Yonkers, NY — Although Jay Hochstetler works alongside his father training a stable of 22 race horses, it’s rare that he purchases one for himself. However, when Hochstetler was shopping at the 2017 Standardbred Horse Sale, he came across an attractive pedigree in Bro, a Rock N Roll Heaven colt out of the Pro Bono Best mare Gro. When Hochstetler laid eyes on the colt, he did a double take.
“I actually watched his mom race a lot. She raced in New York and Chicago and so did the rest of her family. I really liked her. I knew the maternal line was strong from a speed standpoint,” Hochstetler said. “When he came out of the stall, he was just a big, strong, black colt. He just had that presence that people talk about when they first walk out, you take a second look at them because they just have a look to them. There was nothing wrong with him, he had a good conformation, but when he took those first few steps out of the stall, he just had that big, strong look to him.”
But Bro’s presence also came with an attitude. He quickly developed a dangerous reputation at the sale and after the hammer fell for $22,000, Hochstetler was surprised to find the staff would no longer enter Bro’s stall. However, when considering Bro’s pedigree, Hochstetler wasn’t put off by the colt’s temper.
“He was really mean; the girls at the sale were scared of him,” Hochstetler recalled. “He wouldn’t let you in the stall, he was really territorial. He would try to kick you if you came in his stall. When I went to put him on the trailer, they wouldn’t go in and get him, I had to get him myself. The girl was having a lot of problems walking him to show him to people. He was a rambunctious, tough, big, strong colt. He’s still got an imposing figure; he’s had that since day one. When he is angry, he can toss you around.
“The Rock N Roll Heaven’s tend to have that temperament, so it didn’t really phase me. I’ve had a few that were alright horses that had that same disposition. I don’t mind my pacing colts being nasty once in a while. They have to have a mean streak in them to go the miles that they have to go.”
Hochstetler hoped Bro’s disposition would improve after the sale, but at first, Bro didn’t relent. After some time, however, he acclimatized to his new surroundings and came out of his shell.
“I thought maybe he was just being a jerk that day at the sale, but no, he meant it. He took a little getting used to when we first had him,” Hochstetler said. “Once he finally figured out you were the person that fed him and weren’t going to hurt him, he was really good. He hasn’t given me a problem ever since.”
Bro proved to be a promising 2-year-old in training and was ready to qualify June 8, 2018. He finished second in his pari-mutuel debut nine days later, pacing a 1:57 mile with a :27.1 final quarter with Jay’s father Homer in the sulky. But after another runner-up finish in a New York Excelsior Series A split at Yonkers June 26, Hochstetler shut Bro down.
“I really liked him last year. He had a little bone cyst that was really hurting him after his second start, so we stopped with him and just let that heal up,” Hochstetler said. “It was one of those things where I think if I did a bunch of vet work, I could have pressed him on that year. But from day one, I knew he was a big colt, so I wasn’t afraid to stop with him from that standpoint because he needed time regardless. For his long-term future, I think it’s best that I didn’t race him a lot at 2. He didn’t tear himself up much. If I want a horse for the long run, that might have been the best thing that could have happened.”
Bro filled out and matured during his time off. After x-rays came back clean last winter, Bro was ready to begin training back in early December. Sharp from his first training mile, Bro cruised through the winter in Pinehurst, N.C. With Hochstetler in the bike, Bro turned heads with a 1:54.4 qualifier at the training facility April 10.
“That’s probably my favorite thing about him. Even when he was just a yearling, he’s always been a nice horse to drive,” Hochstetler said. “He’s never loose-lined, but he never pulls too hard. He drives straight. A 1:54.4 mile at Pinehurst is really a big mile, especially with a strong back half. It’s a good track, but you never usually see that type of speed down there.”
After shipping back to Hochstetler’s base at Vernon Downs, Bro earned his maiden-breaking win April 27, again with his owner in the sulky. Although the 5-1/2 length score in 1:57 doesn’t stand out on paper, given the slow conditions that evening, Hochstetler was impressed.
“I really enjoy the training side a lot more than the driving side, but I had trained him all year myself. I figured, especially at my home track, I was OK with driving him,” Hochstetler said. “That race at Vernon, I was pretty confident I would win it and it was 1:57, but the wind was absolutely howling that night and it was still pretty sloppy. To come a back half like that, that was a deceivingly fast mile.”
Hochstetler hoped for a good learning experience in Bro’s last start in a $15,000 overnight at The Meadowlands. But after being parked from post eight, Hochstetler’s hopes faded. Despite the 1:51.3 clocking with a :26.2 final panel, the eighth-place finish made the four-hour ride back to Vernon agonizing.
“He got thrown to the fire there a little earlier in his career than I wanted him too,” Hochstetler said. “The mile that he went was still pretty impressive to pace that fast for home afterwards. He had every excuse to just call it off and he still came a pretty good back half and last quarter. His own performance wise, I was encouraged.”
With two starts under his belt this season, Bro will vie for his first stakes victory Saturday night (May 11) at Yonkers in a $24,250 division of the W.N. Reynolds Memorial. The colt drew the inside post and is a 9-1 morning line for driver Brent Holland.
“I had a choice between here and the first Sire Stakes leg at Monticello and I chose Yonkers,” Hochstetler said. “It’s seven days back from when he was raced before, and I like that I can go over a good surface like Yonkers. Especially since he had an injury last year, I didn’t want to risk anything, so I figured I’d go to the best surface I could. I thought it was the right way to go, and I got the rail. So far, luck’s on my side, so hopefully it’s the same way when we go to post.”
Although Bro hasn’t shown a penchant for a particular style of racing in his four career starts thus far, Hochstetler thinks the 3-year-old can be aggressive from the inside if needed.
“I’ve never really left with him hard, but he has quick speed, so I think he has that in his arsenal. It’s definitely something he’s going to have to learn if he’s going to race in New York,” he said. “This is a spot where if you have to, I wouldn’t be hesitant to try it. He’s going to try no matter what you do. He isn’t one that needs a specific trip from what I can tell. He’s still green, but the way he trained, there wouldn’t be a problem with either way he would have to race.”
Saturday night’s card features two divisions of the Reynolds for fillies and two divisions for colts and geldings, along with the regular $44,000 pacing and trotting co-features. Entries for the card are available here.
First post time is 6:50 p.m. Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.