12/30/2013 2:56PM

Jay Bergman: Bee A Magician leaves us with fond 2013 memories

Ken Weingartner
Bee A Magician won all of her 17 starts in 2013.

We’ll say goodbye to another year of harness racing this week but the memories of 2013 should last for quite some time. Though technically the Horse of the Year for 2013 has yet to be announced, it seems a safe bet that the undefeated filly Bee A Magician will take home the honors. It is surprising to me how many detractors there were for her selection prior to her earning the title essentially with the defeat of others, rather than her perfection.

It has bothered me from the first time someone suggested that by passing the opportunity to race in the Hambletonian against male competition, she forfeited the right to wear the overall crown.

We live during times when everything gets put under the microscope. Even perfection has its imperfection in the minds of many, but whether it’s 2013 or 1963, there’s just no way to avoid giving proper credit to the owners, trainers, drivers and caretakers that managed to make it through the obvious potholes along the path to greatness.

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Sure, we all have a way of papering over the miscues. In the old days it took at least 24 hours to have a report back from the vet after a disappointing outing. Nowadays the excuses can be tweeted out in seconds after the race and within 24 hours even the worst performances can be erased in the minds of many.

With Bee A Magician the excuses on the racetrack weren’t necessary. Yea, sure the purists will quibble with the trotting hobbles, but it’s impossible in this day and age to fault a trainer for using them. Quite frankly, if not for trotting hobbles there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be able to fill the number of races we do with regularity now. To think, how many more qualifiers would be necessary and how many fewer eligible horses there would be without the tools that keep a trotter in line?

Bee A Magician is the one horse I look forward to seeing against males or females, young and older in 2014, if for only one very selfish reason. You see, over the course of the last 40 or so years I’ve always liked to watch horses from the beginning and make an assessment whether the horse had a bright future. Earlier this year after seeing Shake It Cerry just once in a two-year-old baby race at the Meadowlands, I thought she had the look of a champion. I had yet to ask driver Ron Pierce or trainer Jimmy Takter about her when I mentioned her name in a column. While at the risk of sounding self-serving, I should also note that I picked three other horses from the qualifiers that morning and can only hope they turn out to be better three-year-olds than they were freshman.

In Bee A Magician I see a filly with enormous talent and exceptional manners. I also see a horse that hasn’t been fully extended. Does this mean she rises and defeats more aged performers in 2014? For her, the good news is that the Open class, at least as we close 2013, doesn’t appear all that imposing. Whether she’ll have the capacity to handle more veteran competition as a four-year-old remains to be seen. The feeling here is that she’ll compete on a high level no matter the depth or caliber of her rivals.

There’s no way to end 2013 without paying an enormous complement to trainer Ron Burke and his staff for an incomparable season on the racetrack. The logistics of running a stable of this unique size makes you wonder how more horses don’t slip through the cracks. It’s been fascinating to watch Burke enter horses at multiple racetracks and somehow find spots for them to succeed.

There are some trainers I’ve spoken with this year that question whether it is really in the sport’s best interest to have a single trainer become so dominant. From time to time I’ve thought spreading the wealth might produce a better racing product. That’s a viewpoint I no longer share, for in Burke, whether his horses win or lose, there is great value to the horseplayer. This past weekend at the Meadowlands, Burke horses were being played in a big way. The results were some horses that figured to win and did and others that were being wagered on strictly because of the combination of Burke as the trainer and Yannick Gingras as the driver.

The results, positive and negative, were good for the sport, primarily because as a bettor you could take the position of backing one of their horses and feeling confident in the wager or at the same time go against their horses with the belief that they were being overbet.

Closing out the year, I would say its important not to pass judgment on anything after first blush. Opening night at the New Meadowlands produced the worst weather the track has seen in a long time and with it a list of those who wondered aloud if closers could win at the “new” track. It was the same vibration you get from those who only look at the last start a horse makes and then only discover the lines from three starts back after the horse has won at a price.

When analyzing a racetrack you have to look deeper and fortunately for those who thought the Meadowlands would not play fair to closers, you have to be happy with the current results.

We can all agree that at least one horse has benefitted greatly from changing the finish line at the Meadowlands. Foiled Again’s surprising season ended on a high note as he won his last two starts over the new course in dramatic style, annexing a new chapter to an already imposing résumé.

Now if Jeff Gural’s new grandstand could somehow change the fortunes of those wagering in the building as it has for Foiled Again on the racetrack, this sport will have a very bright future.