea he would win 11 of 29 races as a 3-year-old. Granted, they were basically all county fair wins, but the trotter was gaining confidence. At four, he graduated to the raceways and won 9 of 27 races, finishing on the board 20 times. He picked up a couple Sires Stakes wins and banked $61k, but the best was yet to come. In fact, he would eclipse his 4-year-old earnings each year from ages 5 through 10.

By age 6, he was regularly “ruled off” Northfield for being too dominant against the open trotting ranks, forcing a ship to The Meadows, something that did not sit well with him. “He would tie up. It was the only issue he ever had,” said Kuchta. “He was so good for so long because Jeff (Conger) would always take him home every day (to his Hudson, Ohio farm) and then ship him back.”

Berlin Flyer was not as successful in Pennsylvania, but he did pick up his share of wins and accumulated a career best 14 victories in 1997. More remarkably, from week to week, you never knew what kind of trip to expect from driver-trainer Conger. He could race on the front or in the two-hole, but he could also close from so far back that sometimes he wasn’t even on the video at the three-quarter pole.

Berlin Flyer kept racking up the wins. From ages 7 to 10 he crossed the wire first an amazing 35 times! But at 11, in 2002, he trotted a mile that amazed Northfield Park fans. On July 8, with Conger in the bike, Flyer trotted an eye-popping 1:56 mile at Northfield at odds of 7-2 (yes, I bet him that night, as I did almost any night he was not an odds-on choice). It was a track record and also equaled the world record at the time. Leading at every call, he posted fractions of 28 3/5, 58 1/5 and 1:27 2/5 before trotting home in 28 3/5. It would be the highlight of his long career.

Even at age 12, Berlin Flyer went postward 28 times, winning four, including his final career win on October 18, 2003. But he had lost a step and at the end of the year the decision was made to retire him. There was no doubt where he would go.

“I was with him so long, and I am so glad Jeff and the owners asked me to take him. We already had Abba (Anastasia Abba, another open trotter trained by Conger) and we wanted him to have some company,” explains caretaker Kuchta. “At 3, when he won the Night of Champions, it was a week after my wedding. I postponed our honeymoon so I could take care of him that night.

“He had so much heart,” she continued. “In the Ohio Breeders Championship he was second despite trotting the whole mile with a flat tire after someone stepped on his wheel. We were always a small operation and we really cared about our horses. There was a personal connection.

“Flyer was our yard ornament,” said Kutcha about the horse once retired. “He was happy, easy to be around. Kids played with him.  He was 24 and losing a bit of his sight, but he was still healthy. That’s what makes it so hard to lose him.”

Berlin Flyer raced 297 times in his career and was on the board in 206 starts.  In Ohio, he won 72 of 233 starts. He beat world champions Blastaway Sahbra, Patio Pete and Golly Too, among others. He was clearly one of the best trotters you never heard of. RIP Flyer.