by Kimberly French
It took co-owner and trainer, Jim Raymer the entire summer and part of last fall to get Keystone Activator on the right track, but once he did, the colt trotted a world record mile, finished second in his Breeders Crown elimination behind champion Muscle Hill. After capturing five of nine starts this year, he is a top contender for this year's Hambletonian.
"You know how you can pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time?" the 56-year-old New Holland, PA resident asked. "Well being a stallion, he could only do one or the other. He couldn't trot fast and pay attention to what he was doing with the other horses around him. Also, he was sick on and off. So I put trotting hopples on him and that seemed to do the trick."
Raymer purchased the 3-year-old son of SJ's Photo and Armbro Blusher as a yearling for $10,000 at the 2007 Harrisburg Sale after his daughter-in-law and co-owner Tammie insisted that she wanted to bring a chestnut back to their barn. During his two years on the track, the colt has won eight races from 22 starts, possesses a lifetime mark of 1:55:2f and has bankrolled more than $160,000.
"Chestnut is not that popular of a color for Standardbreds because they tend to be lamer than most and a bit hotter than most," Raymer explained. "But I told her to find one and shortly after she left the walking ring, she saw him. I looked him over and he was a bit on the small side, but he had a very nice conformation and an excellent pedigree. If he was brown, he probably would have sold for $40,000 or $50,000, so we definitely got a bargain."
When Raymer, who has conditioned Standardbreds for nearly three decades, began training Keystone Activator down, he knew the colt had some ability. The chestnut was perfectly gaited and mannered. Talent also was in his genes as his older half-brother Keystone Blitz earned $119,842 and was third in his elimination and fourth in the 2007 Breeders Crown 2-year-old trotting colt final.
Keystone Activator triumphed in his debut in a $1,000 baby race on June 3, 2008 at Chester Downs, finished fourth in a non-winners event at Pocono Downs on June 27, was sixth in a division of the Reynolds Stake also at Pocono Downs on July 5, and then placed second in a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes race at The Meadows on July 24.
Shortly after that, the colt was sick and missed nearly four weeks. When he returned to the races on August 22 at Pocono Downs, he trotted home in seventh place. In his next three starts he could finish no better than seventh and finally hit the board in a non-winners of two race at Chester Downs on October 8.
Raymer, who currently trains 12 head, was so frustrated with the colt, he considered altering him and transitioning him to another career.
"When he won and set a (then world) record of 1:55.2 at The Meadows on October 16, two weeks prior to that he was going to be a gelding and go to the fairs," he told Ellen Harvey of Harness Racing Communications on May 5, 2009. "Lead line class in the morning, pleasure class in the afternoon and race in the races at night."
After finally living up to Raymer's expectations, Keystone Activator was pointed towards the Breeders Crown. In his two prep races at Chester Downs, he finished second and first before finishing second in his Breeders Crown elimination and then a good fifth in the final behind the world record performance (1:53.2) of Muscle Hill.
Raymer then gave the colt a little down time before bringing him back in March. In his sophomore campaign, Keystone Activator has earned more than $83,000, established a new track standard of 1:55.2 at Freehold Raceway on May 2 in his Dexter Cup elimination and finished second by a nose to Encore Encore's track record performance (1.53.3) on May 19 at The Meadows.
The colt broke stride in his Dexter Final and in his last race at Pocono Downs on June 12, but Raymer doesn't think it is a real problem.
"The track (Freehold) was too loose and he had the eight hole," he explained. "His driver (George Brennan) tried to leave more than he needed to, so in that race it was nothing he did wrong and nothing has been wrong with him since. At Pocono, I don't know; they are trotters and sometimes it happens."
Keystone Activator has definitely matured in his second season of racing.
"He's filled out, and he could probably go without trotting hobbles now," Raymer said. "He knows what the racing game is all about now and enjoys being out there with the other horses. He also doesn't get anxious anymore like he did at two. That's just because he is maturing and understanding what we are asking of him."
Although Raymer admits the colt could shed the hopples, he sees no need to make the equipment change at this point in time.
Wave of the Future
"He's racing so well now, why change anything?" he explained. "The hopples aren't there to make him trot, they are there to remind him to keep trotting. I think they (hopples) are the wave of the future because horses are trotting in :51 or :52 and not :56 or :58 like they used to. Green Day (his wife's $6,000 yearling purchase who won the 2007 Yonkers Trot) has earned $900,000 with them."
The next race on Keystone Activator's agenda is the Currier & Ives at The Meadows, then the Reynolds Stake and then on to the Hambletonian eliminations the first weekend in August.
"He has the heart, lungs and desire to be in the Hambletonian," Raymer said. "He's trotted in :54 and to be a Hambletonian horse you have to trot in :51 or :52, but he's been very consistent and we have two months to figure it out. I'd like to race him there because you don't have many opportunities to get there and he's paid his way. If he happens to miss the Hambletonian, we will go to the Yonkers Trot because he holds his speed and I think he would be very good on a small track. He's done everything we have asked of him and more. He's just a really, really nice horse."