03/25/2015 3:54PM

Marks: TVG Classics could learn from the past

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A battle between horses like Sebastian K (left) and Muscle Hill (right) is something we can only dream about.

Since the Breeders Crown series remains status quo, there’s an opportunity for the TVG Classics to recreate what was formerly a milestone event of the year—the American Pacing and Trotting Classics once contested at Hollywood Park.

After the Red Mile meet in Lexington, the elites would converge in California to settle issues over the big mile track. The best of the remaining best would go at it, including top 3-year-olds testing their elders for the first time.

Having just finished watching the 1958 American Pacing Classic from Hollywood Park on You Tube, lo and behold there’s the Adios-bred 3-year-old Shadow Wave overhauling the older mare Belle Acton, who in turn bested 4-year-old Widower Creed in a decisive 1:56 3/5 mile—a good time for that era.

Also in that race was Dottie Pick, the 6-year-old great daughter of Adios-Pick Up who had won the same event as a 4-year-old mare in 1956.

Fast forward a few years to 1966 and 3-year- old True Duane was surging past the 10-year-old Cardigan Bay and 4-year-old wonder-horse Bret Hanover to win the Classic event.   And get this . . . True Duane wasn’t even the best 3-year-old of that season, as those honors belonged to Romeo Hanover who True Duane had never beaten.

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At the time there was clamoring for a match race between 4-year old ‘Bret’ and 3-year-old ‘Romeo’, but it never came off.

In 1970,  then 3-year-old Triple Crown champion Most Happy Fella encountered some road problems as 5-year-old Rum Customer allowed 4-year-old stable mate Laverne Hanover to pass and coast through the middle fractions.  Most Happy Fella wound up finishing second, unable to catch Laverne, but you knew quite well, this colt could compete with full fledged Free-For-Allers as a late 3-year-old.

As recently as 1976, a 3-year-old Oil Burner left the confines of the Meadowlands after beating Armbro Ranger in the Oliver Wendell Holmes, headed west and bested that year’s aged champ Rambling Willie in the American Classic at Hollywood Park. Four years later in 1980, another sophomore, Niatross, made short work of the Free-For All division winning that year’s edition of the Classic.

Switching over to the runners, didn’t A P Indy truly make his bones in the Breeder’s Cup Classic—just as California Chrome and Shared Belief tried to do last year, though neither could beat another 3-year-old named Bayern at Santa Anita.

The basic fact is that Mr. Gural has the right idea with his TVG Classics, but more than just one 3-year-old should be allowed to enter. That way the TVG Classic can emulate the Breeder’s Cup Classic as being like a “Super Bowl” finale featuring the remaining best of the best.  In fact, more than one leading trainer of Thoroughbred 3-year-olds has been quoted as saying “The Classic” is the race to win after the Kentucky Derby.   

And if the USTA is able to institute its projected live streaming harness channel via the internet, that will only serve to enhance the potential audience.

Mark Weaver, one of the principal owners of the Ron Burke stable, made a terrific point in response to social media commentary concerning the rescinding of “The Gural Rule” the by Hambletonian Society and the Woodbine entertainment group. As is well known, the so-called Gural rule mandates that horses to need race into their 4-year-old season in order for their eventual stallion produce to be eligible to a variety of designated stakes.

Mr. Weaver did not comment pro or con about the rule itself, but his point was quite compelling and insightful. In summary, when top horses continue racing we the public get to see the different generations compete with each other. This provides fans and breeders an opportunity to actually discern which horses might be better in the battle arena—on the racetrack—instead of just hypothesizing on the sidelines.  

That’s pretty much the way it used to be in what was often called the glory days of harness racing.  Back then there was no rush to retire top horses and the fans routinely observed and digested the different crop generations as they vied against each other, and guess what?

For the most part an erudite eye could even discern a “true champion”.

I can remember a Free-For-All pace in 1964 in which the best 4-year-olds—Overtrick and Meadow Skipper—were in against the best remaining 5-year-olds—Adoras Dream and Rusty Range—plus two great 6-year-olds in Tarquinius and Henry T Adios.  In addition, the holdover FFA champion from the year before, Irvin Paul, now 7, was on hand as was the Down Under invader Cardigan Bay in his U.S. prime at age 8. It all made for some memorable clashes in what was surely one of the greatest Free-For-All pacing seasons of all time.

It might be like if Donato Hanover, Deweycheatumnhowe and Muscle Hill got together with Commander Crowe and a Sebastian K type for a few encounters.

Oh well, keep pipe-dreaming Mr. Marks!  

 

William Waters More than 1 year ago
Thanks for a great essay, Bob. Your fine article is just more evidence that history shows that the truly great 3-year-olds, at the end of their sophomore season, can compete very successfully against older horses. Yet we still have the whiners who fail to appreciate the Gural Rule and complain that even 4-year-olds can't compete fairly against aged horses. How absurd! These dinosaur whiners need to think of the fan base while it still exists.