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Hot Like Cinnamon

Trot Feature - Fear The Dragon

When Bruce Trogdon of Emerald Highlands Farm in Ohio, purchased broodmare Armbro Cinnamon, for a paltry $15,000 from the 2013 Harrisburg Mixed Sale, she was in foal to the now-late Dragon Again.

Little did the longtime horseman know that the resulting foal would change his life forever. By Melissa Keith

IT MAY BE THE DRIVER’S JOB to best situate a horse in a race, but some horses seem acutely aware of their own place among the competition. As Fear The Dragon chased home Huntsville in deep stretch of the 2017 Pepsi North America Cup, it appeared as if he was well aware of his job. It was to get even, go by, and win. And that’s what he did.

Bruce Trogdon, the Emerald Highlands Farm owner, reveals that Fear The Dragon is one of those racehorses who displays more than average competitive spirit. “He’s not a mellow horse, not at all, but on the track, he’s very professional,” explains Trogdon, who traveled to Ontario for the race with his wife, Sabrina. “He just does what you tell him.”

In the Pepsi North America Cup final, driver David Miller instructed Fear The Dragon to bide his time throughout the :25.2 opening quarter and track record-shattering :52.1 half, hanging back sixth along the pylons, as Downbytheseaside took command. When Huntsville was sent first over (from fifth) just past the half, Fear The Dragon loosely followed his cover. On the lead, and within strides of the Mohawk finish line, the Tim Tetrick-reined betting favourite could not shake the relentless challenge unleashed to his outside by Miller’s colt. Fear The Dragon hunted down Huntsville, breaking the beam in 1:48.4, three-quarters of a length ahead of that rival.

One week prior, the newest North America Cup champion had displayed a versatility seemingly borne of his distinctive personality. Not every pacer could reset the way Fear The Dragon did in winning his elimination after an unexpected obstacle greeted him just strides before the wire.

Trogdon was unable to view the elimination race live, as he was attending to foaling mares and other Emerald Highlands horses that evening. “I had 28 babies this year, and number 28 started foaling right about the time of ‘Dragon’s’ race,” he tells TROT. Sitting down later to watch the replay of the third elimination, the Mount Vernon, Ohio horseman says he was about to high-five his wife as the win appeared certain. He turned to Sabrina just as Fear The Dragon made the first, and only, break of his career, leaping over a head number on the track surface.

“I had already thought that the race was over—I turn back to look at the TV and was like ‘Ohhhhh!!!”

Fear The Dragon had not interfered with any other horses, and crossed the wire on the pace for Miller. The result stood.

Trogdon says “The Buckeye” deserves serious credit for getting the situation under control in an instant, while Fear The Dragon gets full marks for responsiveness and athleticism. He adds that the outcome might have been different had it been another pacer on the lead in the final eighth: “’Dragon’, just because of the way he is, we’ve got him rigged in a way that he can move his head around, see things and stuff. If it had been one of the other horses that have their heads all tightened up, and are only able to see forward… So the quirk of it is, he’s one horse who was in a position to be able to see something like that [head number]!”

The Ohio-foaled son of Dragon Again-Armbro Cinnamon evidently agrees with the high status accorded him by the humans in his life, even announcing it to equine challengers. “One day [trainer Brian Brown] told me, ‘You know, your horse is pretty special. He does something I’ve never had a horse do before: When he’s training, and going by the three-quarter pole, that horse will start screaming and calling to the other horses, like a stallion,’” recounts a bemused Trogdon. “Most horses are breathing hard, and he’s like ‘Hey, look at me baby!’ at the three-quarter pole, in a training mile, going fast! Brian says, ‘I’ve never seen a horse going that fast, do that.’”

The studliness is all his own, yet Fear The Dragon shares a distinct aloofness with his dam.

Trogdon, who jokingly compares himself to a “girl groom” in his affection for his horses, admits Armbro Cinnamon “is happy when you leave.” When he’s visiting broodmares and foals in the field, doling out pats and scratches, “a lot of the mares like it when you’re out there; she’ll kind of just keep walking to the other side, like ‘Don’t pick me!’”

Yet pick her he did, as Armbro Cinnamon was one of Trogdon’s favourite mares in the 2013 Perretti Farms dispersal consignment at Harrisburg. “I followed that family for years,” the self-described “pedigree man” notes. “I used to go out to Armstrong Brothers a lot; [farm veterinarian Dr.] Moira Gunn was a friend of mine.”

