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Reaching for the Stars
Thursday, April 18, 2013 - Timothy M. Jones

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2013 Odds on Equuleus from USTA on Vimeo.

Captaintreacherous reigns as the incumbent king of the 2013 colt pacing crop, and deservedly so. The horse who finished a neck behind him in the $1 million Metro final last September at Mohawk may be the challenger to dethrone the 2-year-old colt pacing champion. 

Odds On Equuleus (Eck-wuh-luss), with a resume as bright as the constellation for which he is named, is a formidable threat to the crown.  The colt’s 1:50 race record is impressive enough on its own.  Throw in the statistic of finishing the back end of race miles with sub-27-second final quarters, the young speedball looms as a serious threat to capture the kingdom.

The colt by Art Major-Latte Lady, owned by Dana Parham’s Odds On Racing, was the model of consistency in 2012.  In nine starts, five were winners; he finished second once, and was third twice.

“He seemed to do everything easily and also enjoyed doing it,” said trainer Robin Schadt. “Not once did he throw a sub-par race.  Every last quarter was under 27 seconds. He finished every mile with pace, and was never bottomed out. He bounced back from a race great - either the day after, or the following day.  Hopefully, he’ll pick right up [in 2013] where he left off.”

Odds On Equuleus finished the season at The Red Mile with a disputed win in the Bluegrass Series on Sept. 29, and then took no prisoners the following week in the International Stallion Stakes, racing on the front end while establishing a lifetime mark of 1:50.  He was turned out following that victory with $417,534 in his bank account.

USTA/Mark Hall Photos
Odds On Equuleus (5) steps out to the front during a race at The Red Mile.

The elation from the Bluegrass win turned to disappointment after the judges disqualified the colt and placed him seventh. Driver John Campbell tipped Odds On Equuleus off the pylons from fifth as Real Rocker (Brian Sears) led Rockin Amadeus (Yannick Gingras) and the rest of the field through a 29-second first quarter.  Campbell’s charge flushed Gingras’ mount from second, forcing Campbell three-wide, one-sixteenth past the quarter pole. 

The two engaged in a mild tussle brushing toward the half before Campbell was able to clear on the lead with Rockin Amadeus in tow.  With a half-length gap nearing the far turn, Gingras remained second when Real Rocker got into his helmet and nearly climbed up his back. On the video replay, you can clearly see Gingras bring his helmet forward from the contact and straighten up his posture in the bike.  Covered by a first-over Johny Rock (Andy Miller), Sears grabbed into Real Rocker, thus causing a brief check in the following field of horses, resulting in two breaking stride.

Odds On Equuleus was first under the wire in 1:51.2 as Rockin Amadeus remained second, Johny Rock finished 5 1/4 lengths back in third.

The “Inquiry” sign ominously lit and bettors were urged to hold all tickets.

The three Red Mile judges determined that Campbell had caused the breakers on the backside by slowing the pace, resulting in a chain reaction of checks by the trailing drivers. Odds On Equuleus was taken down and Rockin Amadeus was awarded the win.

The connections protested the decision almost immediately, to no avail. 

“It was obviously a call I didn’t agree with,” said Campbell.  “I had to use my horse hard to make the front.  I knew I couldn’t keep going that same speed and win the race.

“I certainly slowed the pace, but I didn’t feel like I did anything against the rules at all; if you look at the horse following me, he never gets up in my helmet, or in my bike at any point. I didn’t know what they were thinking about as far as the inquiry- but I was certainly shocked when we were taken down.”

In Schadt’s opinion, the call was an error.

“I think that decision is one that needs to be rectified for the good of not only us and our horse, but the industry as a whole,” she said. “I believe a major mistake was made. The Racing Commission has an opportunity to go forward and revisit the call,” she said.

Parham was less diplomatic toward the judges’ call.

“That was a horrible decision for us,” he said. “It was not good for the sport, not good for the people who wagered. It was not good for anything.

“The judges were given a second chance to correct what was wrong.  They just dug their heels in, and [in their minds] they think they saw something. It was a bad decision.  We’re not done yet with this; I won’t be done for a long time.”

One race doth not a career make, and one blemish from an arguable judges’ decision should not tarnish this star’s brilliance.

Parham, Schadt and Campbell were equally pleased by “Ecky’s”--as Robin affectionately refers to her star--2012 campaign against upper echelon competition.

“2012 went pretty much as planned,” said Schadt.

Parham described his colt’s season as “awesome.” 

“Every mile, he was sub 27 seconds in the last quarter,” he said. “I don’t know who has done that as a 2-year-old.”

Odds On Equuleus’ freshman campaign was laid out to test the Grand Circuit waters, but his connections said he had the New York Sire Stakes in reserve if the colt wasn’t Grand Circuit material. Breezing through a couple of qualifiers at the Meadowlands in early June—wins in 1:57 and 1:55.1, respectively—his first purse test was a sire stakes contest over the half-mile oval at Monticello.

John Campbell takes Odds On Equuelus out for a training trip while he was in Florida to accept the Proximity Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association.

“I was very impressed with him right from the start,” Campbell said. “The horse showed exceptional speed and had a really efficient gait. He covers a lot of ground really fast and with no wasted motion.  His turn of speed is tremendous.”

In that first start, Odds On Equuleus paced in seventh from post 7 before working his way through the field to finish third, 2-1/2 lengths behind Swift As A Shadow, raced-timed in 1:57.1.

“He had no trouble on a smaller track, even with the turns at Monticello in his first start,” Campbell added. “His problem in that race was greenness when he headed toward the paddock in that final turn.”

