11/14/2012 10:57AM

Gisser: Title in several divisions still wide open

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Now that we have determined our POTUS (President of the United States), the truly important vote remains. Who will be HOTY (Horse of the Year)?

OK, after the American Nationals the past weekend, the more appropriate question is, Who will win divisional honors, especially among the three-year-olds? While it normally “all comes down to the Breeders Crown,” this year it may be more like, “Who at Woodbine didn’t let us down?” or even, “I’m looking for a patron at The Matron.”

Chapter Seven’s American National win probably cemented his claim to Horse of the Year honors. He is now eight of ten, and the two losses were both good second-place finishes. In one, the Credit Winner at Vernon, Hot Shot BlueChip beat him by a head. But Chapter Seven beat Hot Shot Blue Chip on five other occasions. In his first seasonal loss, in the Maple Leaf Trot, he lost to Mister Herbie, a very good trotter, by three-quarters of a length, but a horse whom he beat the other three times they faced each other.

The only possible knock is that he has been very lightly raced. He has been atop the Harness Racing Communications Top Ten Poll for quite a while now, and retiring with a win in a major stake probably means he will lay claim to the honor. I know the polls have been wrong before, but they certainly give us some pretty good direction.

While CNN and Fox News may have called the HOTY race for Chapter Seven, the three-year-old colt trotting and pacing divisions are still too close to call. Let’s take a look at the primary winners.

On the trotting side, Market Share is the highest ranked contender, sitting 4th in the most recent poll. He has posted a 19-9-5-3, $1,947,405 summary. The race is his to lose, especially after this weekend’s Am-Nat win. The Hambletonian champ also won the Canadian Trotting Derby and the Zweig, but he lost to Intimidate in the Breeders Crown; GoogooGaagaa in the Colonial; and Archangel in the Yonkers Trot. He also skipped the Kentucky Futurity, choosing to go in a late-closer instead. How will voters look at that choice? Will there be a negative bounce? I hope not.

Choosing not to race in a particular event is not the same as disrespecting the event’s integrity by scratching from a required second heat. Personally, I respect that decision far more than the one other trainers chose to make this year. My MVP won the Futurity in straight heats, both well slower than Market Share (granted on a much cooler day), and he is not truly in the discussion for divisional honors, since those were his only major wins.

The third-party candidate, GoogooGaagaa did not help his chances with his Matron elim loss, but he could reenter the picture with a win in the final, where his nose will be on the gate from post seven. He has made less than My MVP, let alone Market Share, but he has won nine races this year, the same as Market Share. He is also the only other three-year-old trotter getting any votes in the National poll (currently 12th). I was on his bandwagon early, but frankly his overall body of work does not stand up to the favorite son. Will he get a sentimental push as the rank outsider?

Little Brown Fox is just shy of $1,000,000 this year, with seven wins in 18 starts and 16 of 18 on the board finishes. His best win was in the Simcoe, a quarter-million dollar race, and he finished behind Market Share and GoogooGaagaa the only time all three  raced together. He did beat a breaking Goo in the Dancer, but lost to him in the Beal.
I really think Market Share will get the call in this division and it may not be close at all.

The battle for sophomore pacing colt is the most interesting in a long time. Arguments can be made for a half-dozen colts receiving poll votes, with Michael’s Power 7th and Heston Blue Chip moving up to 10th in the most recent poll. You may believe there are others worthy of consideration, but let’s look at these seven contenders.
 

 

Horse

Starts

1st

2nd

3rd

Money

2012 Mark

Poll Rank 11/6

A Rocknroll Dance

20

4

5

2

$1,044,729

1:48.1F

14

Bolt The Duer

16

8

4

0

$822,005

1:47.4

18T

Heston Blue Chip

15

12

0

1

$799,316

1:48.4F

10

Michael’s Power

20

14

2

1

$1,463,912

1:48.1S

7

Pet Rock

19

7

5

4

$794,518

1:50s

nr

Sweet Lou

19

8

4

3

$1,068,676

1:47.4S

T27

Thinking Out Loud

20

6

3

4

$1,077,377

1:47.4S

nr


A divisional champ needs to be able to win races, show stamina and endurance, make money and have speed. While I was an early member of the A Rocknroll Dance bandwagon, I cannot vote for him with just four seasonal wins. I don’t care how many gutsy trips or big miles (or, as cynical railbirds might say, bad drives) he got.  Bolt The Duer just won the Messenger and he also won the Adios. But his connections did not endear themselves to voters or racing fans by announcing they would not race in the second heat of the Little Brown Jug before the fact. There were actually cheers in the grandstand when that scratch was announced, and they seemed just a tad sarcastic.

Heston Blue Chip is the hot horse right now. Although his earlier forays into Open Stakes company were fruitless, he is currently (arguably) the best of his division. Will that Breeders Crown win be enough to earn him a title, or will he need to show us something more in a late-season race? Michael’s Power has more money on his card than any other, he has wins in two races that require two heats in one day (The Confederation Cup and the Little Brown Jug) and he has the second best win percentage behind Heston Blue Chip. Thinking Out Loud’s signature win was the Pepsi North America Cup, but he has little to show in the way of major wins other than that one very, very big win.

I think I would eliminate him from divisional consideration, at least in the United States, unless he shows more in the next six weeks. Pet Rock has quietly put together a solid season, but his only major win came in the Art Rooney, so he lags behind the others, as well. And that brings us to last year’s champ, Sweet Lou. It must be tough for trainer Ron Burke and this colt’s connections listen to what a disappointment this colt’s season was. Huh? He’s over a million bucks, has a mark as fast as any, and eight wins, with his biggest coming in the Tattersalls at Lexington. I think he needs to do more to win the divisional title, but it’s not as if he has fallen on his face.

So, what remains for these colts? The upcoming Progress Pace features Heston Blue Chip, Thinking Out Loud and Sweet Lou. In December, Northfield’s Cleveland Classic shows A Rocknrolldance, Pet Rock, Sweet Lou and Thinking Out Loud all eligible, and that race takes supplements, too. I cannot remember a situation like this in many, many years. Bottom line, the polls remain open and this one may not be decided until we are well into the Holiday Season. We will look at the other divisions next month. Now, go vote.