Artistic Fella, Mister Big primed for Crown

09:42 PM 28 Aug 2008 NZST
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Artistic Fella Artistic Fella
Artistic Fella - gets a bath from Caretaker Sarah Scott
Photo by Ken Weingartner for Breeders Crown
Artistic Fella - jogging with assistant trainer Toni Rose
Photo by Ken Weingartner for Breeders Crown

Mister Big's status keeps growing, but he will need to beat rival Artistic Fella and seven other horses in the Breeders Crown Pace at Mohawk Racetrack to add to his list of accomplishments this weekend.

With his win in the Canadian Pacing Derby at Mohawk two weeks ago, Mister Big topped $1 million in earnings for 2008.

In the process, he became the first pacer in history to notch million-dollar seasons at both ages 4 and 5 and only the eighth ever to have consecutive million-dollar campaigns.

Now, Mister Big sets his sights on winning his first Breeders Crown. He finished second at ages 3 and 4, losing last year by a nose to Artistic Fella.

"He's had a week off and he's doing fine," trainer Virgil Morgan Jr. said. "I wouldn't have minded racing him last week, but he'll still be fine. Any time you can win a Breeders Crown, it punctuates your year. He still has six races after this, but this is the last major one."

Interestingly, it was Mister Big's second-place finish to Shark Gesture in the Breeders Crown for 3-year-olds in 2006 that led to him ending up in Morgan's stable. Morgan purchased Mister Big for $255,000 for owner Joe Muscara.

"When we were looking to buy him, I think the main race we focused on was when he was second in the Breeders Crown," Morgan said. "We were more confident after that mile."

Mister Big, who has earned $2.6 million in his career, enters the C$532,150 Breeders Crown Pace on a four-race win streak. The victories include the Canadian Pacing Derby, the U.S. Pacing Championship and the William Haughton Memorial. For the year, Mister Big has won six of eight starts and finished second twice.

The last horse to defeat Mister Big was Artistic Fella, who paced a world record mile to claim the Ben Franklin Pace at Harrah's Chester in June. Mister Big edged Artistic Fella by a head in the Haughton and by a neck in the U.S. Pacing Championship.

Artistic Fella, who has banked $2.4 million lifetime, has won five of 13 races and earned $812,580 this year. He finished sixth in the Canadian Pacing Derby - his only off-the-board effort of the season.

"He was sick," trainer Steve Elliott said. "When he couldn't get out of the gate, I knew something was wrong. He seems fine now."

Mister Big will start from post position No. 6 in the Breeders Crown Pace while Artistic Fella, thanks to Bigtime Ball being scratched because of illness, will begin from post seven.

"I wish we could've drawn better, but if [Artistic Fella] is good, it doesn't matter," said Elliott, who has won six Breeders Crown titles, with six different horses. "He's raced big this year, and Mister Big has raced good, also. Mister Big is a great horse. I think this [rivalry] is good for the sport."

Moira Fanning, The Hambletonian Society

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