04/23/2013 3:57PM

Harness Racing: Sweet Lou hopes for a championship year

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Derick Giwner
Sweet Lou qualified for the first time this year on Saturday (April 20).

The list of male pacers to receive divisional honors at both ages 2 and 4 is short and sweet: Artsplace, Jenna’s Beach Boy, Bret Hanover and Race Time.

After this season, it could grow by one, and be even sweeter.

Sweet Lou will try to add his name to the list and join Artsplace as the only member of that group not to have been honored as a 3-year-old as well.

In 2011, Sweet Lou won 10 of 12 races, earned $686,647, and set the world record of 1:49 for a 2-year-old pacer on his way to the Dan Patch Award as the division’s best. Last season, Sweet Lou won eight of 20 starts and banked $1.08 million; a lucrative season, but not enough to earn the division’s crown, which went to Heston Blue Chip.

Now, Sweet Lou is back for his 4-year-old campaign. Last weekend, he qualified at Meadowlands Racetrack, finishing fifth in 1:53 4/5 with a last quarter-mile of :25 4/5. Yannick Gingras was driving for trainer Ron Burke, who owns the horse with Weaver Bruscemi LLC, Larry Karr and Phil Collura.

“I was thrilled,” Burke said. “He was very good. He came home in :25 4/5 without Yannick ever asking him one iota. He just let him sit there and the last hundred yards he was really flying. We’ll come back this Saturday with a little bit more effort, making him go a little more, and we’ll plan from there. I’ll probably give him the next week off and decide what to do.”

One option would be the opening round of the TVG Free For All Series for pacers ages 3 and up at the Meadowlands on May 11. The Meadowlands Maturity, restricted to 4-year-old pacers, is May 18.

“I don’t know if I’ll race him against the top horses in the country (in the FFA series); I lean toward no I won’t race him there,” Burke said. “It’s a long year.”

Depending on the observer, Sweet Lou looks bigger and stronger as he prepares for this season.

“I see him a lot so I don’t notice it, but everyone who saw him in the paddock Saturday said how much bigger he is,” Burke said. “He seems the same horse to me; I’ve always thought he was a big good-looking horse. I don’t worry about it. He’s healthy.

“I can say he’s more studdy acting than he ever was. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but he’s definitely more aggressive than he’s ever been. He was always kind of a quiet horse and now he kind of acts like a stallion.”

Last season, Sweet Lou battled a virus that might have compromised his ability to perform at the top of his game in back-to-back weeks. He won eliminations for the North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace and Adios, but finished no better than fourth in any of those finals.

His top win came in the $510,300 Tattersalls Pace on Oct. 6 at the Red Mile. He was second in the Breeders Crown three weeks later. He also was second in the Little Brown Jug after winning his first heat.

“It was a little bit of a train wreck every time we got in the finals,” Burke said. “If we ducked, they walked; if we left, they flew. Things just didn’t work out.

“He did fight a virus last year and I think it was tough coming back. He was never as good back-to-back weeks; he was always better if you didn’t have a race the week before. In some races (this year) you don’t have eliminations and he can just come in and go full bore and then have another week off. I’m hoping that helps him.”

Sweet Lou’s qualifier last weekend was won by Major Bombay in 1:53 and also included Hurrikane Kingcole, Mel Mara and Dynamic Youth. All of last season’s top 18 money-winning 3-year-old male pacer are expected to return to action this year.

“It’s awesome,” Burke said. “It’s great for harness racing. There’s going to be better racing. It’s going to be tough on the older horses; they’re not going to face two or three of the 4-year-olds, they’re going to face all of them.

“My plans are to race at 5. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I could see us all back for another two years, which would really make it great. You’ll see records broken if everybody stays for two years to push each other and go faster.”

- Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com