by Dean Hoffman
A funny thing happened to Muscles Yankee on the way to the Triple Crown in 1998. He got beat in the third leg.
It wasn’t funny to his immediate connections, of course, and neither was it funny to the bettors who made him a heavy favorite to win the Triple Crown. The Kentucky Futurity had virtually been conceded to the well-named robust colt. His owners and trainer deliberately skipped the rich World Trotting Derby to make sure that Muscles was able to flex his trotting talents in the Kentucky Futurity.
He was given a short respite from the races, and he then prepped for the Kentucky Futurity at The Red Mile with a six-length romp in the slop over that track.
In the Kentucky Futurity, Muscles Yankee was bet down to five cents on the dollar. That meant that a $2 winning bet on Muscles would yield a $2.10 payoff if he won. The second choice in the field was Trade Balance at 10-1.
Except that David Wade, the trainer-driver of Trade Balance, firmly believed that his colt could beat Muscles Yankee.
In the first heat, Muscles was moving to the lead down the backstretch when Trade Balance made a startling three-wide move and went past Muscles.
And Trade Balance just kept on going. He won the first heat by five lengths while Muscles faded to fifth, beaten 14 lengths.
Despite that drubbing, Muscles was still the odds-on favorite to win the second heat, but once again he lost as Trade Balance was nipped by Conway Hall. Muscles Yankee was a tired and beaten horse after two heats but Trade Balance came back to win a third-heat raceoff.
The trotting world had turned upside down.
The two colts didn’t cross paths again until the Breeders Crown at Colonial Downs, the brand new 10-furlong Virginia track. It was the grudge match and racing fan wanted to see if Trade Balance could do it again.
Trade Balance drew post three while Muscles Yankee was next to him in post four. The bettors made Muscles Yankee an even-money favorite while Trade Balance was sent off at 9-2 odds.
Who would win the rematch?
Anticipation was at a fever pitch when they went behind the gate but it dissipated as soon as Trade Balance made a break and effectively eliminated himself from contention.
That allowed driver John Campbell to reserve Muscles Yankee off the early pace and then easily assume control in the homestretch to win by two lengths. Trade Balance was a distant eighth.
Muscles Yankee might have missed the Triple Crown, but the Breeders Crown was truly his redemption. It was also his final career race and he retired to stud immediately to become a leading sire of stakes-winning trotters.