Anderson, IN — While she’s sending three horses into a $2 million card on Friday (Oct. 11) at Harrah’s Hoosier Park, two breakout pacers have been stealing the headlines from the Missy Essig barn. Both unraced as 2-year-olds, Little Rocket Man and Shamwow have made names for themselves throughout the 2019 Indiana Sires Stakes season. The 3-year-old pacers have combined seasonal earnings of $291,505 and have won 17 of 25 starts. According to Essig, the secret to her success is taking things one day at a time.
“We really didn’t think much of either of them at first,” Essig noted about her contenders. “They were both pretty lazy — Little Rocket Man didn’t even show interest in his first qualifier. We had him staked to the fairs instead of Sires Stakes at the advice of a friend who was taking care of him over the winter. We were really just hoping to make our money back with him at the start of the season.”
Little Rocket Man, a son of Rockin Image-GT Miss Royal, had a modest beginning, finishing eight lengths behind Rockie Got Framed in 1:58 in his first lifetime qualifier. After a sub-par qualifying effort, the sophomore pacer seemingly found his competitive side and impressed his connections with a victory at first asking. Besting a field of 10 for his maiden breaking win from the middle of the pack, Little Rocket Man won his first start in 1:53.4 and hasn’t slowed down since.
Purchased for $18,000 at the Hoosier Classic Yearling Sale, Essig’s father, Russell Beeman, had noticed Little Rocket Man, but it was Jack Freeman who purchased him and convinced Beeman to buy in.
“My dad always wanted GT Miss Royal’s babies,” Essig said. “She was a gritty mare that we used to race years ago and dad always said that if she had babies, he wanted some. He was nervous, though, because of how small Little Rocket Man was, but he definitely looked at him because of his breeding.”
On the opposite end of the acquisition spectrum, Shamwow is a homebred owned by Cornerstone Stock Farm. The start of Shamwow’s 2019 campaign was a little slower than Little Rocket Man’s, as Shamwow didn’t start in stakes action until the fourth leg on July 26 where he made his stakes debut a winning one.
“With Shamwow, I’m grateful to have Jeff Fought for an owner,” Essig expressed. “We had to start things slowly with Shamwow and Jeff supported us with that. Once he got behind the gate, though, he started racing great and really started figuring things out. It was like a light bulb came on — he started figuring things out and would be running over horses he was training with.”
In addition to being stablemates, Shamwow and Little Rocket Man share very similar racing styles and routines. Both race well off the pace, which is the preferred method for Shamwow. Little Rocket Man is the more versatile one, but Shamwow has perfected an impressive late closing rally.
Essig is also known for training Dontfusswithruss, who was an Indiana Sires Stakes champion at both two and three and earned $537,214 throughout his illustrious racing career. While Dontfusswithruss is a trotter, Little Rocket Man shares a similar personality and is just as ornery as Essig’s former champion. The main similarity Shamwow shares with the trotter is routine — all three of these sires stakes horses have been trained down the same way, excluding the fact Dontfusswithruss raced as a 2-year-old. Each one, though, has proven to be a fierce competitor for Essig.
“Truthfully, we wanted a barn full of trotters,” Essig said with a laugh. “At the sale it ended up working out where we ended up with pacers, which worked out to be a blessing. A good horse is a good horse and you’ll love it no matter what. We haven’t really changed how we trained them. You don’t know who they really are until they’re behind the gate.”
Racing fans who have watched an Essig horse win a race have also seen the family reunion that occurs in the winner’s circle after a victory. Essig’s family and friends own many of the horses she trains and her husband helps her with the training duties. Essig’s father, who owns a piece of a few of her horses, is also in the barn almost every morning to help jog and train.
“It’s definitely a family affair for us. I think getting people involved when they’re young is important. My niece who is 15 comes out and helps me train and she’s been doing that since she was 12,” Essig noted. “She brings her parents out to the track and gets them involved too. If young people get involved, that’s how we create future owners. We have a lot of fun with our family and friends being so involved.”
While she’s had much training success over the years, Essig hasn’t hoisted an Indiana Sires Stakes final trophy since Dontfusswithruss in 2012. Along with Little Rocket Man and Shamwow, Essig is also sending 2-year-old trotting filly Rjz First Lady into her $270,000 Indiana Sires Stakes Super Final from post 10 with LeWayne Miller.
For her stable standouts, Little Rocket Man drew post six in the talented field of ten assembled for the $270,000 Indiana Sires Stakes Super Final for 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings with regular pilot Trace Tetrick. Little Rocket Man, who leads the division in points for the season, sports a lifetime best of 1:49 taken at Harrah’s Hoosier Park and will be looking for his 12th win from 17 starts this season. Aside from one ninth place finish, Little Rocket Man has earned a check every trip behind the gate this season, including a fifth place finish against Grand Circuit company in the $170,000 Jenna’s Beach Boy Pace.
Shamwow will be guided by LeWayne Miller and will start from the second tier, post 10. The sophomore son of Always A Virgin-Bolero Takara has won six of nine lifetime starts and has never finished worse than second in his young career. Shamwow sports a lifetime mark of 1:49.4 and will be looking to score his third consecutive Harrah’s Hoosier Park victory.
“Winning the final would mean the world to me,” Essig continued. “These two have been such a blessing. I don’t want to jinx it, but my dream would obviously be a dead heat with the two of them.”
First post for Hoosier Champions night at Harrah’s Hoosier Park is at 6:30 p.m. on Friday (Oct. 11) with a 14-race card. With purses in excess of $2 million, the evening’s racing action will feature the $270,000 Super Finals for the 2- and 3-year-old competitors and the finals for the older competitors.
With a daily post time of 6:30 p.m., live racing at Harrah’s Hoosier Park will follow a Tuesday through Saturday schedule and be conducted through Nov. 9. For more information on the upcoming entertainment or live racing schedule, please visit www.harrahshoosierpark.com.