08/22/2012 8:08AM

Gisser: Plenty of great horses, but few super horses

Somebeachsomewhere won 20 of 21 starts. Super horse or just a great horse?

A Rocknroll Dance’s win in the Battle of Brandywine and Googoo Gaagaa’s victory in the Colonial at the track previously known as Harrah’s Chester on Sunday established them at the top of their classes. For now.

And while the argument for RnR Dance is stronger than the one for Goo, there really should not be much debate. For now. There is still a lot of racing to go and plenty of time for another horse, in either division, to stake a claim. Both horses are very good, but they are not great and are certainly not, as one wag has put it regarding A Rocknroll Dance, super horses. At least for now.

What does it take to be a super horse? I think it’s a lot like defining pornography. I can’t say exactly, but I know it when I see it. So let’s take a look. Is it one brilliant year or is it a brilliant year followed by a great career afterward? Why does the term seem to be used with three-year-old pacers more than any others?

Here are a few thoughts, along with a look at some of the horses I believe are or were super horses, based on my criteria. My rules for trotters are a bit different and I will talk about them in a future column.

First and foremost, a super horse needs to have been Trotter or Pacer of the Year at least once, winning either an O’Brien in Canada or a Dan Patch here. If he or she wasn’t the best of his gait in at least one year, he is not super. An argument could be made that he must be Horse of the Year, but in 2000, as one example, Gallo Blue Chip was HOTY and POTY, while Moni Maker was TOTY in the U.S. Clearly both qualify as superhorses. Granted the fact that Moni Maker was HOTY in 1998 and 1999 and Gallo was POTY in 2001 may make the comparison moot, but I wanted to give at least one example to make my point.

Both of these horses meet my next criteria: longevity. In a sport where a long career is 10 starts at two and a three-year-old campaign, a horse needs to show more, unless he was totally dominant both years. Sweet Lou had a monstrous two-year-old campaign and has not exactly been a slouch this year, banking nearly half a million dollars. But he is not a super horse. Yet. Perhaps with a strong second-half of this season, and a huge season at four,he can join the conversation.

Somebeachsomewhere raced only 21 times, but he won 20 of those, finishing second in the other. He was totally dominant both years and I am comfortable calling him a super horse. Rock N Roll Heaven, on the other hand? Great, but not a super horse, by the closest of margins. He was a good two-year-old (winning four of nine) and despite winning Horse of the Year honors at three, he won 16 of 21 starts in his sophomore campaign. Great, but not a super horse. Both showed versatility, another requirement for me. While SBSW never won on a five-eighths track, he did win on a half several times, and Rock N Roll Heaven won on every size track.

World records are important to me, but not as important as they used to be. Horses are going faster all the time and you cannot convince me that Bret Hanover’s 1:55 mark at three is not more impressive than Hurrikane Kingcole’s 1:47 3/5. Bret Hanover was a great horse. He won 62 of 68 lifetime and he was 24 for 24 at age two, a record that will likely never be beat. Hurrikane Kingcole is not, although if you looked strictly at speed as the criteria, you could say he is a super horse. But I don’t think anybody is claiming that.

A couple distaff pacers deserve a look while we are at it. Rainbow Blue and Bunny Lake were both Horse of the Year as three-year-olds. Bunny Lake, who won the award in 2001, raced through her six-year-old season, taking a lifetime mark of 1:49 that year. She “only” won 47 of 93 career starts, which included her 19 of 21 three-year-old campaign. She retried with over $2.8 million on her card, making her the fourth richest pacing mare in the sport. She also won on all sizes of track.  I think it is fair to call her a super horse.

Rainbow Blue was brilliant in 2004, winning 20 of 21. In her career, she went a remarkable 30 for 32. She was 4 for 4 at four, and while I would have liked to see her race longer, even with “only” $1.4 million on her card, she also qualifies as a super horse, especially since she won on all sizes of track.

And what about older horses? A pair of Ron Burke trainees come to mind, so let’s discuss the recently retried Won The West and Foiled Again. I love both of these horses, but are they super horses?

Each was Pacer of the Year, WTW in 2010 and Foiled last year. Foiled Again raced from two until his current eight-year-old season. Only twice has he won half or more of his starts - 3 of 5 at two and 14 of 28 last year. He is currently third on the all-time earnings list, dropping Won The West to fifth. Won The West only won more than half his starts when he went 16 of 28 at three. So I can’t argue longevity and they meet the requirements for winning Pacer of the Year and versatility. I am tempted to give them both the benefit of the doubt for not having had a truly dominant year, since their other credentials are so impressive. But I can’t. Great horses, but not super horses. And in case you’re wondering, #2 on the all-time money list, Mister Big, never won the Pacer of the Year title, but he certainly has longevity and a dominating season when he went 11 of 14 in 2008, at age five. But I think he too is on the outside, looking in. But just barely outside.

This designation of super horse is more art than science, and it is the kind of thing that is perhaps best discussed over a good bourbon or an ice cold beer by consenting adults. There is clearly a gray area. And wait until you hear me talk about some of the alleged great trotters. In that column, it will be fifty shades of gray. Super horse or pornography. You be the judge.