Armbro Cinnamon (p,3,1:54.4h; $70,246) caught Trogdon’s eye for her bloodlines and conformation, but the low prices of her second and third foals posed a puzzle - why were they so inexpensive? Filly Warners Delight (originally named Cinnonymous) brought only $2,500 at Harrisburg in 2011, while Cinamony drew a winning bid of $3,500 in 2012, but later developed into an Open-calibre pacing mare (p,4, 1:49.3f; $532,404).

He asked Perretti’s Bob Marks. “I said, ‘What’s the deal with this mare?’ I like this family - I always said I’d love to have one out of this second dam, Mattaroni. I’d been trying to get one for a while. I see [Cinnonymous and Cinamony] didn’t bring much.’ And he says, ‘Well, they were midgets!’”

The Western Ideal mare was hammered down for $15,000 and joined the Emerald Highlands broodmare band. In foal to relatively-small stallion Dragon Again, Armbro Cinnamon promptly produced a colt who impressed her new owner. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t know - this guy looks pretty nice to me!’” remembers Trogdon, who had been unsure whether to expect another diminutive foal. “We liked [Fear The Dragon] from the start. He’s not a great big horse; he’s not a little horse either. He’s just a nice, handy-sized horse [around 15.2 hands high], with a good body and great conformation.”

‘Dragon’ was one of the first stud colts Trogdon retained to race, a practice he usually limited to a few of his homebred fillies each year. Remaining on the farm brought the advantages of the Emerald Hills’ proprietor’s philosophy on raising contented, healthy racehorses:

“A lot of it is that when we break them [over the farm’s 5/8-mile birch mulch track], we keep the herds together. Fear the Dragon got broke on our farm track, and never got separated from the other colts until we shipped to the south at the end of November. We keep them running together; we just get them out of the field, throw a harness on ‘em, take our time. We don’t have to do it every day, necessarily - just kind of teach them to jog, that kind of thing. Take ‘em in, wash ‘em off, and stick ‘em right back out in the field, with the other boys.”

Armbro Cinnamon is thriving, says Trogdon. “I had already booked her, when I bought her, to McArdle, and then I had just bred her back to McArdle by around the time that baby was a couple of weeks old, and I said ‘Man, if she’s not pregnant, I’m going to take her back to Dragon Again, because I really like this colt [Fear The Dragon].’” But the mare was already successfully in foal to McArdle and produced a colt, Cinnamack, who recently qualified for owner Trogdon at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in 1:59.4 over a track rated ‘Good’, with a final quarter of :28.1. “He’s going to be a pretty nice colt too. He’s one of Brian’s better colts.”

The mare did manage to fulfill her owner’s dream of a full brother to Fear The Dragon. “The next year [2016], I did breed her back to Dragon Again, and got a beautiful Dragon Again stud colt baby on the ground, about a month old,” Trogdon says. “I’d breed her back to Dragon Again forever, but unfortunately that didn’t work out.” The stallion was euthanized in April at age 22, due to health complications from a fused ankle. With the loss of Dragon Again, the breeder re-evaluated Armbro Cinnamon’s next consort, settling on Captaintreacherous, after purchasing the breeding from friendly rival Joe Sbrocco, who co-owns Downbytheseaside.

Sired by a fire-breather and out of a mare named for a red-hot spice, Fear The Dragon lives up to the family nomenclature, cautions Trogdon. “Off the track, he’ll bite ya. He’s a stallion. A real stallion.” The studly colt almost ended up a gelding last season, on account of his temperament in the stall and paddock. “Brian wanted to geld him in May of his two-year-old year. Brian and I got into an argument one day, outside of the Jug barn. I still remember it!” laughs the North America Cup winner’s proud owner. “That colt has always been kind of that way. We noticed that at the farm - his mom’s that way. They don’t like petting, that kind of thing. They’re not mean or kickers, but they’re just all business.”

It’s that attitude that kept Fear The Dragon focused, even following an accident while turned out in a round pen at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, leading to an ulcerated eye, at age two. After finishing second in Downbytheseaside’s World Record 1:50 mile for two-year-old pacers at Delaware, Trogdon says that his colt was underestimated by some, and adding a fly hood to the visually-compromised ‘Dragon’s’ equipment kept him racing, albeit not at his very best.

Attitude kept him striving for the wire in a third-place effort behind Downbytheseaside and Huntsville in the 2016 $252,000 Pennsylvania Sires Stake divisional final at Harrah’s Philadelphia, despite a handicap Trogdon says he has not disclosed elsewhere. “[Fear The Dragon] was a fabulous two-year-old. We beat Huntsville I think twice as a two-year-old. Everybody knew he was a nice horse. I don’t like to give excuses, but David [Miller] told me afterwards he had a double flat tire turning for home, so he raced with a double flat tire the last quarter-mile of that championship.”

