Its Academic Getting Better With Age

Its Academic winning at The Meadowlands
Published: September 1, 2023 06:40 pm EDT

When Brad Grant was looking over the list of horses available in the mixed sale at Lexington in 2020, he had his eyes set on an open-level trotter who could race both locally and stateside at the Preferred ranks. With a bid of $220,000, the high-profile owner found his trotter in Its Academic, who has more than exceeded expectations almost three years later.

“At the time, I was just looking for a Preferred trotter to race up here,” Grant told Trot Insider. "To me, he looked like the best [trotter] in the sale and he was already in a good barn so I felt great about it. He was a big, good-looking trotter when I bought him. I figured he’d grow a bit more and he has done that, along with race really well. I shot past the expected price point to get him, but it worked out.

"From there, the rest is history as they say," he laughed.

The son of Uncle Peter proved to be competitive at the Open ranks for Grant and U.S. Hall Of Fame conditioner Ron Burke, but was never able to break through as one of the best trotters in the aged division. In the fall of last year, that all changed.

“He’s never shown any downside, really,” said Grant. "I mean, he’s always been a fringe player in that division but he’s never quite gotten to the level where he was the best. Towards the end of last year after a couple of really strong efforts, that’s where he’s shown he can go with the best and he’s gone forward from there.” 

After a 2022 campaign which saw him set a new career-high in earnings ($560,732), nobody was more confident that a breakout campaign was on the horizon for Its Academic ahead of his six-year-old campaign than his trainer Ron Burke. So far, he’s been correct.

“Ronnie kept telling me a couple of years ago that he’s just going to get better,” said Grant. "As good as he was last year, Ronnie was adamant that 2023 would be a career year for him – and so far it’s been just that. That’s why he’s the best at what he does. He’s so good at being able to predict the ceiling of a lot of his horses and just how good they can be. He gets a lot out of them, too.” 

Through 10 starts in 2023, Its Academic has already tied his career best in wins (seven) and has finished no worse than third. He’s amassed $466,784 in earnings this season to date, headlined by wins in the $155,140 Crawford Trot at The Meadowlands, the $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts at Plainridge Park and the $278,000 Cashman Memorial at the Big M on Hambletonian Day. His turnaround started late in the season last year, around the same time U.S. Hall Of Fame reinsman David Miller got the opportunity to sit behind him. The two have been a perfect match. 

“Its Academic has had a great run of races since Dave has taken over,” said Grant. "He’s had quality drivers sit behind him his entire career, but those two seem to mesh really well. I think what’s best about Dave is that he doesn’t rush him whatsoever. I think he’s learned to know how he wants to be raced and that has helped [Its Academic] tremendously. He’s had a few rugged trips this year but the two of them have been able to overcome it for some big performances. They’ve been a great team.” 

On Saturday, Sept, 2, the duo will look to continue their success this season in hopes of providing Grant his second Maple Leaf Trot trophy, something he’d love to win again.

“I’ve won this race once in my career with Atlanta and would love to add another one here with Its Academic,” said Grant. "Anytime you win a marquee race it’s special, but it has extra meaning when it’s in your backyard."

While Grant’s star trotter has proven to be the best in the division to this point, he knows this could be his toughest test of the year. 

“It’s only a field of eight, but it’s a really tough group,” added Grant. “You’ve got Venerate, who has gotten the best of us already this year; you’ve got Fashion Frenzie, who has been razor sharp here locally in the Open; and you’ve got three Ake [Svanstedt] trainees, with the wild card being Alrajah One IT. We saw what he did last year before his injury. Everyone is capable of winning, but I’m confident in mine. I mean, he’s raced great all year and I’m expecting another great effort from him.” 

Regardless of what happens on Saturday night at Woodbine Mohawk Park, Its Academic has earned himself another invitation to the 2023 International Trot at Yonkers Raceway, where he will be the U.S. representative for the second consecutive year. This time around, he’ll be going into this race in tip top form and will hope for a much better trip. 

“I’m very excited to participate in that race again this year,” said Grant. "He’s definitely earned the right to be there this year, I’m just praying the trip scenario can be more to our favour this time around. If you watch his race in the International Trot from last year, to be eighth at the three-quarter mark, then seven-wide heading into the final turn at Yonkers is very difficult. To finish third in that event despite all of that – to me – that was the statement race for him.

“He’s had tough trips in a couple of his biggest wins this year so he’s definitely no stranger to that. He never saw a set of pylons in the Cashman at The Meadowlands, nor in the Spirit of Massachusetts at Plainridge and he just kept coming. He has a desire to win and he’s shown that.” 

To view Saturday's harness racing entries, click the following link: Saturday Entries - Woodbine Mohawk Park.



John Rallis contributed this article, writing for Trot Insider.

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