Four-year-olds' live up to all the hype

10:44 AM 24 Jul 2013 NZST
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Pet Rock wins the $471,800 William R. Haughton Memorial
Pet Rock wins the $471,800 William R. Haughton Memorial
Lisa Photo

Expectations were high for this season's group of 4-year-old male pacers.

So far, the results justify the anticipation.

A Rocknroll Dance, for example, won the $120,500 Battle of Lake Erie on July 20 with a world-record 1:49.1 mile. One week earlier, Pet Rock captured the $471,800 William R. Haughton Memorial at the Meadowlands in a stakes-record 1:47 (breaking Jenna's Beach Boy's 17-year-old mark). In fact, the top four finishers in that race were 4-year-olds, with Bolt The Duer, Sweet Lou and Warrawee Needy following Pet Rock to the line.

Bolt The Duer won the $200,000 Dan Patch Invitational at Hoosier Park on May 25 and won the Ben Franklin Consolation on June 29 at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs by equaling his own world record of 1:47.4 for any pacer on a five-eighths-mile track.

Warrawee Needy equaled the fastest race mile in harness racing history when he won his Haughton elim in 1:46.4 on July 6 and beat a field of mostly older horses in the $98,000 Gold Cup at Mohawk on June 15.

A Rocknroll Dance, Bolt The Duer, Pet Rock, Sweet Lou and Warrawee Needy were among 11 4-year-olds entered Tuesday in the U.S. Pacing Championship, which attracted a total of 18 horses. Two nine-horse eliminations, each with a $50,000 purse, will be contested Saturday night at the Meadowlands Racetrack. The final is Aug. 3, Hambletonian Day, at the Big M.

"This pretty much proves how good a group this was last year as 3-year-olds," said trainer Ron Burke, who has five horses in the U.S. Pacing Championship eliminations, including 4-year-olds Sweet Lou and Hillbilly Hanover. "I told people that those were top, top horses. They didn't understand that these horses were all big, good-looking horses meant to go long.

"You can't even try to name them all because you're going to forget one. Hillbilly Hanover is a nice horse (with $505,938 in career earnings) and he's had trouble competing with them right now. Nothing they've done surprises me because it's such a great bunch."

The first elimination for the U.S. Pacing Championship in post position order is Our Lucky Chip, Dynamic Youth, Hugadragon, Bolt The Duer, Modern Legend, Sweet Lou, Thinking Out Loud, Razzle Dazzle and A Rocknroll Dance. The second elim is Warrawee Needy, Golden Receiver, Foiled Again, Mr Hasani N, Pet Rock, Hurrikane Kingcole, Hillbilly Hanover, Dapper Dude and Fred And Ginger.

Only 9-year-old Foiled Again, another Burke-trainee and the richest pacer in harness racing history, has earned more money among older pacers this year than Pet Rock, who has banked $473,900. In addition to the Haughton, Pet Rock won the $184,000 Roll With Joe on June 9 at Tioga Downs. Pet Rock's time of 1:48.1 equaled the fastest mile in the track's history.

"He's always been a model of consistency," trainer Virgil Morgan Jr. said about Pet Rock, who has finished among the top three in 28 of 33 career starts, winning 12 and earning $1.48 million. "He's kind of flown under the radar, but he shows up every race."

Pet Rock won the Haughton despite starting from post No. 9, which ranks with posts one and 10 as the worst spots to produce winners at the Meadowlands.

"I knew he would have to put in a huge effort against that competition and he was great," Morgan said. "He didn't trip out, either; he did the work. That's what makes him so good in my opinion; he's been parked the whole mile and won, he's won on the front end, he's won from the two hole. He's a very tactical and intelligent horse."

Morgan kept Pet Rock from the races until June because he wanted the horse to have more time to prepare for the move into the older horse division.

"I have to thank (owners) Frank and Joe Bellino for letting me take my time," Morgan said. "They always want to do what's best for the horse. It's a long year and it's going to be a grind. The stakes go until the end of November and only the strong will make it that far."

Burke has been impressed by Pet Rock's performances this year, hitting the board in five of six starts. Pet Rock has won twice and finished second in the $500,000 Ben Franklin (won by a nose by Foiled Again).

"He's always been a good horse, but he's the one that's made the biggest step up," Burke said.

"I don't know any (of the 4-year-olds) that aren't going to race next year for sure," he added. "Give them another year and it's no telling what they can do pushing each other. And when (undefeated 3-year-old) Captaintreacherous steps up it could be even better."

Ken Weingartner/Harness Racing Communications/USTA

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