12/02/2013 11:44AM

Jay Bergman: Who needs 4-year-olds when you have Foiled Again?

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Derick Giwner
Foiled Again (4) and Golden Receiver battle through the stretch in the TVG Final on November 30.

After watching the nine-year-old Foiled Again photo-out the eight-year-old Golden Receiver in the $512,000 TVG FFA pacing final at the New Meadowlands on Saturday night, one had to wonder what all the fuss was about a few years ago when four-year-olds were asked to “not” retire until they reach their five-year-old season?

The mystery became even more complex when you watched the soon-to-be three-year-old champion Captaintreacherous finish sixth after being hyped as the leader to the next Race of the Century.

As a racing fan, no one wanted to see a Race of the Century more than me, but at the same time perspective needs to be reined in. Foiled Again with his new found Meadowlands greatness is refreshing. His $6 million status is made more than profound by the absence of a flood of earnings during his two and three-year-old seasons. His victory was magnificent, but the ninth-place finish of Pet Rock left those looking for a showdown wanting more.

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If name recognition is what this sport needs, why can’t we just use the names of horses that race 29 times in a season and win $6 million during their career? Were Forego and John Henry less famous because they were geldings?

Complicating matters further is the plight of Captaintreacherous and his connections, as they need to look forward to a four-year-old season in 2014 that threatens to be as difficult as Saturday’s was on a weekly or more managed schedule.

Racing Manager Myron Bell never sounded concerned about the future value of Captaintreacherous when he spoke on the subject earlier this season. He is convinced the dominance the son of Somebeachsomewhere showed during his first two years of racing against his peers will assure his future value whether he succeeds at a high level as a four-year-old or not.

However, the risk to Captaintreacherous may not be whether his value shoots up or down, but whether another well-bred horse shows up and captivates the breeding industry.

At the same time, shouldn’t the market place dictate the future of horses? With the recent increase in the stud fee of Somebeachsomewhere and the lack of availability to breed to that horse, wouldn’t demand for Captaintreacherous in 2014 as a stallion be extraordinary?

Given the circumstances, shouldn’t the “Captain’s” connections be entitled to make a market-based business decision that actually works favorably for them while not impacting the racing scene in any way.

This impressive group of aged pacers has put on show after show this season and will likely carry on in 2014 with the exception of Pet Rock. While some have credited the new rule as a reason so many four-year-olds returned to race in 2013, it’s more likely none distinguished themselves enough as three-year-olds to attract breeders interest.

The very fact that all horses need to race at four is something that needs to be seriously questioned. It’s just so hard to believe after watching the first three racing nights at the New Meadowlands that the $90 million facility’s future direction will waver on whether a Niatross or Somebeachsomewhere comes along in the next generation. Since those two arrived 28 years apart, is it safe to say we may have to wait another 20 for a truly great one to be deprived four-year-old retirement.

Jeff Gural has the right idea when he says he wants to attract a younger audience. It’s just that it’s hard to understand why this younger audience will only be able to embrace the new facility and the exposure to our sport if we have a Niatross or Somebeachsomewhere to showcase.

Isn’t Foiled Again enough to educate and entertain future followers?

After all, trainer Ron Burke will do the entire industry (except the FFA division) a favor and only keep Foiled Again sidelined for a limited time before returning him to training and the racetrack.

And doesn’t Foiled Again say everything this sport needs to say about athletic ability and determination to win? When driver Yannick Gingras concludes every chance he gets that the son of Dragon Again actually likes it when you give him tougher trips, doesn’t that offer the kind of description all standardbred enthusiasts should be proud of?

We’d be remiss not mentioning that the sport doesn’t in fact need four-year-old stallions to achieve name recognition. There was quite an outstanding filly in the Saturday lineup at the Meadowlands and her stature keeps growing. While some have argued that Bee A Magician’s undefeated season was made easier by repeatedly beating fillies that appeared outclassed, it should be noted that nothing is given when a horse steps out on the racetrack and that every now and then something happens that defies explanation (Dedi’s Dragon defeating Captaintreacherous for example).

Those who wanted to see Bee A Magician race against the boys as a three-year-old will likely get their wish next year when the lack of big money events for aged mares will likely push the daughter of Kadabra into mixed company.

