Niatross VS. Somebeachsomewhere

10:33 PM 17 Jun 2008 NZST
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Somebeachsomewhere & Brent Macgrath
Somebeachsomewhere & Brent Macgrath
New Image Media

If you love sports and competition, it is inevitable that sooner or later you find yourself comparing a great athlete or a great team to similar stars from the past. It can be a frustrating exercise often with no clear winner, or depending on how you look at it, sometimes a satisfying way to remember history and appreciate how things change.

Last Saturday the highly touted Somebeachsomewhere continued his winning ways in championship style with a decisive victory in the North American Cup.

The Mach Three sired colt remains undefeated in nine lifetime starts and already in his young career is being compared to some of the greatest harness horses that ever pulled a sulky.

Naturally this has created some interesting and controversial discussion – there is a long list of heavy hitters from the past.

One of the names mentioned is the famous Niatross, a pacer with a legendary career and phenomenal list of accomplishments.

Like Somebeachsomewhere who is owned by Nova Scotia’s Blue Schooner Stables, Niatross had a Canadian connection as he was bred by Elsie Berger.

Elsie, as a young girl growing up in rural Ontario, remembered the many successful pacers with Grattan bloodlines who campaigned around the province and she was fond of her Bye Bye Byrd sired mare Niagara Dream because she possessed some of those same genes.

She crossed Niagara Dream with World Champion Albatross and the result was her own world champion in Niatross.

Niatross was a horse used to setting firsts. In two years of racing he finished first in 37 of 39 career starts.

He was the first horse to win a million dollar race in the inaugural Woodrow Wilson stake for two year olds and then the first horse to win a second million dollar purse in the Meadowlands Pace at three years of age.

At the time of induction to the Hall of Fame, only one other horse accomplished wins in both these classics. Niatross was the first horse to beat one minute and fifty seconds for a mile distance, after being the first to beat the 1:52.0, and 1:51.0 time barriers.

He was also the first harness horse to be chosen Athlete of the Year by the New York Post, winning out over two other famous competitors of their era; Jack Nicklaus and Muhammad Ali.

Niatross was voted overall Horse of the Year both as a two year old and three year old, retiring as the fastest and richest pacer ever seen in the history of the sport to that time.

Spin the clocks ahead from 1979 and Niatross’ amazing records to the realities of racing today and there is quantum shifts in the speeds involved.

Niatross was the first horse with a record of 1:49.1, whereas today horses regularly compete at or near these speeds on a weekly basis.

The great sire Western Hanover alone has produced 29 horses with records of 1:50.0 or better.

What makes Somebeachsomewhere so special and able to capture the imaginations of harness fans is the apparently relative ease of his accomplishments to date.

He did not race in some of the classic two year old starts last year like the Woodrow Wilson, but nevertheless he set a world record as the fastest two year old ever.

His gait can be described as liquid perfection and his manners impeccable. He has a look about him and build that knowledgeable horsemen find irresistible.

Veteran Hall of Famer Ron Waples was quoted; "I fell in love with this horse the first time I saw him in the paddock".

Comparison of great stars from different eras is difficult at the best of times. I believe it is unfair at this time to make those judgements on Somebeachsomewhere as he has not even finished his racing career.

When he has put together two or three seasons and a list of accomplishments similar to some of the greats of the past then the experts can pass judgement.

In the meantime we may be witnessing history in the making and I'm certainly glad to be along for the ride.

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Scott Rowe is part of a harness racing family that spans three generations. The Rowe name is synonymous with the founding of Windsor Raceway, Barrie Raceway, and now Georgian Downs.

Scott drove his first horse at eleven years of age and by sixteen was a licensed driver. For the next 27 years he drove over 20,000 competitive races and many thousands more miles jogging and training at one of the Rowe family farms.

From 1974 to 2005 he served as Director and Chairman of the Board for Barrie Raceway and Chairman of the Board for Georgian Downs Limited.

His stories have appeared on this website, as well as twice weekly in the local Barrie Examiner newspaper.

The stories often include anecdotes and recollections from a lifetime of involvement in many aspects of the industry, recalling famous horses, drivers and some of the colourful characters that made impressions on his life.

Scott Rowe, Georgian Downs Newsletter

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