by Kimberly French
He enjoys toying with his rivals on the racetrack, but what 6-year-old pacing champion Mister Big really relishes is his recreational time.
"He loves to be turned out," explained the stallion's conditioner, Virgil Morgan Jr. "He gets a little bit of time out each day and he romps around the field screaming and hollering."
The Ontario-sired son of Grinfromeartoear and World's Sweetheart, who is owned by Joseph Muscara of Huntingdon Valley, PA and piloted by top driver Brian Sears, has earned more than $3.25 million throughout his 4-year-career and possesses a lifetime mark of 1.47.1m. In 2008, Mister Big became the first aged pacer to bankroll more than a million dollars in consecutive seasons and is only the eighth horse all time to reach that milestone. After collecting back-to-back Dan Patch awards in 2008 and 2007, the stallion joined Red Bow Tie as the second older pacer to ever duplicate this feat.
Top Aged Pacer
Over the past two racing campaigns, Mister Big has triumphed in more stakes than any aged pacer of his generation. He earned over $1.5 million last year, with successive victories in the William R. Haughton, the United States Pacing Championship, the Canadian Pacing Championship and the Breeders Crown. He raced 14 times with 11 wins and two second place finishes. The only time he failed to hit the board was an uncharacteristically dull eighth place finish in the American-National at Balmoral Park in Chicago, Illinois, last November, but he came out of the race with an excuse.
"He had a high white blood cell count although he didn't appear to be sick before the race," explained Morgan, is a native of Columbus, Ohio, who has captured 14 consecutive training titles at nearby Scioto Downs. In 2000 and 2002, Morgan led all North American trainers in total victories and was second in this category in 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2005.
To Race Another Year
Although he has nothing to prove, Mister Big's connections decided he will race again this year and then head off to the breeding shed in 2010.
"Only Gallo Blue Chip, Eternal Camnation, Boulder Creek and Nihilator have won more money (in US dollars) on the pace," said Joe Muscara, Jr., of his father's pride and joy on January 28, 2009 on the Standardbred Canada website. "A half million won this year and Mister Big will be second all-time, a million and a half and he will be first. It's not the money in itself that's important, it's important because the money is a measure of the greatness of a horse."
If everything goes according to plan, Mister Big will contest the same stakes he participated in last year.
"Some of the dates for his races have been moved around," said Morgan. "Last year his first race was in the latter part of May, like May 28, but it is a little more compact this year. Last year I think we had nearly two weeks or at least a week off after certain races and this year, I think there are 12 races within 15 weeks. It's a much more vigorous schedule, but my goal as always, is to keep him healthy and sound. If he stays that way, his talent will show in the end."
Harness racing fans have definitely noticed Mister Big's ability. In fact Muscara Jr., claims more money was wagered on the stallion than on any other harness horse in 2008. Like most stars, he has his own website, www.misterbigishuge.com and even his own diary.
At times Mister Big, a dark bay with a white star, lets his handlers know exactly who they are dealing with.
A Little Ornery
"He's a stud and he's a pretty big guy, so he can be a little ornery," Morgan said. "When it's lunch time he'll tear the walls down for his feed. He's very laid back to jog, however, and when you put the hobbles on him, he knows it's time to race and he becomes very competitive, but in a good way."
Morgan purchased Mister Big on behalf of Muscara at the November 2006 Harrisburg Mixed Sale for $225,000, shortly after he had finished second in the Breeders Crown to Shark Gesture.
Muscara, a retired real estate developer, has owned hundreds of racehorses since he became involved in harness racing in the 1970s at the now defunct Liberty Bell and Brandywine racetracks. He was the leading owner by earnings in 2007 and imports many successful racers from New Zealand.
One of the top horses he has owned (and still continues to) is Mach Three, who captured the $1 million Meadowlands Pace and the $1 million North America Cup during his racing career, and has turned into a top stallion that shuttles between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Mach Three sired 2008 Horse of the Year Somebeachsomewhere.
300 Horses in 40 Years
"I have owned over 300 horses over the last 40 years," Muscara said. "This is the horse I always dreamed of: fast and tough and smart; a killer instinct with an iron will to win and that's race after race after race. That's why he is Mister Big."
In today's racing world, most champions are sent onto their second career shortly after their sophomore year. With the value Mister Big holds as a stallion prospect, many people would take the money and run, but Muscara takes great pleasure in watching him compete. Also, he would like Mister Big to have the best years of any aged pacer in the history of the sport.
"Mr. Muscara is a class act and he's good for the business," Morgan said. "To bring the horse back to race as he has, not many people would do that and I would like to thank him for it."