An article by the editor of Harness Eye Derek Giwneron Rock N Roll Heaven’s career:
Records are the cornerstones of sports. In baseball, home runs are the glamour statistic and in football itʼs touchdowns scored. But when it comes to Harness Racing, speed tends to catch the eye. Any true harness fan knows that Cambest went the fastest mile ever in a time trial (1:46.1), and that Holborn Hanover and Somebeachsomewhere share the world pari-mutuel record at 1:46.4. Final times can be a measure of unique talent, but it is not the only scale with which we judge.
Rock N Roll Heaven was the standout performer in the standardbred world during 2010. No one will look back years from now and recall him as a speed demon; though he did tie the record for a three-year-old on a half mile track (1:49.2 ‒ Delaware County Fair). Our memories, however, will be of a horse that was consistently faster than just about every horse which ever stepped on the track. They will be of a Horse of the Year winner who could accelerate on a dime around almost any surface. They will be of a durable colt that remained on the top of his game from April through November when most current day stars barely hang around for six months of racing action.
Following a successful two-year-old campaign where he won nearly $600,000, Rock N Roll Heaven made his first parimutuel start as a sophomore in an Open event against his peers. He rolled on the lead for regular pilot Dan Dube and held under some urging.
Next up was the Berryʼs Creek. A tough trip would limit the colt to third in his elimination; good enough to make the final. With $220,000 on the line the following week in the final, ʻHeavenʼ came up with a sharp winning effort in his first major test of 2010.
A pair of easy New Jersey Sire Stakes wins would precede a trip north to Canada for the Burlington and North America Cup. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned for trainer Bruce Saunders. His colt was spooked by the time indicator in the infield and caused the second-year colt to make a break. He would have to qualify just three days later to remain eligible for the $1,45 million North America Cup which was scheduled four days later.
The qualifier went smoothly and Heaven was able to parlay a perfect cover trip into an elimination victory. The fnal did not produce similar results. Heaven paced a nice 1:49.1 mile, but could muster only a fourth place finish in what would have to be considered his most disappointing effort of the season to date.
Prior to the North America Cup an unfortunate driving accident at the Meadowlands caused the man who had driven Heaven in all but two of his prior 15 starts to miss the richest engagement of the year. Dan Dube suffered a fractured vertebra in his lower back and a carpal bone in his right hand during the June 18 incident. The injuries also pushed him to the sidelines for the next dance on Heavenʼs card: the $1,000,000 Meadowlands Pace.
“This year I got so many good horses and when I got hurt it was kind of like losing a year of my life,” said Dube. “Then to get [Rock N Roll Heaven] back and a couple of other ones (horses), it was great. That is why I wanted to come back so quickly. I didn’t want to miss too many drives with him; he is going to be a stud soon. It is tough to get another horse like that.”
Similar to the NA Cup, Heaven posted a winning effort in his Pace elimination and was one of the favorites to capture arguably the most important pacing event of the year. Unlike the NA Cup final, the son of Rocknroll Hanover went one of the best miles of his career while vying for the $1 million Pace prize. He hung strong fractions on the board and passed three quarters in 1:20 for substitute driver John Campbell, who also drove in the NA Cup final. The gutsy Heaven battled down to the wire but could not hold off the late charge of One More Laugh.
“I’ve learned that something constructive comes from every defeat.”
Those were the words of former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry.
While Rock N Roll Heaven did not finish first in the Meadowlands Pace, most would agree that in defeat he truly earned recognition as possibly the best sophomore
pacer in the country. Those that witnessed the effort could not deny that he deserved the winnerʼs trophy.
“They (NA Cup & Meadowlands Pace) were very disappointing,” said Saunders. ”We were never disappointed in the horseʼs effort; he always races his eyeballs out. The Meadowlands Pace effort was as good as any horse could possibly put in. Rayʼs (trainer Schnittker ‒ One More Laugh) colt got his nose in front, got a little bit of a better trip; I think everyonewould concede.”
returned for the coltʼs next engagement; a second-place finish in the Oliver Wendell Holmes at the Meadowlands. It was another strong effort for Heaven, who was about to get hot; smoking hot!
