Art At Heart's ups and downs are a source of heartache for trainer Buzzy Sholty. Although the gelding proved he could go with the best of the sophomore class last year, he has been plagued with problems staying on stride.
Art At Heart galloped in five of his last eight starts, but appears to be back on track after winning the opening round of the Four Leaf Clover Series last week at the Meadowlands. The 4-year-old and his stablemate Artist's View will tackle the $25,000 second leg of the series Saturday night.
"His left stifle is his primary problem and right knee is his secondary problem," Sholty said. "You never know when he is going to break. He doesn't show any signs and he doesn't show anything training. It is when he comes to the racetrack. He gets here and I am not sure if it is his confidence or interference yet."
A $62,000 yearling purchase, Art At Heart showed promise early in his 3-year-old campaign. He set a mark of 1:51.2 in a New Jersey Sire Stakes division on May 19, 2007, defeating Always A Virgin in the process. He won a leg of the Matt's Scooter Series and just missed nipping Spin Rate at the wire in the $101,300 final. However, two
straight miscues in August prompted Sholty to turn him out for the season. The son of Artsplace finished the season with a record of two wins and two seconds in 11 starts.
"I have had him since he was a yearling," noted Sholty, who co-owns the pacer with JML Stables. "He won the sire stakes [leg] last year and paced away from Always A Virgin. After that, I thought I had a top horse. Then he started making breaks and then the breaks turned into soreness, so we quit with him."
Art At Heart made his 4-year-old debut in the Complex Series opener on Jan. 11 at the Meadowlands. He swung three-wide on the final turned and charged home to finish third, just 3/4-length behind the winner Hard To Beat. However, early miscues would cost him the remainder of the Complex Series and any chance in the Aquarius. Sholty made some changes to Art At Heart's equipment and sent him to qualify on Feb. 28. Partnered with Brian Sears for the first time, Art At Heart stayed on stride and finished second.
"I changed his shoes to a flip flop with an outer rim on the toe to take some sting out if the track is off," he said. "We added a Murphy blind on the inside and a line burr, as opposed to a head pole, to help get around the turns.
"Andy Miller was supposed to drive him," he continued. "Then Fox Valley Gambler [trained by Miller's wife, Julie] shipped in and I was going to drive him myself, but Brian did not have a drive and was able to qualify him. It worked out because I wanted to get another opinion on him. Unfortunately, he never made a boo boo, so Brian was not able to give feedback on him."
Art At Heart rallied off a ground-saving journey to win the first of two Four Leaf Clover divisions in 1:53.2 on March 8. He saved ground early, then surged past Mighty Young Joe for a 3/4-length win over a sloppy track. His stablemate, Artist's View, captured the other division, giving Sholty a training double.
"I couldn't breathe the whole time," Sholty said after the race. "He bobbled in the stretch. He took a step. Brian said he was fine until then. I checked his knees boots to see if they were hitting and they were fairly clean.
"I am not going to make any changes on him, but he will not train this week. I want him as sound as possible. He has already made it in the final and after next week, I will decide if he will train after that. I am not sure what he will be in next [after the Four Leaf Clover]. He is staked to some things but I am not sure if he has the confidence to go against open pacers. A 1:53 mile on an off track doesn't really verify anything and it is a huge jump to go against open pacers."
The Four Leaf Clover concludes with a $94,000 final on March 22. (Meadowlands)