12/23/2013 11:38AM

Jay Bergman: Explosion in the trotting ranks has led to diversity

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Kadabra has single-handedly been able to bring back the Nevele Pride side of the Stars Pride line that had been essentially dormant in North America for some 30 years.

Diversity is applauded in many arenas but rarely looked for in the breeding of horses. Breeders and buyers generally look to multiply their efforts on the hot brand of the day and try to cash in by producing foals that will first, sell for good money as yearlings, and later, hopefully become champions.

Yet looking out upon this past Friday’s Meadowlands program that featured eight trotting races, I couldn’t help but notice just how diverse this side of the standardbred business had become. A whopping total of 46 different stallions were represented in those trotting races. To me the number was astounding considering how the breeding business has tightened in the last decade. It was also significant in the sense that the traditional theories suggest that you have to breed the best to the best in order to achieve the same outcome.

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This diverse group of stallions represented at the Meadowlands on Friday range from the popular to the nondescript.  While some may argue these eight events weren’t stakes-caliber races taking place in the summer and rather overnights in the winter, the facts remain that the sons and daughters of these stallions raced against one another.

Sweet Justice, the only four-time winner at the New Meadowlands following another big mile on Friday, is a son of Justice Hall. Perretti Farms’ Bob Marks (now a DRF contributor) didn’t sound surprised by the emergence of the horse or for that matter his sire.

“For example, you look at Justice Hall, who is merely a Garland (Lobell), as was Conway, Angus and Andover Halls, the latter is the sire of Donato (Hanover),” Marks said, referring to the hottest stallion line over the last 15 years. Garland Lobell has to be noted as the founder of this line simply because there wasn’t much growing on the tree that goes back two generations to Noble Victory and one generation to the lesser accomplished ABC Freight.

Among the group of 46 stallions, Garland Lobell was represented eight times. There is no doubt that if these were top races contested during the summer, the presence of the Garland Lobell tree would be that much stronger considering his presence in Pennsylvania with Andover Hall and Donato Hanover, in New York with Conway Hall and in Ontario with Majestic Son, Angus Hall and now Justice Hall.

As expected, the two dominant trotting stallions of the 70’s and beyond-- Speedy Crown and Super Bowl-- are represented in a very similar fashion among the 46. Speedy Crown’s line had 15 stallions while Super Bowl’s had 14. The Speedy Crown line has been dominated by the success of his great-grandson, Valley Victory. Despite having problems getting mares in foal throughout his stud career, Valley Victory has had an enormous impact on the trotting bloodlines.

“Both Yankee Glide and Muscles Yankee have several siring sons and of course they trace back to Valley Victory,” said Marks, explaining how this band has grown. But it would be wrong to omit Self Possessed, another brilliant son of Valley Victory that didn’t have a great stallion career, with a majority of his top horses either fillies or geldings. Fortunately he was able to produce Cantab Hall and Cash Hall. Cantab Hall is considered by many as the leading trotting sire in the sport today, but he doesn’t stand that far removed from many others.

Murray Brown, who has studied pedigrees for a long time, most notably at Hanover Shoe Farms as well as the Standardbred Horse Sales Company, weighed in on the subject, “I think that the sport has not had so many significant trotting stallions at one time as it has today. There was the era when you had Stars Pride vs. Rodney; Speedy Crown vs. Super Bowl. Rarely did you have more than two and sometimes one (Valley Victory) at the top. Today we have Cantab Hall, Andover Hall, Donato Hanover, Muscles Yankee, Kadabra and the promising young bucks Explosive Matter and Muscle Hill. I'm sure I've probably left some out,” Brown said, later adding Conway Hall and Credit Winner to the list.

What concerns me about the number of stallions represented on Friday’s program is not diversity, but contraction. The number of people willing to take chances on lesser stallions needs to grow in order for us to help pave the way for horses to race on Friday nights and Saturday nights at the Meadowlands, not just next week, but over the next 10 years. Horseflesh is necessary to put on overnight races while at the same time building a strong stakes program.

The good news is that competitive trotters can still come from the two major lines we’ve mentioned as well as the emerging Garland Lobell line that continues to expand on an annual basis.

The diversity is best captured by the success of Bee A Magician, the likely Horse of the Year in 2013 is by Kadabra, a terrific horse on the racetrack that lacked the fashionable pedigree experts look for moving on to the stallion ranks. Kadabra single-handedly with his success in Ontario, was able to bring back the Nevele Pride side of the Stars Pride line that had been essentially dormant in North America for some 30 years. Kadabra is a grandson of Meadow Road, a top trotter in Europe that tried to catch on as a stallion in the U.S. but couldn’t get popular support. Meadow Road’s grandfather was Nevele Pride, one of the legendary trotters of the late 60s.

Perhaps the best part of this story would be if Bee A Magician would complete the circle between North America and Europe, as her pedigree has certainly done, by competing in the elite events overseas, if not in 2014 hopefully the following year.