By KEN WEINGARTNER-– Little Rocket Man might be on the small side, but it has not prevented the 3-year-old pacer from coming up big for trainer Missy Essig and owners Russ Beeman and Jack Freeman.
The gelding, unraced at age 2, has won 10 of 14 races this season and earned $137,630 as he heads to his first career Grand Circuit event, Friday’s (Sept. 20) $170,000 Jenna’s Beach Boy Stakes at Harrah’s Hoosier Park.
“He has no idea he’s small,” Essig said. “He’s full of himself.”
Entering this season, Essig expected “absolutely nothing” from Little Rocket Man. Last year, the horse was sidelined longer than expected following surgery to be gelded and his connections decided to skip the season to give Little Rocket Man additional time to heal and, perhaps, grow.
He did not grow much and training down for his 3-year-old campaign showed little interest in breaking the two-minute barrier and it seemed the horse was destined for the Indiana fair circuit, until he got behind the starting gate with a field of horses.
“Then, he woke up,” Essig said. “He’s got his own personality. He’s kind of aggravating in the barn; he can be a little ornery. But on the racetrack, he’s great. He’s very versatile.
“He can leave, he can sit in the pocket; he’s very easy to control that way. You can put him where you want to put him in a race. That’s the best thing about him, just the way he races.”
Little Rocket Man is by Rockin Image out of GT Miss Royal. Essig trained GT Miss Royal for part of her 10-year career on the racetrack.
“My dad (Beeman) always said he wanted a baby out of her,” Essig said. Little Rocket Man, bred by Victory Hill Farm, was GT Miss Royal’s first foal. Freeman signed for Little Rocket Man, then named Just Like Pete, after purchasing the horse for $18,000 at the 2017 Hoosier Classic Yearling Sale.
“He’s been a nice one to have in the barn, that’s for sure,” Essig said.
Little Rocket Man has picked up four victories on the Indiana Sire Stakes circuit and swept the Jerry Landess Series as part of a four-race win streak in April. He is the 7-2 second choice on the morning line in the Jenna’s Beach Boy, leaving from post five with driver Trace Tetrick.
Century Farroh, who has won 11 of 13 races this year including the Simcoe Stakes over Meadowlands Pace champ Best In Show and North America Cup winner Captain Crunch, is the 3-1 favorite.
“We’re really pleased with the post position,” Essig said. “I have a good feeling. I hope it all pans out. You don’t know until the gate folds.”
The Jenna’s Beach Boy is part of a stakes-filled card Friday at Hoosier Park.
Maple Leaf Trot winner Guardian Angel AS is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the $230,000 Caesars Trotting Classic for older trotters. The field also includes 2017 Horse of the Year Hannelore Hanover, 2016 Trotter of the Year Marion Marauder, and stakes winners Crystal Fashion, Six Pack, and Fiftydallarbill.
McWicked, the 2018 Horse of the Year, is the 3-1 favorite in the $176,000 Harrah’s Hoosier Park Pacing Derby for older pacers. This Is The Plan is the 7-2 second choice followed by Jimmy Freight at 4-1.
Evident Beauty, coming off a victory in the Elegantimage Stakes, is the 9-5 favorite in the $135,000 Moni Maker Stakes for 3-year-old female trotters.
There also are Kentuckiana Stallion Management Stakes for 2-year-old female pacers and trotters and the Elevation for 2-year-old male pacers.
Racing begins at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) Friday at Hoosier Park.