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A Champion With Red Mile Roots

Published: July 20, 2013 10:24 am ET

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The live racing season at Lexington’s Historic Red Mile Racetrack in the heart of horse country is now less than a month away, with Opening day on Sunday, August 4. The greatly anticipated two weeks of Grand Circuit racing begin on Thursday, September 26.

Long regarded as the horse capitol of the world, the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky with its limestone rich soil has produced countless equine champions. The standardbred industry is well represented locally by several leading nurseries and, of course, The Red Mile racetrack. One champion with local ties whose blood truly runs "Blue" is the 2010 Harness Horse of the Year and 2013 first crop sire Rock N Roll Heaven.

Although his sire, the late Rocknroll Hanover, was a New Jersey resident, "Heaven" was born and raised in Paris, Kentucky at Steve and Cindy Stewart's Hunterton Farms. Hunterton occupies the hallowed ground known previously as Stoner Creek Stud, where Norman Woolworth stood the great Meadow Skipper (whose name appears in Rock N Roll Heaven's pedigree no fewer than five times) and legendary trotter Nevele Pride.

Steve and Cindy are native Kentuckians and the Stewart name is a familiar one in racing circles. Hunterton is a leading consignor of top commercially bred yearlings at the various auctions and has sold the Lexington sale-topper for five consecutive years. A large factor in that success is their extensive foal sharing program.

One of the mares Hunterton foal shares is the accomplished race/broodmare Artistic Vision. The daughter of Artsplace sold as a yearling at the 1999 Ky Standardbred Sale to Charles “Cotton” Nash and his wife Julie along with Cotton’s sister Francine for $40,000.

You’ll look a long time before you find someone more “Kentucky Blue” than Cotton Nash. Ironically. He is also a New Jersey native and came to Lexington to play college basketball for the legendary coach Adolph Rupp. Nash was an All-American in each of his three seasons (1962-64) at UK and calls Lexington home to this day. His lifelong fondness for harness racing has been nurtured by many evenings at The Red Mile.

Artistic Vision enjoyed a successful career on the track, earning over $600,000 and taking a 1:50.2 record. When her racing days were over, Nash and the Stewarts did a foal share, breeding her to Rocknroll Hanover in that champion's first year at stud. The result was a horse colt they named Rock N Roll Heaven who would go through the Lexington sale in 2008 and be hammered down to Roy O'Hagan for $57,000.

Roy made a nice living buying yearlings and selling them once they got to the races. Such was the case with this horse and after a couple of impressive qualifiers at Scioto Downs the colt was sold privately for a reported $300,000 to Frank Bellino. Mr. Bellino chose East Coast horseman Bruce Saunders to train and manage his new purchase, a decision that proved to be a wise one.

Rock N Roll Heaven was shipped to The Meadowlands and finished third and second in legs of the New Jersey Sires Stakes for driver John Campbell. When the final came around Campbell went to another colt and Rock N Roll Heaven was paired with Dan Dube, who would be the colt's primary driver for the rest of his career. Together, the pair won the NJSS Final and went on to finish second in both the $1 million Metro and $600,000 Governor’s Cup.

His freshman campaign came to a historic close when Rock N Roll Heaven equaled the fastest mile ever paced by a two year old in the long history of The Red Mile with an effortless 4 ¼ length 1:50.2 romp in a $139,800 division of the Bluegrass Stakes.

Rock N Roll Heaven began his sophomore campaign with a Berry’s Creek win and another NJSS crown in an all time record for the program of 1:48.3. Things went slightly awry for a spell when the colt shipped to Canada and lost his driver for a month when Dube suffered a racing injury. Temporarily reunited with John Campbell, the colt settled for fourth in the North America Cup Final.

His Meadowlands Pace elimination win in a personal best 1:47.3 sent Rock N Roll to the post as the favorite in the $1million final. Parked through a demanding 25.4 opening quarter in one of his most determined efforts, he lost a head photo to One More Laugh for the title. He’d succumb to another upset in the Holmes in his next start with Dube back aboard, but that loss would be his last.

Rock N Roll Heaven ripped through six sub 1:50 wins within a thirty day period through the fall that included twin 1:49.2 heats in the Little Brown Jug, the Breeders Crown elimination and final and two Red Mile Grand Circuit wins.

Week one in Lexington saw him hold on for another gritty 1:48.2 win in the $111,500 Bluegrass then return seven days later to avenge his Meadowlands Pace loss with a half length 1:48.1 score over One More Laugh in the $604,000 Tattersalls Pace.

He tacked on the Messenger and Matron to make it ten straight and end his year with 16 wins from 21 starts for seasonal earnings of $2,156,192. Year end awards for the colt included both U.S. Pacer and Horse of the Year. He was retired to stud at the esteemed Standardbred nursery, Blue Chip Farms of New York.

His oldest foals will hit the yearling sales this fall with many selling in Lexington. Perspective buyers will be seeking that colt or filly with the same rare combination of speed and desire that their sire exhibited in his illustrious racing career.

The anticipation for Rock N Roll Heaven’s first crop is building. He was a champion of the first order on the track and his progeny are making a positive visual impression on those who have seen them. Your chance to evaluate them first hand and perhaps bring one home to your stable begins in Lexington at the 2013 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale beginning on Tuesday, October 1.

The Red Mile Grand Circuit showcases two solid weeks of the very finest performers in the sport competing over the unique one mile clay oval. The featured events are supported by a program of Late-Closing races to which you may still nominate your horses. The list of events and nomination form may be accessed at The Red Mile website.

The Lexington experience is not to be missed. If you enjoy harness racing and the surrounding environment and personalities, there is no finer example.

(The Red Mile)

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