Odds On Equuleus earned his first win on July 20, beating Captaintreacherous by a neck in 1:52 at Meadowlands Racetrack. He followed that win with a score at the Meadowlands on Aug. 2 and a win 16 days later in the $109,206 Nassagaweya at Mohawk Racetrack in 1:52.3.

That win set him up for a run at the Metro Stakes, the richest stakes for 2-year-old pacers. After a win in his Metro elimination in 1:50.1, he entered the $1,010,000 Metro final as the 9-2 third choice behind favored Captaintreacherous, who won his elim in 1:49.3.

Starting from post 2, Campbell put his charge in sixth at the quarter, right on Tim Tetrick’s helmet, who was driving Captaintreacherous. When the favorite moved at the three-eighths, Campbell was right behind him, and the two colts swept to the front in the stretch. Despite pacing home in 26.4, Odds On Equuleus couldn’t catch Captaintreacherous, who won by a neck in 1:49.2.

“In the Metro, both colts were pacing hard through the wire,” said Campbell. “If Captaintreacherous had let up just a step or two—which he didn’t—we would have gotten him.”

Parham was at Mohawk Racetrack for the Metro, and said he was confused by the comments he received by other horsemen and owners after the race.

“A lot of people were congratulating us for doing so well in the Metro,” said the owner of a computer-aided wagering business that pushes some $300 million through the windows each year. “I felt they should be congratulating the winner.  I know people mean well but, after awhile, I found the congratulations to be insulting.  We didn’t go up there to be second.”

Odds On Equuleus followed that start with a third-place finish to Captive Audience in the $267,066 Champlain, again from off the pace. Both Schadt and Campbell agreed that with the caliber of competition the horse faced, plus the length of the racing season, by not using him too early, or too often, he had the promise of a possible standout 3-year-old campaign.

“We will have to wait and see what the competition and post positions are this year to change completely to a front end trip strategy,” said Campbell. “The colt has that versatility about him. I raced him on the front end right away at The Red Mile and he won both times there. But it really comes down to circumstances and the situation you’re presented with each race.”

Schadt concurred.

“He has gate speed,” she said, “but if you can manage that speed and not let them get away with too much, too early, I think it’s better for the longevity of the horse. John pretty much drove him old school.  Take him off the gate, let him have his trips and then sprint home. I thought it worked out great.”

Trainer Robin Schadt uses a heart monitor on Odds On Equuleus to ensure that the colt reaches an anaerobic-level heart rate during training.

Campbell is almost apologetic about the ease in which Odds On Equuleus handles not only the track, but himself as well.  A demeanor as docile as a walk in the park on a cool spring day- which Schadt warned Campbell about before the first time he sat behind the horse, “he lolly-gags going the wrong way of the track, but when you turn him he will be a completely different animal”- he maneuvers through first turn traffic with the ease of a bike messenger. But when called upon, lights the afterburners with the aggression of a fighter plane.

“From my standpoint,” the reinsman said with a slight chuckle, “he’s pretty easy to drive and deal with. I can manage him and do whatever I want. His calmness on the track before a race is a great asset also.  That’s very important at this level of racing.  If they get too excited before a race or hyper- that’s wasted energy.  It takes away from their performance during the race.”

“I have him rigged very simply,” said Schadt.  “He’s just a natural that doesn’t require extra equipment. I have him checked low, which I think is very important concerning him having a clear airway. I also think it helps keeping him level and balanced from nose to tail.”

Odds On Equuleus returned to training with Schadt at the South Florida Training Center in early January.  As far as she could tell, he’s the same horse, albeit a bit larger, as the one she turned out in October.  The horse stood 15.2 hands and wore a 60-inch hobble in 2012.  Now measuring 15.3 hands, he may need his pants let out a bit.

“He was a bit more studdy the first couple of weeks back in the barn, the most he’s ever been,” she said. “But it was still in a good, playful way. He’s always been a kind of happy-go-lucky horse. He likes to play in his stall with his pink ball; he chases it around like a soccer player. He also likes to graze a bit in the grass on his return to the barn from training--still hooked to the jog cart, bit in his mouth and all.”

“Ecky” logged base miles in that first month, and started slow training miles in February.  His first qualifier is tentatively scheduled for late April, according to Schadt. But it completely depends on the horse, she said. Trainer and driver met before the Dan Patch Awards banquet in March, where Campbell won the Proximity Award, to map out campaign plans and racing strategy for 2013.

“The first major stakes race is the Somebeachsomewhere in early June as a prelude to the North America Cup,” said Schadt. “There’s also New York Sire Stakes at Vernon, as well as the Simpson Memorial at the Meadowlands.  But the first major one we are looking at is the Somebeachsomewhere [on June 1 at Mohawk Racetrack].”

If Odds On Equuleus is healthy and up to the task, Parham would love to see him race in the owner’s old neighborhood of Delaware, Ohio, in the Little Brown Jug.

“I actually went to school in Delaware- went to high school right there,” he said. “I’ve been to a number of Jugs, probably 30 of them. It would be a thrill to go there and do well. I think our horse is made to go two or three heats.”

Assessing his colt’s luck for 2013, Parham knows “Ecky” will have his work cut out for him.

“I was very impressed with five or six colts last year,” he said. “While I’m biased and think mine was just outstanding, it only takes one of the others to slightly improve, [or to] slightly be less than we were.

“If we come back as good as we were last year, and everyone else comes back the same—that’s a lot of ifs—we’ll be just fine.”

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The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.