10/21/2013 10:44PM

Jay Bergman: Strong competition leads to great Breeders Crown

Derick Giwner
Bee A Magician has a legitimate claim to Horse of the Year honors but it is too early to call the race.

It’s a showcase.

This year’s Breeders Crown at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs was a rousing success. Though weather on track turned gloomy midway through the program, the rain could hardly spoil what is essential to the future of our sport - Competition.

By contesting all 12 races on a single night attention is directly focused on all of the sport’s elite. There is no question whether it’s equine or human, only one spotlight should be cast upon the stars.

Rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the winners or hide the disappointment of the losers.

Rain couldn’t stop the champions from shining brightly above the rest.

The sports leading trainer, Ron Burke, had to wade through 11 Breeders Crown contests with his large array of talent. He had to wait out a photo as well. He had to endure hecklers in the winner’s circle following Foiled Again’s most dramatic career victory.

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In some ways that weird winner’s circle and interview following the last race captured the essence of our sport. The owners, trainer and driver celebrate along with the horse while an irate gambler voices his opinions over a fence. For at least this moment a gambler (racing fan?) got to share the spotlight.

Not only was the Breeders Crown a celebration of the horses it was a vivid indication of how key driving strategy is in the outcome of any particular race.

Hall of Famer Ron Pierce at times seems out of sync when interviewed after a victory, but what he does on the racetrack, even subtly, is mind-boggling.

Perhaps lost in the easy victory of Shake It Cerry, a 1:53 4/5 performance that made the juvenile trotting filly the fastest Crown champion in its 30-year history, was Pierce’s astute game plan and execution.

All handicappers I spoke with prior to the race saw the race being led by world champion Cooler Schooner and driver John Campbell. The elimination winner had landed post two inside all of her main rivals and was expected to do exactly what she did in her elimination, open up a huge lead with wicked speed and hopefully hold off her rivals late.

Pierce didn’t read from the same playbook.

Instead he used knowledge he’d gained from watching horses on a nightly basis throughout his illustrious career. He was obviously more than aware that as fast as Cooler Schooner had proven to be in a race, and that’s extremely fast, she needed to be nursed towards the starting gate and carefully managed coming out at the start.

Pierce seized the opportunity to use the advantage that he had. Shake It Cerry had been flawlessly gaited and extremely quick of foot this year. That’s how she managed to step right around Cooler Schooner at the outset and change the complexion of the race in a heartbeat.

With Cooler Schooner in a distant pocket position almost immediately, Pierce coolly started backing Shake It Cerry down midway through the first turn. Suddenly John Campbell had to either grab into Cooler Schooner or free her from getting jammed up behind a pacesetter not that interested in going fast. Campbell, who had needed more than a half mile of last week’s elimination to gather Cooler Schooner and get her to rate, had no choice but to vacate the pocket and go after the leader. Unfortunately Cooler Schooner didn’t cooperate and made the costliest break of her career.

Those who speak on twitter offer 100 percent certainty when it comes to an opinion. Those who witnessed the impeccable performances of both Bee A Magician and Captaintreacherous on Saturday night are likely to be more torn when deciding this year’s Horse of the Year sometime in December.

Since we’re in October, time would be better spent toasting both horses as great performers on the greatest stage.

Bee A Magician of course opened the door to retrospect after her scintillating 1:52 4/5 victory in the three-year-old filly trot over a group of classy fillies that have been worn down chasing her all season long.

The fact that Bee A Magician never seemed to break a sweat and won nearly a full second faster than her male counterparts, does suggest that perhaps she could have entered the Hambletonian and won.

I caught up with her part-owner Herb Liverman. “She’s the best I’ve ever had,” Liverman said. His long list of champions includes Muscles Yankee, but goes back into the 70’s with perhaps the greatest pacing filly of all time, Handle With Care.

Handle With Care raced against males as an aged mare and was extremely competitive.

Bee A Magician is likely going to have to tackle the boys at least next year and that’s something we can all look forward to.

Captaintreacherous got the best of Sunshine Beach in an epic duel in the championship event for three-year-old colt pacers. It was the biggest moment of the night for sire Somebeachsomewhere, with his two brilliant sons going eyeball-to-eyeball through the final half.

What Myron Bell and his associates have seen in Captaintreacherous with regularity during his career is a horse that understands what he was put on earth to do- win.

This “Captain” may be better when chasing horses than leading them, but no matter what the circumstances, it’s clear that trainer Tony Alagna’s most prized protégé doesn’t like to return to the stable without a stop in the winner’s circle.

Bell has been saying from the beginning of the year that he would consider racing Captaintreacherous against aged horses at years end in the TVG championship at the Meadowlands. The colt earned the right to compete with his Crown victory.

Hopefully Captaintreacherous will remain as sharp as he’s been all season long for the late-November contest.

What might work for the three-year-old against aged foes in November is the shortness of his stakes season when compared to the aged pacers of 2013. Foiled Again’s emergence on Saturday was the most vivid example of iron-will toughness. The nine-year-old has shown a resilience rarely seen.

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Foiled Again came back in October to beat horses he had chased through the summer. The aged pacing season is an endurance race and Foiled Again is a marathon runner.

With the New Meadowlands Grand Opening just a month away we’re rooting for the TVG Pace final to be the signature event to establish the facility as the racetrack for the next generation.