Odds On Racing's
Horse of the Month
for January 2006
Brown Colt, Foaled May 8, 2003 at Cream Ridge, NJ
By Credit Winner--Maple Frosting--Valley Victory
Breeder: Valley High Stables,
Freehold, New Jersey
Owner: Doug Ackerman Stables, LaPorte, Indiana
Trainer: Doug Ackerman
Driver: D.R. Ackerman
Chocolatier—the pride of the Ackerman Stable, was clearly the standout in the 2005 freshman trotting ranks--and a Breeders Crown winner in his final start of the year in his neophyte campaign.
The son of Credit Winner won eight of 10 North American starts in his first season on the track for owner-trainer Doug J. Ackerman and his son, driver Doug "D.R." Ackerman, including the Breeders Crown elim and final, Review Stake, American-National, Bluegrass Stake and International Stallion Stake.
"He’s just been a calm, relaxed individual from day one," D.R. Ackerman recalled. "He broke very easily and trained very willingly. He went whatever speed we asked him to go whenever we asked him to go, and he always had plenty of trot left and was very professional about his work."
D.R. Ackerman, who trains a stable based in Del Mar, Calif., in partnership with his Hall of Fame father, purchased the colt in the fall of 2004 for $50,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale in Harrisburg, PA.
Chocolatier was bred by the Valley High Stable of Freehold New Jersey and foaled on May 8, 2003, the third son of the Valley Victory mare Maple Frosting.
"We really liked his breeding," the younger Ackerman said. "We really think highly of the Credit Winners, although not a lot of people had seen a lot of them race, because they tended to stay on the New York circuit. But this colt is a half brother to Sugar Trader (by Trade Balance).
"We expected him to go for $80,000 to $100,000 and we really didn’t think we’d get him. But as it turned out, he was kind of late in the sale and we hung around, and just got lucky in that we were able to buy him."
The 47-year-old reinsman said he believes that Chocolatier was just "born to be a good one."
"We approach our training very methodically, and hopefully that keeps most horses in a calm state," said Ackerman. "But this colt was calm and quiet. Every trainer has their own system, but basically we pretty much do things the same way. You can train 100 horses the same way, and you’ll have those few that just stand out and others that just won’t. This horse was just good from day one.
"As a trainer, everyone likes to think that they’re doing something special with a young horse that will make him great, but the reality is that the horse is just that good. The horse definitely makes the man—not the other way around." Ackerman and his father, 78, condition a stable of 16 horses in their sunny retreat, typically 2- and 3-year-old Grand Circuit eligibles.
"We train our babies together in groups of two, but I don’t think the warm weather matters to the horses that much," D.R. laughed. "Training in warm weather is for the people, not the horses."
The Ackermans used a trio of qualifying events at Hazel Park to prepare the aptly named freshman for his pari-mutuel debut at the Detroit area racetrack in late June.
"He had a little trouble in the beginning of his career with a few breaks here and there," D.R. said. "The first time I started him at Hazel, he was in an overnight against some older horses, and I had a blind bridle on him. Well, all of these horses went zooming out of the gate, and I think it just scared him a little and he really didn’t want to go on with them. So we went back to work and put a Kant-See-Back [bridle] on him, and he was fine after that."
The rigging change definitely didn’t hamper the youngster, as he promptly captured the $55,000 Hanover Stake at Balmoral Park on July 26 in a spry 1:59.3. He easily bested his rivals over a sloppy Crete oval, leading from start to finish, with his nearest foe some three lengths behind him.
It was then on to Springfield and the Illinois State Fair, where Chocolatier took the lead and never looked back against ten rivals, sprinting away from them in 1:56.1 and winning by over three lengths in the $70,000 Review Stakes.
From there he ventured to Du Quoin on Sept. 1, when he again made mincemeat out of his rivals by winning in 1:56.1, and overcoming the 10-hole against 10 other freshman trotters.
"He’s only ever worn brace bandages behind," D.R. noted. "He doesn’t wear anything fancy otherwise, and he’s very simply shod. He doesn’t hit anywhere, and he doesn’t need anything manufactured to make him trot. He just goes out there and does it, pure and simple."
Chocolatier then headed back up to the Chicagoland area for the $150,000 American-National at Balmoral. This time, the colt had to work a little harder for his victory, pulling first-over at the three-quarter pole. Not to be outdone, he trotted away to win by three lengths in 2:00.3 over a rain-drenched racing strip.
Lexington was the next stop on the colt’s agenda, and he wasted no time in winning a $93,650 Bluegrass Stake in 1:57.2 on September 29. He then returned one week later to dominate his divisional rivals, taking a personal best mark of 1:54.4 over the famed Red Mile in the $77,250 International Stallion Stakes, and setting a 2-year-old world record trotting mile in the process. Both wins came in front-stepping fashion for the colt, who seemed to have no end in his engine.
In his next outing in a Valley Victory elimination at Woodbine on Oct. 15, the colt showed the first chink in his armor, making an uncharacteristic break at the start of the race. He finished ninth and did not advance to the final.
Ackerman, however, laid no blame at the feet of his colt.
"That wasn’t his fault," he said. "It was just one of those things. You couldn’t ask for a nicer horse to drive or for a horse that knows how to take care of himself. His Breeders Crown elim proved that."
After easily winning his $25,000 Breeders Crown elimination easily from start to finish in 1:56.4, the Ackermans elected to nab the rail post for the $507,600 final.
"The shortest way around is always the best," D.R. joked. "Actually, I was surprised that everyone left out of there so quickly (in the final). But my colt adapted well to the situation and in fact, he was trotting so effortlessly that I sort of got concerned. I made the lead easily going to the half and from there he was never challenged at all. In fact I was really worried coming through the lane, because I thought ‘well, someone’s got to be coming.’ But—and this is not to diminish anyone else’s horse in there—well, they weren’t coming. Then, when the race was over and I watched the replay, I thought to myself, ‘what in the world was I worried about?’"
Chocolatier trotted the mile in 1:56.1, equaling Banker Hall’s 2000 Crown victory record and tying him as the second-fastest mile ever behind CR Commando’s 1998 record of 1:53.2. The victory also pushed his freshman earnings to $508,250, and gave the Ackermans their first the Breeders Crown triumph. With it, Ackerman Senior became the oldest trainer to take home the Tiffany crystal.
"I was ultra-impressed with his performance that night," D.R. added. "Now, he’s down at Peninsula Farms, getting some R&R."
While the Ackermans will winter in their California base of Del Mar, Chocolatier is wintering at Peninsula Farm in Kentucky. D.R. says he plans to start training the colt back March 1, prepping Chocolatier for his sophomore campaign. The colt will attempt to become just the third trotter in history to nab the coveted Hambletonian crown after scoring a victory in the Breeders Crown freshman trot, following in the hoof prints of Mack Lobell (1986-87) and Malabar Man (1996-97).
"The colt always gives a good account of himself," D.R. noted. "That’s all you can really ask from any horse. He hasn’t let us down yet."