02/17/2017 9:00AM

Giwner: Highalator has Bier setting his sights ‘Higher And Higher’

Lisa Photo
Highalator has won three straight starts and will be fully staked in 2017.

It may not be as rare as a solar eclipse, which will be visible in the U.S. on August 21 this year for the first time since 1991, but a top 3-year-old debuting in January is certainly unorthodox. Looking to buck the trend is a well-bred son of Somebeachsomewhere-Higher And Higher named Highalator.

The starkest example of a sophomore succeeding after a January start is Wiggle It Jiggleit. After a non-winners-of-2-races victory at Dover on January 25, 2015, the gelding would go on to win over $2.1 million. Ironically, Highalator also began his year at Dover and his second start came on January 25, 2017 in the same condition. He stopped the timer that evening in 1:52 2/5, just two-fifths slower than ‘WIJI’ clocked two years earlier.

While it is premature and farfetched to continue comparing Highalator to Wiggle It Jiggleit, they both did travel to The Meadowlands in early February as a proving ground to truly kick start their careers. For Highalator’s co-owner Daryl Bier, the 1:52 4/5 win at the New Jersey oval showed him everything he needed to see.

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“That was the race that mattered and let us know what we were supposed to do after that,” said Bier about the Meadowlands start. “I was very impressed. I can’t tell you how excited we were. After that start we decided to put him into everything. We staked him to everything except Canada.”

Skipping the Canadian stakes means Highalator will not compete in the C$1,000,000 North America Cup in mid June at Mohawk. The decision was more of an emotional one rather than a scheduling conflict as Bier hasn’t been able to get the death of his former star Modern Family out of his mind. The older trotter was rolling along back in 2014 when he finished fourth in Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk and never raced again.

“They say it was a pulmonary aneurism. It was so painful when it happened and we just can’t get it out of our minds,” said Bier.

Highalator has been just another in a string of good fortune for Bier and co-owner Charles Dombeck that began on October 20, 2010 when they bought the mare Higher And Higher on the website OnGait.com. She would go on to win 17 races in 51 starts during her time with the tandem and earn $492,502. When the Western Terror-Pro Bowl Best product began to show signs of slowing down, Bier quickly stopped with her and elected for a new career as a broodmare.

“What a blessing she has been,” said Bier of Highalator. “Originally we were going to breed her and sell all the babies, but typically when the first foal is a colt they seem to be very successful, so we kept him.”

While Highalator presents the unlimited earning potential, Bier and Dombeck did cash in with Higher And Higher’s second foal, a full sister to their colt. She sold to the 3 Brothers Stable for $110,000 and is currently in training for the Nancy Johansson stable under the name JK Higher Power. The mare also has a third foal, a colt by A Rocknroll Dance named Dancin With Jammy that Bier indicated they would likely keep. Higher And Higher was most recently in foal to Captaintreacherous but lost the foal at about 47 days according to Bier and will be bred next to Somebeachsomewhere again.

As for Highalator, Bier knew he had something special in his first career start when he swept the field to win at Pocono last July 17 in 1:53 3/5. The owner admits they received offers as high as $300,000 for the colt after that win but turned them down. He would make only one more start as a 2-year-old before being placed on the sidelines to prepare for this year.

When Highalator returned to action on January 4 of this year in a qualifier, he could only muster a sixth-place finish in 1:58 4/5, but that was somewhat by design.

“We only trained him slow and far. The fastest he went was 2:07 and we only schooled him in 2:00 prior to the race,” said Bier, who said wife Jenny Bier deserves much of the credit for the colt’s progression. “I don’t do anything. She does it all. She is so good.”

The immediate future for Highalator includes some starts at Dover Downs. He won a non-winners-of-4-races event in 1:53 1/5 over the track last night (Thursday, 2/16) with Victor Kirby in the bike. After that Bier expects to stay at Dover with starts two to three weeks apart to keep him fresh before his first true test in the Bobby Weiss series at Pocono on April 2.

How he performs in the Weiss will go a long way to determining whether Highalator has a place on the Grand Circuit trail as Bier expects. “I think he is a really good horse. He is big and strong. I think he can do it,” said Bier, who hopes to spend plenty of time on the road at major stakes events with Highalator as well as his 7-year-old trotter Wind Of The North.

“He trained so well the other day,” said Bier of the $700,000-plus career winner, who won a qualifier in 1:55 3/5 over Market Share at Dover on Wednesday (2/15) morning. “He’ll need a couple of starts, but we have him in the Cutler (Meadowlands) and a couple of other stakes.”

Despite a boutique operation, Bier has seen plenty of success in stakes races over the last half-decade and could be a familiar face in the winner’s circle again in 2017.

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