That’s why it was so fitting that Bee A Magician concluded her three-year-old campaign winning the Moni Maker. That champion was unlucky to be born in the same year as Continentalvictory, a filly that took on and beat males at three. Bee A Magician, like Moni Maker, will have the opportunity to prove herself in the aged open ranks.

Ironically the two trotting fillies already have something in common. Both won 17 consecutive races as three-year-olds. Moni Maker’s lone loss in 1996 came in her 18th start.

It’s been suggested that Foiled Again has never been better. While that may be true, it’s more inspiring that he’s maintained his level of effort in horse races for this long. I’m more inclined to believe, given the number of starts he’s had in 2013, that his greatness comes in his ability to bounce back week after week. Golden Receiver’s trainer Mark Harder put it perfectly when he described the level of competition in this division as “A War” each week.

Foiled Again and Golden Receiver have been in the trenches for quite some time and both have proven the determination to rebound from defeat and march on. They are no greater in ability today than in the past while just as resilient. Unfortunately the division has taken its toll on many other warriors too wounded to continue the fight or too dispirited from the losses to battle again.

Hopefully with time off, and some younger troops to join the ranks, 2014 will prove to be as compelling as this great campaign surely was.

 

 

Dante Sindori More than 1 year ago
I tend to agree with Mr. Csakai who wrote that you may be just trying to spark discussion and wrote the article without enough afterthought. Now you are stuck with defending an opinion that I don't believe you are passionate about. God forbid that a horse's value should go down if he is exposed as a pretender after beating a weak crop... poor little rich boys. All you need is Foiled again racing against three other Burke horses every week. That should make for riveting racing. Maybe the drivers can trash talk each other before each race like they do in professional wrestling to make it interesting.
Jay Bergman More than 1 year ago
Dante, The subject is growing an audience for the sport. The reality is that the breeding business has gotten "less" profitable for all with opportunities eroding in many locales and far less horses being produced. This market-based change along with elevated purse structure for aged horses, has effected a change on the racetrack and given rise to horses returning to race at 4 and not being retired. How the absence of one male horse from the four-year-old ranks would destroy this industry is beyond my comprehension. To the contrary I am not looking to spark controversy but add a level of sanity to a rule put in place for fear that the next Niatross would retire, not the next Captaintreacherous.
Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
Jay, looks like another older horse may be appearing in the FFA ranks in State Treasurer. Even though he got dq'd on Saturday night, he's putting holes in the New Meadowlands Racetrack winds so far. Let's see if his recent romps are about current form or if the light went off upstairs and he's gonna be like this from now on.
Damian Csakai More than 1 year ago
I think you're one of few with this point of view. Maybe wrote it just to spark discussion, because you say who needs 4 year olds when you have horses like Foiled Again with $6M. Well when he HAS to retire in a few years, then what? You cannot guarantee another Foiled Again type horse. Ones like him are few and far between.
Steve More than 1 year ago
Keeping the 4 years olds on the track is one of the best changes to the sport in recent memory. Without them this race wouldn't have even filled. We Will See and Bettor Sweet are great examples of aged horses that just didn't make it. The 4 year olds weren't only wanted, they were needed. The FFA trot didn't even fill with them. More horses on the track is always better than less from a fans persepective.
Jay Bergman More than 1 year ago
Steve, The rule had nothing to do with 4 year olds returning. The fact that the four-year-old crop lacked a highly marketable stallion was the reason horses returned. Solid purses for aged horses will keep the majority of 4 year olds on the racetrack.
JRCourchesne More than 1 year ago
Sure maybe the majority might return but not true the stars. These top horses help the industry more by being on the track then they do in the breeding shed.
Dante Sindori More than 1 year ago
Did we already forget that the 4yo pacers not only filled the cards to make for decent fields, but gave Foiled Again all he can handle all year long? Would FA have been able to showcase his incredible heart without racing against last year's crop? Would the great Cam Fella have commanded the kinds of broodmares that he did and have stamped his greatness in the breed without racing as a 4yo? Yes, FA has the determination and grit to showcase, but he needs to beat others with grit and heart, and besides, Burke's brigade was already overflowing in the FFA ranks and was looking very uncompetitive.
Electrocutionst More than 1 year ago
And what was Foiled Again one upon a time? A 4 yr old
Jay Bergman More than 1 year ago
Yes, but a gelded one with no stallion career.