With Zenyatta gone, Uncle Mo sidelined and with the current crop of healthy 3-year-olds getting widely panned by the critics, racing fans have been looking for the next big thing. It's been a difficult hunt so far, and there's not much on the menu to get excited about, at least until the Breeders' Cup. Frustrated? You might want to consider harness racing.
The best horse in the country is not Animal Kingdom, Shackleford or Twirling Candy but a 3-year-old filly pacer named See You At Peelers. Unbeaten in 18 career starts, she is drawing comparisons to the best female standardbreds of all time and even Zenyatta.
She is Zenyatta in the pacing world. There is no difference. This horse is as much a champion as Zenyatta.
”-- Trainer Jimmy Takter
"She's like Zenyatta," her trainer, Jimmy Takter said. "She is Zenyatta in the pacing world. There is no difference. This horse is as much a champion as Zenyatta."
See You At Peelers started off her career dominating state-bred competition in New York Sires Stakes races, but proved she could handle top class horses when beating up on her rivals in last year's Breeders Crown race for 2-year-old pacing fillies. She ended her 2-year-old year with a 13 for 13 record and didn't miss a beat upon her return, winning a pair of races at Tioga Downs.
Takter then looked for a bigger challenge and entered her against males in the $307,734 Art Rooney at Yonkers. The result was the same. She won by 3 ½ lengths in another performance in which she completely outclassed her rivals.
"Today was special," Takter said afterward. "The way she opened up was a sign of real greatness."
Up next was a win in the $601,000 Fan Hanover at Mohawk where the competition included the highly regarded Krispy Apple, who had lost just once in her career. The race was no contest. See You At Peelers won by three lengths.
Takter, the Todd Pletcher of harness racing, plans to give See You At Peelers a few weeks off and will bring her back in another sires stakes race, something that she could probably win pacing backwards. But he has big plans in mind for her. Takter has said he is strongly considering starting his filly against males in the Sept. 22 Little Brown Jug in Delaware, Ohio. It's part of the pacing Triple Crown, is among the most prestigious races in the sport and consists of heats. That means a horse has to win two races on the same day to win the Jug.
"It's not really a stretch," driver Brian Sears replied when asked if See You At Peelers could win the Jug. "The boys are knocking heads pretty good, and she's kind of beating up on the girls pretty easy. Come Jug time, hopefully the boys will be a little ragged by then."
The Jug might be win 22 or so in a row, but even that wouldn't be nearly enough to break the record, set in 1937 and 1938 by Carty Nagle. He won 41 in a row. The more significant mark is the 35 straight the great Bret Hanover won in 1964 and 1965.
That others have had longer winning streaks is among the reasons not everyone is sold on See You At Peelers just yet. She beat a weak field of males in the Rooney and Takter has said he's not interested in racing males on anything other than "small tracks," like the half-milers at Yonkers and Delaware. That means she's not going to tackle some huge races like the Meadowlands Pace or the Breeders Crown race for 3-year-old males.
Nonetheless, she's a big star who has a ton of charisma and a growing legion of followers. Can she remain unbeaten throughout the year, beat the boys in the Jug and actually make people notice harness racing, a sport starving for publicity? That's her quest and it should be an exciting and interesting one. For horse racing, the year might not be a total bust after all.
* * *
Speaking of remarkable horses who are under the radar, has anyone noticed that a horse named Rapid Redux is 10 for 10 this year? Racing in starter allowances in places like Mountaineer Park and Penn National, he's won 12 straight The name See You At Peelers is, you might say, a little naughty. Canadians refer to strip clubs as "peelers." Thus, the name, if American-ized, would be See You At The Strip Club Though these aren't the best of times for Monmouth Park, the Jersey Shore track showed it can still knock one out of the park last weekend when 27,039 showed up on Sunday for the Father's Day card. It proves once again that people aren't turning away from horse racing, they're turning away from bad racing at bad facilities that race too often. Present the game right and it will thrive.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.