Sweet Lou’s win in the $258,000 Dan Patch Invitational in August was his ninth win in a row.
With a triumph in a track record 1:47.2 on Friday, August 9, in the Dan Patch Invitational Pace at Hoosier Park, 5-year-old Sweet Lou not only established a new track standard, but became the first horse in harness racing history to pace six consecutive sub 1:48 miles. The victory was his ninth in a row. He has already collected $916,500 and a world record. So why were drivers not clamoring to leap aboard the former 2-year-old champion and multiple millionaire prior to the start of the year?
“There was a point in the season last year where we couldn’t even find anyone to drive him,” explained Canonsburg, Pa. resident Ron Burke, who is the horse’s conditioner and co-owner. “And it wasn’t like he raced badly. It was one of the best groups of 4-year-olds I have seen and he had a lot of bad racing luck. We always knew what he was capable of.”
So did the rest of the harness racing world. As a 2-year-old Sweet Lou, who is owned by Burke Racing Stable, Weaver Bruscemi, LLC of Canonsburg, Pa, Phillip Collura of Mountain Top, Pa, and Lawrence Karr of Randolph, NJ, was a phenom. His 1:49 Breeders Crown win at Woodbine was the fastest mile ever for his age, gait and gender. He dominated his division, was a slam dunk for championship honors at years end with a record of 12-10-1-1, and earned just under $700,000.
Long before the son of Yankee Cruiser and the Falcons Future mare Sweet Future, a 2-time Pacing Broodmare of the Year in 2011 and 2012, stepped a hoof on the track for his first pari-mutual engagement as a 3-year-old in 2013, he was already being anointed as harness racing’s next superhorse.
But when the colt finished fourth and fifth respectively in the $1,470,000 North America Cup and the $600,000 Meadowlands Pace, people began wondering what was wrong with him.
And it certainly wasn’t that he was not picking up the bit. Sweet Lou captured his Adios elimination, was fourth in the $500,000 final, third in the $500,000 Battle of Brandywine, second in the $200,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final, second in the $331,534 Little Brown Jug, captured the $510,000 Tattersall’s Pace and was second in the $550,000 Breeders Crown. In his sophomore campaign he paced 20 miles with a record of 8-4-3, banked just shy of $1.1 million and lowered his lifetime mark to 1:47.2. How could anyone be disappointed with that kind of year?
Maybe it was their expectations.
“Sweet Lou as a 2011 2-year-old paced in 1:49 in winning the Breeders Crown on a cool night at Woodbine on October 29 -- merely the fastest mile ever by a 2-year-old in harness racing history,” wrote Gerry Connors in a December 7, 2011, press release for the United States Harness Writers Association. “His other stakes victories, including dominance in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes program, earned his connections $686,647, and mark him as one of the very top horses going into 2012’s ‘glamour division’ of 3-year-old pacing colts.”
His connections fielded questions from the media all year long about what was wrong with the horse. For instance, award winning writer Bill Finley inquired in his newsletter, Harness Racing Update, the day of the 2012 Little Brown Jug, whether the Sweet Lou of old had finally returned. Everyone seemed to be wondering if he could ever recapture his form.
“I’m not panicking,” Burke told Harness Racing Update. “Artsplace had a sucky 3-year-old year too. We are a barn that races our horses at 4 and 5, so there will be no big drama if he loses. I’d have loved for things to work out differently this year, but people don’t realize how good these other horses turned out to be. I don’t think this is so much of a knock on our horse. In every one of these races there is a stakes record, world record. When all is said and done, this class will turn out to be one of the better ones in recent years.”
All the talk resumed when Sweet Lou returned to work last year. Normally, the transition from 3 to 4 is tough for Standardbred racehorses, as they face much older, more seasoned rivals. That was exactly the case for this newly turned stallion. His rivals included Foiled Again, a Pacer of the Year and Horse of the Year, world record holders Pet Rock, Bolt the Duer, A Rock N Roll Dance and Warrawee Needy, in addition to Golden Receiver, Modern Legend and Clear Vision. It was one of the deepest, most talented groups of older pacers ever assembled, if not the best of all time.
