06/03/2013 11:13AM

Jay Bergman: Wallace feeling down on Apprentice Hanover, Ontario racing

Apprentice Hanover won at The Red Mile in 2012 and will be starting Saturday in a North America Cup elimination.

Ben Wallace couldn’t hide his emotions Saturday. The veteran trainer had shipped his star pupil, Apprentice Hanover, to The Meadows for a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes leg in preparation for the $1 million North America Cup (trials at Mohawk this Saturday).

“I was disappointed,” Wallace said when contacted. “I don’t like to make excuses, and I thought he should have gone by those horses.”

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Apprentice Hanover, sent off as the favorite in one of three Sire Stakes divisions, wound up fourth, beaten a length in a 1:49 4/5 mile. The winner, Beach Memories, and second-place finisher, Dedis Dragon, are eligible to the North America Cup.

“We’re going to make some changes,” Wallace said. “Bridle changes, I’m sure, but I’m not going to announce that yet. Almost every track today is like a half-mile track. If you have a good horse, you have to be able to do it on the front end.”

Wallace had watched the son of Somebeachsomewhere race from off the pace in his first and second starts of the season and recognized the problem.

“It’s hard to sacrifice position when you’re racing this caliber of horse,” Wallace said.

Nevertheless, Apprentice Hanover will be starting Saturday in a North America Cup elimination, and Wallace hopes things will improve.

Last year, Apprentice Hanover finished a solid third in the Metro and was a major player throughout his juvenile campaign. Wallace has brought him back as best as he could, and the experience, especially racing in Pennsylvania, may prove to his benefit.

This spring has not been kind to those looking for races to prep for the North America Cup. Captaintreacherous, the preseason favorite to capture the classic, has but one start. Odds On Equuleus made his first start of the year Saturday in a division of the Somebeachsomewhere at Mohawk and faded after cutting the pace.

“It’s a tricky business getting a 3-year-old ready when you have to go in 1:50 right out of the box,” Wallace said. “You don’t want to overtrain them. I find that if they have the pedigree, they will adjust to the speed of the race.”

Perhaps the best thing Wallace did was bringing his colt to Pennsylvania to race. He finished second to the Cup-eligible Martini Hanover in his first start at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.

More than half of the 35 eligible sophomores to the North America Cup are by Pennsylvania sires. The state has become the leading grounds for producing Standardbreds, and Wallace paid homage to the nursery that brought him Apprentice Hanover.

“When you have Hanover Shoe Farms in the state, with the quality they produce, it’s easy to see why so many good horses are raised there,” Wallace said.

What makes 2013 so difficult to assess at this stage of the game is that very few of the top colts have actually raced one another. The Pennsylvania Sire Stakes may give Apprentice Hanover and others the toughness necessary for battle this weekend, but the unanswered questions remain.

“If you had asked me where I put Apprentice Hanover prior to Friday’s race, I would have said in the top five,” Wallace said, “After that performance, I’d say he’s now in the top 10.”

The trainer has managed to keep a solid stable active despite the troubles in Ontario over the last year. He’s got 36 in training, including many pointing toward the Ontario Sire Stakes program. At the same time, he’s had to become realistic about where to race horses, with the number of race dates reduced in Ontario and the purse structure still in limbo.

“I’ve had to race eight or nine outside of the province,” he said. “It’s not something I want to do, especially with Ontario-based owners, but you have to give these horses a chance to earn money.”

Though there has been political chatter in Ontario lamenting the loss of the Slots at Racetrack program, and while looking for ways to re-energize the Standardbred business, Wallace sees the reality, and he’s concerned.

“I’m in the twilight of my career,” Wallace said, “but there are a lot of young people who aren’t going to survive. I don’t think the government had a clue how many people this industry employed and how they would be impacted by the removal of a very successful program. We’re going to lose between 10,000 and 15,000 workers who are not re-employable.”

Wallace has listened to too much talk from politicians who he claims tell you what you want to hear and then do nothing to change things.

At the same time, Wallace wasn’t about to hold himself and other horsemen accountable for not paying enough attention and simply relying on things remaining the same.

“We were told that they were happy with the program and what it was doing every year,” he said. “This blindsided us.”

While the purse structure, at least on the WEG circuit (Woodbine and Mohawk), is in place through 2014, the smaller tracks are unsettled, and Wallace sees a disturbance in the way races are put together at the big tracks.

“At Woodbine and Mohawk, they just don’t have the same horses to work with to put together good, competitive races,” he said. “When you have to pull some from one class and some from another class to fill one race, you lose something.”

Apprentice Hanover won half of his 10 starts as a 2-year-old and won his Metro elimination in a career-best 1:49 4/5 mile a year ago. He finished second in a Breeders Crown elimination but finished well back in the final.

“I don’t like to make excuses, but I’ve had difficulty keeping this horse’s white-blood count normal since I got him last year,” he said, referring to owner Bradley Grant purchasing the horse privately from trainer Jack Darling last August. “That’s not an excuse for his performance; it’s just something I’d like to get resolved.”

The return to Mohawk for this week’s trials may be just what the doctor ordered for Apprentice Hanover. He’s done quite well over the racing surface at the Campbellville, Ontario, track, winning four times last year.

While Wallace has shifted his stance on Apprentice Hanover recently, his driver, Ontario’s best, Jody Jamieson, has not.

“Jody is committed to the horse,” Wallace said.

Jamieson has won the Cup twice, in 2007 with Tell All and in 2011 with Up The Credit.

It’s a wide-open North America Cup, and this “Apprentice” has something to prove.