Currently paired with a male caretaker (Ricky Groves) who offers no coddling, Fear The Dragon showed an uninterrupted string of five victories in five starts going into the richest race of the 2017 season. Trogdon explains that bringing out the ‘Dragon’s’ best meant letting him be, not struggling to make him a more pleasant-to-handle horse. “We hardly ever use a lip chain; I like a loose line,” he adds. “I’ve been big on that - I don’t like stud colts being roughed up and abused. I never believed in that - I think it makes them meaner.”

The 61-year-old newspaper publisher confesses to simply wanting to enjoy and appreciate all his standardbreds at this stage of his life. “If ‘Dragon’ has a break in his schedule, he’ll come out to the farm - he’s been coming out on weekends, for grass,” says Trogdon. “If he has a long enough break, he’ll come out and we’ll jog him for a couple of days; every time we do it, the horses love it. They get out in the woods, and it just gives them a little vacation.”

Fear The Dragon was stabled at Classy Lane the week after his elimination win, sharing Downbytheseaside’s regular groom, Toni Dale Hollar. Groves was to join the colt Thursday and remain with him through the remainder of his Canadian stay.

Before the $1 million race, Trogdon declared the 2017 North America Cup a closely-matched contest amongst his horse, Downbytheseaside and Huntsville, each of whom tallied an elimination win June 10th. “The ‘big three’ are superstars and they’ll probably take turns beating each other [throughout the season],” he elaborated, admitting that no victory would be sweeter than the one directly in Fear The Dragon’s sights June 17th. “Mohawk is like my home away from home. But when Ohio came back [with a slots-enhanced racing revival], I hadn’t been back there [to Mohawk] in like two years. To win the big race at Mohawk would be real special for us.”

Two days after celebrating the victory, a tired Trogdon was back in his home state, sleeping better than the nights leading up to Mohawk’s marquee event. “The way it played out in my head was really close to [the actual North America Cup trip],” he explains. “I figured, hard leavers on the outside. It was going to be a hot pace, and I figured that both ‘Seaside’ and Huntsville would try to bottom out the field, and have ‘Dragon’ so far back he couldn’t catch them.” He suspected his horse might end up finding room to the inside of tiring colts, in the final drive to the wire. “Well, I had that wrong—a gap opened, but it opened for Huntsville!” he admits with a self-deprecating laugh.

Watching the Cup final from outside, with binoculars, Trogdon says he kept his visual focus narrowed down to Fear The Dragon, anxiously listening to Ken Middleton’s description of the blistering pace. “I was pretty drained after that one!”

So was Fear The Dragon, according to his elated owner. “Dragon looked so all-out tired coming down the lane, and so did Huntsville. Huntsville just kept fighting back—that was quite a battle.”

A firm believer in the restorative powers of scheduled time off, Emerald Highlands’ owner/operator tells TROT that he’s unsure about whether to supplement Fear The Dragon to the Meadowlands Pace. Trogdon says he will likely give the colt a break after Pocono’s Max Hempt Memorial and before a “special race” important to him and Sabrina because they were engaged at The Meadows 43 years ago: the Adios. “We may not go to the Meadowlands Pace, just because you can’t go to all of them and I don’t want to miss the Adios, if I can help it,” he says, clearly still plotting out the best moves for his top horse. “Somewhere in there, there has to be a break, and the Meadowlands Pace is right in the middle.”

With the heat turned up in the three-year-old male pacing division, Trogdon remarks that one of his toughest challenges is weighing future options for the “good-feeling” colt, who was tested like never before in the North America Cup. “’Dragon’s’ proven he can handle any size track,” he explains. “We almost, yesterday, decided to skip the Hempt, just to give him a break. It was a tough call - we had to decide by this [Monday] morning at 9, so in the [Mohawk] winners’ circle, we had Brian saying, ‘You’ve got to make a quick decision here.’” Characteristically, Trogdon said he would like to think about it. He drove around for a couple of hours, eventually deciding to stick to the horse’s original agenda, which included the Max Hempt Memorial stake eliminations on July 1st.

If Fear The Dragon appeared tamed, standing draped in his satin North America Cup presentation blanket after a hard-fought win, rest assured it was only temporary. He emerged healthy, sound, and ready for the next challenge. “Usually once he gets the steam worked out of him, he’s pretty relaxed,” quips Trogdon, affectionately referencing both his colt’s ability to scorch the racetrack, plus the inner fire awaiting those who ignore that perfectly cautionary name.

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