Seven Drivers in Eight Races
2013 was not a banner year for Sweet Lou. He started off his campaign with a third, first and second at the Meadowlands in the TVG Pacing Series and the Meadowlands Maturity before finishing off the board in the Roll With Joe. He failed to make the final for the Ben Franklin, but did win both his eliminations for the Haughton and the U.S. Pacing Championship. He came home third and fifth in the finals, before encountering some bad posts with seven different drivers in his last eight races. An example of how Sweet Lou’s year went: he went off at 81-1 in the Breeders Crown from post position nine. He was sixth in that contest behind his stablemate Foiled Again, ending the year with a record of 23-4-2-6, $348,638 in the bank and a mark of 1:48.4.
“There were times he just wasn’t in the right spot at the right time and it wasn’t because of the drives,” Burke said. “Sometimes these things just happen with racing luck. He would go to the outside too early or too late, get stuck in the pocket or draw a bad post. It was not any one thing but a bunch of them. All of us associated with the horse though definitely still believed in him.”
All the talk the beginning of this year was the return of Foiled Again. The gelding was now the sport’s all-time leading money winner at age 10 and the harness racing world beamed the spotlight squarely upon him. Therefore, Sweet Lou flew a bit under the radar and continued to train for this season without excessive expectations placed upon him. For him, this year commenced just like the last with a second, a sixth and a third in his first three trips to the gate. It was in his fourth start, however, a victory over Foiled Again on May 10 at the Meadowlands in the $50,000 TVB Free For All Championship with Hall of Famer Ron Pierce in the bike, when tongues began to wag about Sweet Lou again.
On a Roll
Once ‘Lou’ got that victory under his belt, he has not failed to have his picture taken since. He captured the next leg of the $50,000 TVG Free For Series on May 24, the Roll With Joe at Tioga Downs on June 1, his Ben Franklin elimination and the $500,000 final at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on June 21 and June 28, the $463,300 William Haughton Memorial at the Meadowlands on July 12, a $40,000 Handicap at the Meadowlands on July 26, the $257,700 U.S. Pacing Championship August 2 at the Meadowlands and the $258,000 Dan Patch Invitational on August 8 at Hoosier Park.
“We really did not do anything different with him,” Burke said. “We just kind of figured out he didn’t like to race too many weeks in a row and having some of those others retire was already going to help him out. A horse like Pet Rock definitely would have made it even tougher on him. Also having Ron Pierce in the bike has helped. He puts him in the right spot and has a tremendous amount of confidence in the horse. He is also carrying more weight this year as he was always kind of a light horse. He is just razor sharp right now but we always knew he was the kind of horse to do this.”
There is still a lot of racing left in 2014 for not only Sweet Lou but his rivals. Daily Racing Form’s Derek Giwner referred to the stallion as an “unstoppable machine” in his August 8th column. Burke, however, realizes it is still a long year and anything can happen, although he is relishing Sweet Lou’s rise back to the top.
“Hopefully he can continue to keep his form throughout the rest of the year and through the Breeders Crown,” he said. “His schedule works out well where there shouldn’t be a lot of eliminations for these races and he won’t have to race every week. Like I wouldn’t think there would be eliminations for the Canadian Pacing Derby and the Breeders Crown.
“I will admit it has been a sort of vindication for me,” Burke continued. “There is nothing as tremendous as when Lou wins and nothing as hard as when he loses. With Foiled, I know he gives all of his effort every time he is out there and he never disappoints me. Not that Lou does, but the only other horse I have felt this way about was Buckeye (St Pat, multiple world champion trotting mare). When Buckeye would lose I would take it really hard and it’s just like that with Lou. We have never lost faith in him, so the kind of season he is having is redemption because he proved what we have known all along.”