Sunday, August 3, 2014

The case of the missing colt

Hambletonian 2014

On the left you see a photo of soph-colt trotter Father Patrick, driven by Yannick Gingras and trained by Jimmy Takter. It is a photo of the 2014 Hambletonian favorite when he was a two-year-old, winning a race at Mohawk from post 10.

On Saturday, Aug. 2, the sophomore Father Patrick was assigned post 10 in the 2014 Hambletonian at the Meadowlands. The post meant nothing to bettors; they made him 2-5 and were poised to collect their money when the best of the three Jimmy Takter-trained colts in the $1-million-plus race lined up with his foes behind the starting gate before more than 20,000 fans and industry members and a television audience over CBS Sports Network.

In the scant moments it took for the wings of the starting gate to open, Father Patrick resorted to galloping, surrendering his unique gait in a shocking display of movement that no one had ever seen him make. For Father Patrick and his many supporters, the race that was supposed to be his to make history, was history for him the moment he galloped.

10x   11/57 3/4   11/63 1/2   11/63 1/2   11/65   11/70 Those are the past-performance lines for Father Patrick's Hambletonian effort.

Trainer Jimmy Takter never saw exactly what the audience saw when the starting gate swung open because he was driving another colt he trained, Trixton. "I was waiting for 'Patrick' to come," Takter said about the stretch drive after the race. "I had no clue. I didn't see him so I knew something must have happened to him."

John Campbell, no stranger to the race as a winning and losing driver over the years, took charge of the race early with the third Takter-trained colt in the field, Nuncio. Trixton and Takter chased Nuncio. Trixton and Takter won; Nuncio and Campbell were second. The Takter-trained exacta pair was so fast that the rest of the field was far behind them.

Takter told press-box members later he was elated to come in first and second in the classic race and happy to be the winning driver but that he was convinced it would have been different if Father Patrick trotted in the race.

"If Father Patrick stayed flat," Takter said, he would've wound up behind me [and Trixton] and come up in that position and he would've blown by both of us in the stretch."

Trixton and Nuncio had a good deal of supporters in the win pool; both went off at variables of 4-1. The non-Father-Patrick-involved exacta paid only $39.60.

For the best part of the season so far, Trixton was winning powerfully but could not beat his stable mate Father Patrick. Trixton was clearly the second-best in the division. And, as he trotted into history as the 89th Hambletonian winner, everyone knew the second-best trotter was the real horse that caught a break.

Many of us longed for the emotional punch we felt when we saw other special horses come rolling down the stretch, grabbing the ground and gliding to victory, almost laughing at foes. It is a special feeling we are only exposed to when a special horse comes along. It allows us to witness a certain greatness which we long to adore. We were robbed of that rare moment at a crucial time in the sport's history.

It was certainly not the first time and won't be the last time that a revered horse lost a big event. But to many of us following the impressive steps that Father Patrick has taken to victory at two and at three, this is the one to grieve over because he didn't win or lose--he just ran off. That left so many of us feeling the same as Takter: Father Patrick would have won the Hambletonian. He will win again, for sure, but the greatest moment of his career, no matter where he marks victories again, is lost because Father Patrick just ran off.

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