08/21/2013 4:51PM

Keith Gisser: Relax, it's just one loss

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Ken Weingartner / USTA
Captaintreacherous (4) suffered his first seasonal defeat in the Battle of the Brandywine.

In case you live in a town where the newspaper only prints a couple of days a week, or the electricity is out, and you are unable to talk to anyone associated with harness racing, I wanted to let you know that Captaintreacherous lost a race last Saturday night. Sunshine Beach got the lead and held off a grinding Captaintreacherous, who was first over throughout, to win the Battle of Brandywine by a nose. Reading the blogosphere, you would have thought that this was truly shocking. But it’s not. It’s just one loss.

I admit to being a Captaintreacherous partisan. And not just because his trainer, Tony Alagna, is an alumnus of the Harness Horse Youth Foundation’s (the organization for which I do media relations and other fun stuff) summer programs. This is a very good, perhaps great horse. Even in defeat, he rarely throws in a bad effort. And Sunshine Beach isn’t exactly a three claimer. He is a quality stakes colt. The Captain’s connections were gracious in defeat, sending congratulations to the winning connections. They realize it’s just one loss.

Captaintreacherous finished second in his first career start at two, and then went undefeated the rest of the year. Until his last start, where he finished third in a little race called The Breeders Crown. You know what they say, “It all comes down to the Breeders Crown.” But sometimes it doesn’t. Despite the loss, Captaintreacherous won divisional honors and also was named Pacer of the Year, beating out the other divisional winners. After all, it was just one loss.

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I remember the absolute electricity in the air on a cool fall night in 1984. I was at The Meadows, near Pittsburgh, which was hosting the Breeders Crown for two-year-old pacing colts (back then the races were split up, with different tracks hosting one, and then sometimes two. I liked it. But it is not practical and not workable to market the races that way, so I get the all-in-one night concept for the youngsters). The night was to be the coronation of a colt named Nihilator. He was undefeated coning into the race and was expected to clean up against a field of good pacing freshmen including Pershing Square. He got parked-out, eventually finishing third, and when the dust had cleared, local Meadows horseman Jeff Mallett and a colt named Dragon’s Lair had pulled one of the greatest upsets in harness racing history. Now, Dragon’s Lair was no slouch, having won ten of twelve races heading into the BC, but Nihilator was undefeated. When year-end honors were announced, Nihilator won the divisional title. After all, it was just one loss. (Nihilator won 23 of 25 at three, and was named Horse of the Year, so in 1985, I guess you could say it was just two losses).

It wasn’t just one loss, but it may have been the biggest loss in racing history. Okay, it wasn’t a loss. It was a non-win. And it was the biggest non-win in racing history (with apologies to the connections of Probe). On a gorgeous September Thursday in 1994, I was interviewing Tom Thomson in the infield judges’ stand at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, as the horses post-paraded for the Little Brown Jug. Tommy excused himself to take a phone call, returned, and said, Keith, you need to leave the stand right away. It seemed odd at the time, but three minutes later came the announcement that Cam’s Card Shark, the prohibitive favorite, was being scratched lame. Driver John Campbell detected something wrong with his pacer and after consultation, he was scratched. Cam’s Card Shark had actually lost two of three heading into the Jug, but this career-ending event may have been just as shocking as Nihilator’s defeat. That didn’t affect the award voters, though. When year-end honors were announced, Jeff Snyder’s pacer was named Three-year-old Pacer of the Year AND Pacer of the year. After all, it was just one scratch.

I have no idea what will happen in the next few months as we head into the meat of the stakes season. It is likely Captaintreacherous will rebound. As I said, he has never raced poorly, even in defeat. Or perhaps Sunshine Beach will beat him a few more times, bringing back a rivalry, something we haven’t seen in a long time. In fact, an argument can be made that the last true rivalry was 1993 when Life Sign, Presidential Ball and Riyadh battled for sophomore divisional supremacy throughout the year. Or maybe some as yet unknown three-year-old will step up and become the king of the division. But, whatever happens, we need to put things in perspective. For Captaintreacherous, it was just one loss. Talk to you next month. Now, go cash.

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