Harness racing trainer Dave Menary might have been concerned when He's Watching lost for the first time in his career earlier this season, but the setback was something of a blessing for the 35-year-old trainer.
"When you're undefeated and you're trying to stay undefeated, it's a lot of pressure," Menary said. "Since he got beat I've had a lot more fun."
Of course, winning again factors into that fun, and Menary hopes it continues in Saturday's $776,000 Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-old pacers at the Meadowlands Racetrack. He's Watching won his Pace elim by 2-3/4 lengths over Sometimes Said in 1:48.1 last weekend.
He's Watching, who will start the Pace final from post three with driver, is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line. North America Cup winner JK Endofanera, who captured his Pace elim in 1:48.2, is the 2-1 favorite. He will start from post two with driver at the lines for trainer .
"Everything he's gotten, he's earned," Menary said about He's Watching, who has won 10 of 13 career races and earned $461,957. "There are so many good horses out there, and they go such big speeds, you need the speed but you need the luck too.
"You're not going to dominate these horses. There are multiple horses that can go in (1):48 and change, and every horse in every race can go in (1):49. You need to have the speed, you need to race hard and have guts, and maybe have a little bit of luck."
He's Watching raced solely on the New York Sire Stakes circuit last year, but dominated on his way to the championship for 2-year-old male pacers. He set or equaled two world records as well as track records at five different racetracks and was named the Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old male pacer in the U.S.
In four of his wins, He's Watching was in front from gate to wire. In three other victories, he had the lead by the halfway point. The only time he failed to have the early lead came in his career debut, when he went off stride at the start and spotted the field more than 14 lengths, but still came back to win by three-quarters of a length.
"He's just a good horse," Menary said. "He's a good horse no matter what track he races at, or what horses he races against. But now he's racing a lot more good horses. Last year in New York, it was pretty much him against the clock. We had to over-race him a little bit to keep him out of trouble and get the job done."
This year, He's Watching lost his first race of the year, finishing sixth in his elimination for the Art Rooney Pace at Yonkers Raceway. He bounced back to win a division of theStakes at Mohawk before finishing second in his elim for the North America Cup and third in the final.
He won his Meadowlands Pace elim from post nine, sitting fifth through the halfway point before getting to follow Sometimes Said around the final turn and kicking home in :26.4 over the final quarter-mile.
"It's the first time he ever got a trip in his whole life," Menary said. "He's always been doing all the work or he's been racing against the clock. [In the elimination] Tim did a great job. It's almost like he learned to race a little bit and he got a trip and it worked out the way we wanted it to."
Menary owns He's Watching with Brad Gray, Michael Guerriero, and the Muscara Racing Trust. The colt, a son of stallionout of the mare Baberhood, was purchased for a mere $3,000 at the 2012 Standardbred Horse Sale. His family includes millionaires , Leah Almahurst, and Naughty But Nice.
"He's just a versatile horse with an unbelievable motor, so we have a lot of tools that we can work with," said Menary, an Ontario resident whose recent successes include Battle of Waterloo winners Tarpon Hanover and Prodigal Son, as well as stakes-winners Tea Party Princess and Haul Away.
"The first start of the year, it was just a series of bad events and you turn the page. Things haven't fallen in line exactly the way they should have, but I'm not disappointed with the colt or the start of the year. I think this is a step in the right direction. I think we're going to hear a lot of good from him this year."
Here is the field in post order for the Meadowlands Pace, with drivers from the eliminations, trainers, and morning line odds:
1. National Debt,, Ron Coyne Jr., 50-1;
2. JK Endofanera,, , 2-1;
3. He's Watching,, Dave Menary, 5-2;
4. Tellitlikeitis,, , 12-1;
5. Luck Be Withyou,, , 6-1;
6. Lyonssomewhere,, , 8-1;
7. Jet Airway,, , 15-1;
8. Sometimes Said,, , 15-1;
9. Always B Miki,, , 4-1;
10. Doo Wop Hanover,, , 30-1.
Story and photo by Ken Weingartner/Harness Racing Communications/USTA