The Battle of the Brandywine at Chester was next for Heaven. Despite bad weather, Heaven had little trouble besting One More Laugh in 1:48.4. After some tough decision making, Saunders and owner Frank Bellino elected to ship off to Delaware for the Little Brown Jug.
If you were not impressed with the coltʼs “heaven sent” abilities yet, Delaware made you a believer. He won in straight heats; identical 1:49.2 miles oval the half-mile oval. Thatʼs right, two sub-1:50 miles on a half in the same day! He set a two-heat record that may stand for a long time.
The Breeders Crown was next on the agenda and Heaven cruised once again to an elimination win. For the final he displayed his quickness by sprinting to the front with a 53.1-second middle half and a sizzling 1:19.4 three-quarter time over the five-eighths surface at Pocono Downs; all that with temperatures that were hovering around 40 degrees prior to post time. While a record was not set at the wire, Heaven crossed the line five-plus lengths the best in 1:49 to capture the $500,000 final.
“When I saw 1:19 I was going for it (World Record),” said Dube. “He did it so easily. He wasn’t even tired after the race.
A trip to Lexington was next. Heaven took care of business with another pair of sub-1:49 miles in the Bluegrass and Tattersalls.
Two weeks later Rock N Roll Heaven made the trek back east to tackle four others in the $437,100 Messenger final at Yonkers Raceway. Of course he won easily. The final time was a sharp 1:51.4.
However, the mark snapped a streak of 12 consecutive sub-1:50 miles by the star colt.
“Speed is impressive and people use speed as a measuring stick, but the crucial thing is to be where we are right now; in the winner’s circle,” said Saunders after winning the Breeders Crown.
Riding an eight race win streak, Heaven went to Dover Downs in Delaware to wrap up his career in the Matron. Continuing his spectacular ways, he scored victories in
both the elimination and final to end his career with 10 straight wins and 20 tallies over his 30-race career.
In a poll conducted on www.ustrotting.com, 45 percent (820 of 1,801 polled) of the respondents ranked Rock N Roll Heaven as one of the Top-5 three-year-olds of all time.
Another 88 people (4.89 percent) said they would rank the colt first! In total, over 80 percent of those who responded felt Heaven posted one of the 10 best all time seasons by a sophomore.
I voted for top five. The best judge of talent is not how fast or even which races a horse may have won. My scale is my memory. Who will I remember in 10, 20 or 30 years? Iʼll never forget Somebeachsome where, who very well may have been the fastest standardbred I have ever seen. Rainbow Blue, who won 20 of her 21 races as a sophomore certainly remains fresh in my mind. Gallo Blue Chip, the millionaire gelding many times over is another for me.
Rock N Roll Heaven joins that elite company because he had those intangible qualities that I like in a horse. His quick “push button” acceleration is something that I will always remember. Most of all, he won everywhere and on every size track. He handled the half-miles at Yonkers and Delaware. He took care of business on the five-eighths at Dover, Pocono and Chester. He was a winner on the mile track at the Meadowlands and Red Mile. Finally, he was able to win on the seven-eighths oval at Mohawk. He was no one-trick pony. He danced every dance and Iʼm sure all the judges on Dancing With The Stars would have given him a 10.
Rock N Roll Heavenʼs 2010 story would not be complete without showering his conditioner with a few words of praise. Bruce Saunders was a joy to chat with and he was always readily available for any interview. Whether I caught him in the rain at Chester or pestered him in the winnerʼs circle at Pocono; he was always a gentleman. Without a doubt he is a worthy recipient of the United States Harness Writers Associationʼs Good Guy Award.
Rock N Roll Heaven will now head off to the comfy confines of Blue Chip Farms in Wallkill, NY. The career earner of $2,657,862 will stand for a fee of $12,000.
Bob Marks, publicity director at Perretti Farms, where Rock N Roll Heaven was scheduled to stand stud before uncertainty with the state of racing in New Jersey forced a change in direction for the horse, said it all about Heavenʼs stud potential.
“We just lost the services of what may be one of the greatest harness racing sires ever,” Marks told Bill Finley of www.harnessracingupdate.com