04/13/2017 2:51PM

Giwner: 2017 Pacing Preview for 3-year-olds

Conrad Photo
Downbytheseaside set a world record for 2-year-old pacing colts on a half-mile track (Delaware County Fairgrounds) in 2016.

While Huntsville versus Downbytheseaside is unlikely to live up to the hype of Always B Miki facing Wiggle It Jiggleit and Freaky Feet Pete in the 2016 Ben Franklin, the match-up is one of the more anticipated races of the year. While the scene (Pocono Downs) will likely remain the same, the race where the showdown could occur is the Max Hempt Memorial.

Who will win?

That is a difficult question to answer in April, but speculate I will on the top-earning 3-year-olds for 2017. Let’s look at my Spring Top 10 on the pace.

1 – Downbytheseaside

Downbytheseaside and Huntsville really should be (1) and (1A), but what kind of prediction would this be if I didn’t choose one or the other? The narrow separating factor for me is just a gut feeling that this guy had more maturing to do over the winter while Huntsville was already a finished product in terms of talent. Ultimately the answer as to which horse is better will be decided on the track throughout the summer. For Downbytheseaside, he set the co-fastest mile (1:49) in the history of the sport for a 2-year-old last year and captured the Governor’s Cup as his main stake win, defeating Huntsville. The $577,106 earner, trained by Brian Brown, was second in the Breeders Crown behind Huntsville.

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2 – Huntsville

He could easily be number one on this list as his accomplishments were probably slightly better than Downbytheseaside. In 2016 he produced a stellar record of 11-7-4-0 while topping all rookie pacers with $689,814 in earnings. Along with the Breeders Crown win, and clocking a record-equaling 1:49 mile, he captured the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Championship and received 2-year-old Pacing Colt of the Year honors. Ray Schnittker trains the son of Somebeachsomewhere who is regularly driven by Tim Tetrick. The pair also teamed up with 3-year-old standout One More Laugh in 2010.

3 – Someomensomewhere

The first filly on the list completes a top trio sired by the great Somebeachsomewhere. She vaulted onto the scene with a Breeders Crown win at The Meadowlands last October and in 2017 she will debut for new ownership. Erv Miller did a fine job with her last year, but you have to think new trainer Jimmy Takter will have her on the top of her game, just as he did 2016 3-year-old Pacing Filly of the Year Pure Country. Her career totals stand at 14-4-6-1 ($486,380).

4 – Fear The Dragon

It is hard enough to get one horse in the top five yet trainer Brian Brown has a pair. Fear The Dragon posted a credible 11-5-3-2 record in 2016 and set a solid lifetime mark of 1:50 3/5 at The Meadows, which is certainly a quick mile for a freshman over that surface. Let’s remember that David Miller, who drives both this guy and Downbytheseaside, actually liked Fear The Dragon more at one point last year.

5 – Idyllic Beach

Well, maybe it isn’t that hard to have two horses in the top five, as Idyllic Beach is the second filly from the Jimmy Takter barn. She was the richest 2-year-old filly pacer in 2016 with $647,678 earned and her 14-8-4-2 record was superb. Why doesn’t she rank as the top filly on my list? Despite her 1:50 3/5 winning mile at Mohawk and never finishing off the board in her career, I never came away from her performances overly impressed. Was she good, yes. Is she great, I don’t think so. Maybe she’ll prove me wrong.

6 – Dragnet Alert

You won’t find this son of Dragon Again on any earnings leaderboard from 2016, but I saw enough speed to believe he could mature into a top player in the 3-year-old pacing ranks. Everyone remembers Downbytheseaside and Huntsville pacing in 1:49 at the Red Mile last October 8, but did you know that Dragnet Alert won in 1:49 2/5 on the same card? The Chris Oakes trainee is training well according to owner Michelle Crawford of Crawford Farms. “He is being aimed toward PA Sire Stakes, the North America Cup and Hempt. Chris (Oakes) loves him,” said Crawford, who also has another top 3-year-old in Funknwaffles. “John Butenschoen has him again (training). We staked him to NY Sire Stakes, the Messenger, Hempt, Rooney and Little Brown Jug. John said he is training back well, too. We are very hopeful for both of them.”

7 – Agent Q

This gal checks in as the third and final filly in my Top 10. She never finished worse than second in 10 career starts during her rookie season, but was only able to win three times. Can she overcome that secondittis over the winter for trainer Aaron Lambert? Interestingly, she is one of three in my top seven that are driven by David Miller.

8 – Ocean Colony

People are sure to forget that he was actually favored in the Metro at Mohawk last September. He led but faded to fifth that day and never really got in gear afterwards. Yet another Jimmy Takter trainee on the list, I don’t believe we ever saw the best this guy has to offer and perhaps the scratched-sick line from October 8 was something that lingered with him in surrounding starts. He was able to post a 1:50 1/5 win at Mohawk in the Metro consolation.

9 – Highalator

Can anyone remember the last time a lightly raced 2-year-old made his sophomore debut at Dover and began a season for the ages? I don’t expect Highalator to be the next Wiggle It Jiggleit, but the Jenny Bier-trained son of Somebeachsomewhere has won six straight starts, most recently on Sunday night in the Weiss Series at Pocono Downs. He now has seven wins in nine career starts and is staked like a good one.

10 – Ideal Wheel

Raced a light schedule producing a 6-3-1-1 record and earnings of $121,282 in 2016. After finishing third in the Metro, the American Ideal colt went on to win a division of the Champlain in 1:51 4/5 and never raced in a pari-mutuel event the rest of the year. Despite winning qualifiers in October and November, the Casie Coleman trainee just wasn’t on the top of his game. “Even though he was winning his qualifiers, he wasn’t right,” said Coleman, who has since learned that the colt was suffering from ulcers. I like that his connections were patient and elected to skip the big money in the Breeders Crown to focus on the future. That could seriously pay off this year.