08/08/2005 11:00PM

There shouldn't be a wall between breeds


TUCSON, Ariz. - Far too often, the relationship between those in Thoroughbred racing and those in harness racing is like the description of "good old Boston, the home of the bean and the cod, where the Cabots speak only to Cabots, and the Lodges speak only to God."

Every so often, though, it pays to peek over your neighbor's fence, even if you don't speak much.

Last weekend was a good example.

The Thoroughbred crowd was focused on Commentator and Saint Liam in the Whitney at Saratoga and Roman Ruler and Sun King in the $1 million Haskell at Monmouth.

Some highly interesting developments, however, were unfolding at Monmouth's sister track, The Meadowlands, mecca of harness racing.

Saturday's feature there - the Hambletonian - was far richer than the Haskell, with a purse of $1.5 million.

But there was more.

On Friday night and Saturday afternoon at The Meadowlands, there were eight races besides the Hambletonian with purses ranging from $300,000 to $750,000, another worth $221,275, and two worth $130,000.

What made them interesting, from a Thoroughbred point of view, was what the winners cost as yearlings.

The Hambletonian for 3-year-old trotters was won by a gelding named Vivid Photo, who cost $30,000 as a yearling and returned $750,000 to his owners Saturday.

The $750,000 Hambletonian Oaks was won by Jalopy, a homebred.

The $460,000 Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-old trotting colts went to Keystone Savage, a $12,000 yearling last fall.

The $390,000 Merrie Annabelle for 2-year-old trotting fillies was won by Miss Wisconsin, the highest-priced of all The Meadowlands' trotting winners, having sold for $150,000 last October.

The $375,000 Woodrow Wilson for 2-year-old colt pacers was won by the brilliant Western Ace, who brought $20,000 as a yearling last November and has won 6 of his first 7 starts.

The $375,000 U.S. Pacing Championship saw Boulder Creek the winner. He was sold privately.

The $357,000 Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old pacing fillies went to Chotat Milk, another private transaction.

The $330,000 Sweetheart for 2-year-old pacing fillies was won by Lonesome Day, a $40,000 yearling last fall.

The $300,000 Nat Ray, for older trotters, was won by Helluva Hush, who cost $20,000 as a yearling.

There also was a $221,275 Golden Girls for pacing mares on the Saturday card, and that went to Burning Point, sold privately as a yearling and now a winner of more than $2 million.

Cam's Fool, who won a $130,000 division of the Oliver Wendell Holmes for 3-year-old pacers, was the highest-priced yearling of the rich Meadowlands weekend. He cost $300,000. The other $130,000 division was won by American Ideal, who brought $72,000 as a yearling.

The contrasting economics of the two sports are reflected in more ways than the huge discrepancies in yearling prices. All of the harness horses mentioned, at the top levels of their sport, normally race every week, or two weeks at most, as opposed to the month or longer layoffs of Thoroughbred racing's best runners.

And if the owners choose, they can drive their horses in training sessions or, as road contractor Mal Burroughs did in 1997, in stakes. Burroughs became only the second amateur in 80 years to win the Hambletonian, driving his homebred trotting colt Malabar Man.

These numbers are not intended to draw negative comparisons between the breeds. Just the opposite. They are cited to dispel the notion that horse racing is a one-dimensional game. It happens to be cheaper to get into the harness game, but the rewards are there, as in Thoroughbred racing, if you can grab the magic ring.

Not many Thoroughbred owners today realize or acknowledge that, and few try both games. One who did was the late Hugh Grant, who raced the top Thoroughbred filly Airman's Guide and the great double-gaited mare Countess Adios 40 years ago. A double-gaited owner named Sandy Goldfarb has raced good horses of both breeds in recent years.

Other Thoroughbred folks today who look over the fence like what they see. Trainer Nick Zito and his wife had some great fun last year with a good 2-year-old trotting filly named Centerfold Hall. She won $82,856 but did not fare as well this year, earning only $6,038 to date. That proves there is little difference in the breeds. Both have high peaks and deep valleys.

Bottom line, too few owners look through open bridles, and too many race with breed blinkers on, which these days simply makes no economic sense.