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Horse Racing Notes : It's a Match Race for Top Harness Horse Award

November 16, 1986|POHLA SMITH | United Press International

Officially, the balloting for Harness Horse of the Year is wide open and unrestricted. Unofficially, it's a match race between 4-year-old Forrest Skipper and 2-year-old Jate Lobell.

Spend a few minutes talking with trainer-driver Lucien Fontaine and you'll come away convinced the coveted title should go to Forrest Skipper in a walkover.

Both colts are undefeated with similar season earnings totals.

Jate Lobell, the first top 2-year-old to go undefeated since Niatross was 13-for-13 in 1979, wrapped up a 15-for-15 campaign Oct. 11 with a victory in Freehold's Babic Memorial Stakes. The triumph pushed his season earnings for owner Joe McClusky of Battle Creek, Mich., to $585,804.

If Forrest Skipper's race season were over, his 14-for-14 mark would make him the first aged pacer to finish a year undefeated since Overcall won 21 straight at age 6 in 1969. But Fontaine plans to run Forrest Skipper, who has earned $635,175 this year and $1.04 million lifetime, once or twice more this year. The son of the late Scarlet Skipper, syndicated earlier this year for about $6 million, then will retire to stud.

But, as Fontaine points out, there's a difference between going undefeated at 2 and at 3 or 4 or 5, since young horses just off the farm develop at varying rates. Even the great Niatross was unable to go undefeated at 3, losing two of his 26 starts.

"Jate Lobell may never reach what Forrest Skipper has done," says Fontaine. "It's still to be done by him next year and the year after, and sometimes 2-year-olds who look great end up just having been ahead of their time. His best time right now is a one fifty-three (1 minute, 53 seconds). He may never go in fifty-one (1:51) or fifty and three (1:50 3-5)."

Forrest Skipper's best time, a 1:50 3-5 on June 13 at The Meadowlands, is a world record for a time trial for aged pacers on a one-mile track. He has paced a mile in less than 1:52 six different times this season -- an unofficial world record. Nihilator, the 1985 Horse of the Year, clocked only two races under 1:52.

"I'm very confident when everybody takes a look at my horse's achievements, there will be no contest," Fontaine says. "My horse started racing back in March and he's still going eight months later. He has won from the outside, the inside on all size race tracks. He has broken track records at Freehold, Rosecroft, equalled the record in New York, and has broken the world record for a time trial."

Forrest Skipper also won most of the major races for his division, including the Breeders Crown for aged male pacers and all three legs of the U.S. Pacing Championship.

Jate Lobell was a latecomer who did not begin racing until mid-June. Though he won the Kentucky Pacing Derby and his division of the American-National, he was not nominated for -- and did not participate in -- either the Breeders Crown, Woodrow Wilson Pace or Governor's Cup.

"He (Jate Lobell) is not even the fastest colt in his division -- Rumpus Hanover went in 1:52 3-5," Fontaine says. "And he is not the richest; Redskin has won more money than he has."

"Harness Racing World," a weekly half-hour program to with Stan Bergstein as host, will make its debut on the SCORE Cable TV Network, a service of the Financial News Network, Dec. 3, at 5:30 p.m. PST.

SCORE's ticker-tape updating closing stock prices and sports scores will continue to run across the bottom of the TV screen during the program.

Bergstein was the host of the defunct "Racing from Yonkers" and "Racing from Roosevelt" programs broadcast nationally by super-station WOR from Secaucus, N.J.

During the show, Bergstein will review the week in harness racing and respond to viewer questions and comments about the sport.

"Harness Racing World," wholly owned by North American Harness Racing Marketing Association, Inc., will be telecast twice each Wednesday, at 8:30 and 11 p.m. EST.

--Hollywood Park has introduced a $2 minimum on all exacta wagers and a daily Triple for its new fall meeting

--Danzig Connection, winner of the 1986 Belmont Stakes and the Pegasus Handicap, has been retired to stud after suffering a recurrence of bone chips in a knee.

--Barberry Spur, who won the first two legs of pacing's Triple Crown, also has been retired to stud, a couple months ahead of schedule, because of a pulled suspensory ligament.

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