By Ken Weingartner, USTA — Unlike his fictional counterpart, the horse Sidd Finch has never studied meditation in the mountains of Tibet. Still, in the past year the trotter has been able to attain a calmer disposition, leading to improved results in his own athletic endeavor.
Sidd Finch, a 6-year-old trotter named after the mysterious New York Mets pitching prospect with a 168-mph fastball featured in a 1985 April Fools story written by George Plimpton for Sports Illustrated, enjoyed his best season in 2023. The gelding hit the board in 17 of 36 races, winning seven and earning $109,920. The good times have continued this year, with Sidd Finch opening his campaign with back-to-back victories at The Meadowlands.
Most notably, though, might be the fact Sidd Finch has gone off stride only once in his past 30 starts (and that one came on an off track) after making 24 miscues previously in his career. Not surprisingly, Sidd Finch has posted nine wins and six second-place finishes among 17 top-three efforts during those most recent 30 races.
“He’s a funny horse,” said Irwin Rosenthal, who has trained Sidd Finch for owner John Barnard since March 2022. “He was a nervous guy. He was kind of scared of everything. He’s rigged so he can really see or hear very much. It took a lot of work, but now he’s getting more trustworthy out there, especially after the last few starts. He’s been pretty solid. It was a long process to get him there, but not much bothers him now.”
Rosenthal, who is based in Massachusetts, has raced Sidd Finch primarily at Plainridge Park, where last year the trotter won in a career-best 1:53. He has captured his two starts this year at The Meadowlands by a combined five lengths, including a 1:54.4 score on Jan. 12 in which he led at the half-mile point for only the second time in his 94-race career. David Miller was in the sulky for both Big M victories.
“He was making breaks in the first turn at Plainridge, a five-eighths track,” Rosenthal said. “You had to get him around the first turn, so he was always racing from behind. Everybody has taken him off (the gate), sat until the three-quarter pole, and let him trot home. That was good what Dave did, he kind of taught him a little bit, I thought. The horse seemed to be fine on the front end; he didn’t get lost.
“If he’s getting to where he can be involved earlier, he might even have a better year than last year. If he can become two-move Sidd, I’ll be in better shape, and Mr. Barnard will be in better shape.”
On Saturday, Sidd Finch will return to The Meadowlands to face nine foes in the featured $27,500 trot. Julie Miller-trained Grand Circuit-winner Little Expensive is the 2-1 morning-line favorite from post nine. Sidd Finch, who will have Jordan Stratton in the sulky this week, is 12-1 from post five.
“He had bad posts when we first brought him (to The Meadowlands in December),” Rosenthal said. “He finally got some decent posts, and he seems to be getting sharper. He’s a very smart horse, very easy to train, and he likes his job. He’d rather jog than get turned out. He barely likes to get turned out at all; he likes to go to the racetrack. He tries every race, too. He definitely likes his job and that’s half the battle.
“He’s come a long way. It will be interesting to see how he does this weekend.”
Rosenthal, a 64-year-old Los Angeles native, was introduced to harness racing by his father. He worked as a groom as a teenager before getting an animal science degree at UC Davis. He later met trainer Jerry Silverman at Cal Expo and went to work for the future Hall of Famer, eventually moving to the East Coast and enjoying success with Silverman at Yonkers and The Meadowlands in the mid-1980s.
“You either love it or you don’t,” Rosenthal said about the racing lifestyle. “If there’s something else you’d rather be doing, you’d probably be doing it. But there is nothing I’d rather be doing. I mean, taking a big trotter down to race in the open at The Meadowlands, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do on a Saturday night. I’m excited, for sure.”