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Father Patrick: Ready For The World?

Published: June 5, 2015 2:57 pm ET

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“I think breeding him has had a positive effect, he’s definitely changed from a boy to a man this year.”

When the notion to keep harness racing’s brightest stars on the racetrack beyond their three-year-old season was being considered by Jeff Gural as far back as 2010, it was the lure of having a ‘marquee’ horse to promote that fueled his campaign to change the conditions of stakes to that end. Known as the ‘Gural Rule’ and currently in place for most of the major stakes, that vision is coming into focus as the 2015 Grand Circuit season gets underway in earnest.

To succeed, this initiative requires that rare equine athlete with talent and charisma enough to hold the attention of existing fans and pique the interest of new ones. Those qualities may well be embodied in the remarkably gifted trotter Father Patrick. Crowned as the leader in his division at both two and three, Father Patrick has been touted by no less an authority than his Hall of Fame trainer, Jimmy Takter, as “the best horse I have ever trained.” The career winner of more than $2.5 million boasts a long list of accomplishments and just may possess the necessary ‘star power.’

Father Patrick was bred by George Segal’s Brittany Farms and purchased from the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale for $100,000 by Jimmy Takter for a group that included Brittany, Brixton Medical, John Fielding, Marvin Katz, Al Libfeld, Sam Goldband and Christina Takter. Adam Bowden came in after his freshman season to secure the breeding rights for his Diamond Creek Farm.

With his Dan Patch Award-winning sophomore season complete and faced with another year on the track, members of the Father Patrick Stable contemplated how they might make the best of it. The group ultimately chose to implement a practice that is commonplace in Europe but heretofore untested in the U.S. Their decision was to breed Father Patrick to a limited book of top mares while he was being prepared for and embarking upon his four-year-old campaign; a decision that creates a new realm of possibilities if successful and the dual-purpose use of top horses in the U.S. should become a viable option.

As winter turned to spring, Takter trained Father Patrick at his East Windsor, New Jersey farm and shipped him to nearby Walnridge Farm a few times each week to be bred. Throughout the course of this ‘double-duty,’ Father Patrick responded brilliantly on both fronts. By late April he was ready to race.

After three impressive qualifiers, Father Patrick had his baptism by fire in the $150,000 Maxie Lee where he faced the best older trotters around. Chief among the competition was 2013 Horse of the Year Bee A Magician, a five-year-old mare that was coming into the race off a pair of dominant performances in the Arthur Cutler Memorial.

The match-up of Father Patrick vs. Bee A Magician, billed as the ‘Race of the Year’ to that point, could not have been possible without Father Patrick’s return to the track at age four, which would have to be considered unlikely if not for the Gural Rule. Father Patrick’s ability to compete with that group was proven out by his effortless 1:52.1 wire-to-wire romp in the Maxie Lee.

Yannick Gingras knows the horse well, having driven Father Patrick in virtually every race since the start of his career, and spoke of his impressions on the physical and mental maturation from age three to four.

“I think breeding him has had a positive effect, he’s definitely changed from a boy to a man this year,” was Gingras’ take. “He is a smart horse that allows you to race him any way and the gait and athletic ability were always there for him, but this season he is more aggressive in a good way. I trained him several times this winter and could feel a difference, more power and determination.

“To be honest he was a tired horse by the end of last season. It was a lot of racing and shipping around for him and he won the Breeders Crown pretty much on talent and instinct. Knowing that, I was concerned how he might come back, but he’s been so good I’m now wondering what he might be able to do even beyond this year. Granted it is very early, but I feel he’s the kind of horse that could compete with the best international horses if the owners were to continue racing him. Personally, I’d love a chance to race him against the Europeans and test them with the very best we have when he's at the top of his game.”

With the world's fastest trotter Sebastian K's return to racing imminent, expatriate Maven rumoured to be stateside this fall, TVG champ Intimidate sharpening his game in Canada, Natural Herbie rounding into form in the midwest, European invader Mr Picolit qualifying June 6 at the Meadowlands and Elitlopp winner Magic Tonight reportedly headed this way, the possibilities for a fantastic trotting season in the U.S. are intriguing, to say the least.

There are many components to advancing the Gural Rule, and when asked by the industry to provide racing opportunities for the newly minted four-year-olds to gain seasoning as they prepare to compete with the older set, Gural responded by resurrecting the Graduate Series, which is restricted to horses of that age. The four-race series will provide over $1 million in total purses for the group, with $250,000 finals for both trotters and pacers set for early July at the Meadowlands.

The second leg of the Graduate will be raced this Saturday (June 6) at the Meadowlands and Father Patrick will participate in Race 11 and will face six rivals for a purse of $56,250. His presence adds luster to the track’s Belmont Day live program, offering customers a chance to see the best both breeds have to offer in one day.

There are four Graduate races on the Saturday night card. There will be two races for pacers – with the finest of that group set to slug it out – and a pair of trots, with 2014 Trotter of the Year Shake It Cerry headlining the other division.

First-race post time for the Meadowlands’ Saturday card is 7:15 p.m.


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