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No Quit in Him

Wednesday, November 24, 2010  By: Nicole Kraft, Hoof Beats

No Quit in Him

Five years removed from his Hambletonian triumph, after suffering three coffin bone injuries and a dropped hind suspensory, it would be understandable—even expected--to find Vivid Photo fat and happy in some Pennsylvania pasture, munching grass and working on his tan.

But the last gelding to win America’s greatest trotting race rarely did what was expected of him.

As 2010 winds down, and far lesser horses have or will hang up their harness after far less strenuous campaigns, Vivid Photo is still occupying the first stall in Roger Hammer’s Keystone State barn. He is still heading out to the track every day—even leading the post parade of the 2010 Hambletonian--and still finding his way to the winner’s circle.

And Hammer expects he will be for quite a while longer.

“This horse does not want to quit racing,” said Hammer. “There are not too many horses that you can put a hand on who were in the Hambo and are still racing at his age. This horse is one of a kind.”

Hammer thought Vivid Photo was truthfully one of many when he and Todd Schadel bought the son of S J’s Photo at the 2003 Standardbred Horse Sale Company’s Harrisburg sale. They hoped their $30,000 purchase would excel at the Pennsylvania fairs like so many Hammer pupils, and they looked to be right when the trotter captured four of six freshman starts and took a 2:02.2f record.

But things changed in Vivid Photo’s sophomore season—and they changed dramatically.

After romping through five early conditioned events in seven starts, Vivid Photo unleashed a 1:54.4 effort to win a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes event at Pocono by six widening lengths. Three weeks later he was four lengths the best in a Rosecroft breeders stakes, and then went wire-to-wire to win the Tompkins-Geers in 1:55.4 at Scioto Downs.

Those efforts earned him a trip to the Hambletonian eliminations, where the bettors thought him an interloper against such bluebloods as Ken Warkentin and Southfork, and sent him off at odds of nearly 9-1. But Vivid Photo was no fluke, and he proved by beating longshot Self Professed to the wire in 1:53.2.

A week later, faith was not much stronger in Hammer’s colt, who was now 7-1 against overwhelming favorite Classic Photo and Strong Yankee. Again, Vivid Photo did not seem to care.

Despite a tough journey that found him seventh at the half and moving three-wide from sixth around the last turn, the gelding kicked home in 27.4 to win 2-3/4 lengths in 1:52.3.

“I could have beat him home that day, that’s how good I felt,” Hammer recalled with a smile. “He was flying, and I had so much adrenaline. To have a horse like that that you own, drive and train--and win the Hambo—it was incredible.”

Vivid Photo ended his sophomore season with a straight-heats win in the World Trotting Derby and runner-up finishes behind Strong Yankee in the Breeders Crown and Kentucky Futurity. His record—and earnings of $1,481,020, were good enough to earn him 3-Year-Old Colt Trotter of the Year honors, losing Trotter of the Year to Mr Muscleman.

And Vivid Photo was far from done. At 4 he held his own against the world’s best older trotters and added $607,100 to his coffers, capturing seven of 21 races including the Classic Series final and the Patriot Invitational at Colonial Downs, where he set his 1:50.2z lifetime mark. At 5 he proved himself the best older trotter in the land by virtue of his seven wins in 15 starts, including the Titan Cup, and repeats in the Classic Series and Patriot, and earnings of $738,769. 

But the miles were starting to catch up to him. And after a sixth-place finish at Harrah’s Chester April 24, 2008, he was discovered to have a coffin bone injury in his left front foot.

Hammer said at the time that the trotter was done for the year, as it would surely take at least six months to heal. Vivid Photo was back to the races by July.

“I have never had a horse heal so quick on a broken bone, and come back and race,” Hammer said. “He just has that adrenaline inside him. He can go with pain and keep going. We X-ray and see it’s healing in a few weeks, where a normal horse would be lucky to get back in months.

“After the first time he broke it, I said, ‘He will always come back. He doesn’t want to ever quit racing.’”

Vivid Photo captured three wins in 15 races that year at age 6—including a 1:52.4 effort--earning $166,850 while racing in open and conditioned company. Despite more coffin bone challenges as a 7-year-old, he managed three more wins and another $112,225 in earnings.

This year at age 8, Vivid Photo spent much of his time in The Meadows and Pocono open and preferred events, while also stopping by the 148th Wayne County Fair in Pennsylvania to help Hammer, the King of the Keystone State fairs, set a 2:02 track record.

He followed that up by returning to the scene of his greatest triumph and leading trotters nearly a third his age to the Hambletonian post. For Meadowlands handicapper Dave Brower, it was a fitting honor for a great champion.

“I will never forget Vivid Photo, because he taught me a valuable lesson in handicapping big races,” said Brower. “That lesson was respect, because I had none for him prior to the Hambo. “Since I was so wrong, and he won in such convincing fashion, I will always go the extra mile to look up horses I haven't seen and not immediately dismiss them.


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