10/02/2014 10:26AM

Pandolfo: Bigtown Hero finally getting some respect

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Always talented, Bigtown Hero has finally put it all together.

Bigtown Hero won his first lifetime start at Cal Expo as a three year old in 2011. After the meet, trainer/driver Rick Plano shipped him to Vernon Downs. It was there that Bigtown Hero became erratic, making breaks, including several before the start. But there were the sometimes not-so-subtle flashes of brilliance. Late in his three year old season, he came off a short layoff and romped in three straight starts, winning by 12, 15, and 9 lengths, while taking a career mark of 1:51 1/5.

But the following year, his breaking habits resumed. In his four year old season, Bigtown Hero only raced 6 times, with one win, and a lot of breaks. At the end of the year, he made breaks in three straight qualifiers. Trainer Rick Plano is a good horseman, but he had other horses to take care of. He sold the horse to Maryland-based trainer Trevor Stafford. Stafford had a smaller stable and more time to donate to one horse.

In his first start for Stafford, Bigtown Hero won by 22 lengths at Rosecroft. Throughout his four year old season, Bigtown Hero still made occasional breaks, but worked his way up the ladder. He was unable to win against the best horses at Rosecroft, but looked good winning a few races when he was dropped in class.

On December 10, he finally beat a good horse. After crushing a NW5000 field by 9 lengths, Bigtown Hero stepped up into the Open, quarter moved to the lead past the classy 1-9 favorite, Abelard Hanover, and drew clear in 1:51 1/5. He finished his 5 year old season with 9 wins in 27 starts and $36,609 in earnings.

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This year, now a 6 year old, Bigtown Hero started his season in March at Dover Downs, then raced at Harrah’s Philadelphia, but struggled and lost his first 10 starts. He dropped to the NW5000 level in April and won easily. That win proved to be a confidence builder. Bigtown Hero climbed through the ranks winning 5 of his next 6 races. But he still struggled in the top levels at Philadelphia.

Then on August 3, Bigtown Hero dropped into the NW $12,500 level and won by 9 lengths while taking a new lifetime mark of 1:48 3/5.  It was a breakthrough performance for the pacer, and it caught the eye of trainer Rene Allard, who purchased the horse with his owners for $100,000.

"I was looking for a horse to take to Charlottetown for the Cup And Saucer," Allard told me.  "It's a tough race to win, but I like going there. It's in Prince Edward Island in the Maritime provinces, so it's a long ship. The horse was on the road for nineteen hours."

After finishing second in the eliminations, Allard thought that Bigtown Hero was climbing a bit in front. "I had the steel shoes taken off and his feet didn't look that good so I had aluminum shoes glued on, which sometimes helps because you don't use nails. He was also locked on one line and hard to steer in the elimination, so I took the Murphy blind off."

Bigtown Hero rallied from off the pace to win the Cup And Saucer final at 7-1 odds with a strong three-wide charge. The final time of 1:48 2/5 was a track record for aged geldings.

After the long trip home, Allard gave him a few weeks off. Bigtown Hero's next race was in a tough $50,000 Open at Pocono Downs where he had to face the likes of Sunfire Blue Chip, Golden Receiver, and Bolt The Duer. Bigtown Hero left but was shuffled in tight quarters and finished 5th with Ron Pierce driving.

"After the race, Ron Pierce seemed a bit upset with himself," Allard said. "He told me that he didn't want to pull first over against Sunfire Blue Chip, especially after the horse had three weeks off. But, he said that the horse was loaded in the stretch. Pierce told me that he might have gone right by those horses if he had pulled."

Bigtown Hero's next race was in the Open at Yonkers, and he drew off to a strong off-the-pace upset win at 7-1. A week later, on September 20th, he was back at Pocono. It was this race that opened some eyes. With Ron Pierce back in the bike, Bigtown Hero left to the lead in :26 3/5, went :53 3/5 to the half, then reeled off a sensational :26 1/5 third quarter to hit the three quarters in 1:19 4/5 in route to a 1:47 3.5 win. Bigtown Hero was now a true Free For All horse.

"It turns out that during the race he was hitting the bike and that made him hard to control. Pierce told me that he just had to let him roll," Allard said.

Last Saturday, Allard shipped Bigtown Hero to Scioto Downs in Ohio.  The 6 year old gelding faced the toughest task of his career in the $200,000 Jim Ewart Memorial Invitational, taking on the top horses in the country, including Foiled Again and Sweet Lou. With Pierce driving Sweet Lou, Dave Palone picked up the drive. Bigtown Hero, racing off the pace, followed Sweet Lou's cover.  Bigtown Hero then had to race three wide around the final turn three but he rallied strongly and finished in :26 4/5 to win under confident handling. Bigtown Hero has shown the versatility to leave fast and cut the mile, go first over, or mount strong wide rallies from off the pace.

"It's not easy trying to buy a good older horse," Allard said. "Sometimes you end up with a horse that's just past his prime and already ran his best races. But trainer Trevor Stafford did a good job with this horse. It's nice to get a late bloomer like this. He showed wicked speed at times in his career, but now he's putting it all together.”

I asked Allard if they are considering taking on the best in the Breeders Crown at the Meadowlands next month.

"We'd have to supplement him for $50,000 to run in the Breeders Crown. That's a lot of money, but we're thinking about it," he said.

Allard said that Bigtown Hero will go to Batavia Downs to race in the Robert J. Kane Memorial Invitational Pace on October 18 and will also race at Pocono.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.

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