11/07/2012 3:15PM

Harness racing: Pet Rock needs rare racing luck in Messenger final at Yonkers Raceway

Derick Giwner
Pet Rock posted a 1:50 3/5 mile on the Little Brown Jug Day undercard.

There’s been a running theme in the three-year-old pacing colt division this fall. There are a growing number of camps disappointed with the way the season has gone to date. Rarely has a division been this deep and thus the results have been littered with bad trips, bad racing luck and to some unexpected results.

Pet Rock, one of the prime contenders in Saturday’s final Triple Crown leg, the $415,810 Messenger Stakes at Yonkers Raceway, is an example of an ultra-talented colt long on ability and short on racing luck.

“I thought we were as good as anyone heading into the Breeders Crown,” said Virgil Morgan Jr. trainer of Pet Rock.

Pet Rock had captured an overnight race at Woodbine prepping for the Breeders Crown elimination and his team was eager to get a chance at the title. That didn’t happen when Pet Rock got away slowly in his elimination and was never able to reach, finishing seventh and earning a sideline view of the Crown.

“It’s just impossible to make up that ground when they are coming home so fast,” said Morgan.

Pet Rock returns to Yonkers Raceway, where he captured the Art Rooney in June in a mild upset over Messenger rival Bolt The Duer.

That’s the good news.

“I can’t believe it,” said Morgan after being told that his colt drew post seven in the eight-horse field, race eight on Saturday’s Yonkers program, first post 7:10 p.m..

Pet Rock will not have Brian Sears when he goes to post on Saturday night, the pilot who guided him in the Rooney win and the Breeders Crown elimination loss. Instead George Brennan, the leading driver at Yonkers will be aboard.

Morgan didn’t want to go into details, but clearly there was a hint of frustration with the recent results. The trainer applauded local owners Frank Bellino and his son Joe for the support he’s received. The Bellinos purchased the colt last year after two qualifiers and have been willing to stake him and supplement him along the way. “They’ve been great,” said Morgan.

With seven wins in 18 starts this year, Pet Rock has been among the tops in the division, but other than the Rooney none of the wins have come in the major stakes this year.

“He went an unbelievable trip in the Cane at Tioga,” said Morgan. “He was parked the entire mile and just got beat a nose. Watch the tape of that race.”

That nose loss cost both owner and trainer the opportunity to race in the Little Brown Jug, a race they could have supplemented to only if Pet Rock had captured the first jewel in the Triple Crown of Pacing.

Instead Pet Rock was part of the undercard on Jug Day and perhaps outshined the other sophomores on the card with his dazzling 1:50 3/5 mile.

“He was great that day,” Morgan said.

Pet Rock defeated eventual Jug winner Michaels Power in the elimination heat of the Confederation Cup but couldn’t hold that rival off in the rich final. But it was his second place finish to A Rocknroll Dance in the Battle of the Brandywine at Harrah’s Philadelphia in August that sticks out as the colt’s best effort.

“He was parked the mile and was flying in the stretch in a 1:48 and change mile,” said Morgan. “He was just incredible that day.”

So the Messenger offers Pet Rock and his connections the opportunity for some redemption in a season that has at one time or another seen many camps dejected about tough trips and worse results.

This is perhaps the deepest Messenger Stakes in some time. The race’s recent history has seen too many short fields and one-sided events. This year’s version is packed with talent and offers many options to players.

Hillbilly Hanover, a recent acquisition of the Ron Burke stable, drew the coveted rail position. Part-owner Larry Karr confirmed that the ownership team pretty much got out on their investment when Hillbilly Hanover finished second to stablemate Sweet Lou in the rich Tattersalls Pace at the Red Mile in early October. Though the gelding has gone winless this season, the rail has a way of changing that dynamic.

A Rocknroll Dance will have Dave Miller driving for the first time from post three. That will be his third driver in his last three races for the Meadowlands Pace winner, who has been on a cool streak of late.

Adios winner Bolt The Duer is also looking to bounce back in the Messenger. He failed to hold his form in the Jug or during Grand Circuit action in Kentucky but bounced back with a solid victory at The Meadows in preparation for the Messenger. Bolt The Duer has regular pilot Mark MacDonald in the bike from post five.

Major Bombay, a New York Sire Stakes final winner at Yonkers over Breeders Crown champion Heston Blue Chip, landed post six with the aforementioned Sears picking up the drive.