Share this article

print logo


Cigar he's not, but Pittster certainly is the No. 1 ash-kicker in Western New York harness racing this year.

And last Thursday he almost added the Happy Handicapper to his list of victims.

Fortunately, the H.H. was quick enough to avoid the snapping teeth of a 9-year-old pacer who can be as aggressive in his barn as he is on the track.

"Now you see why nobody wants to claim him," said owner-trainer Peter Arrigenna as he hitched Pittster up to a jog cart for his daily exercise. This was after Pittster also took a toothy lunge at assistant trainer Dick Stoddard and before he made a couple of solid kicks into the air with his left rear leg.

This happened at Arrigenna's training center in Fowlerville in Livingston County. It's a beautiful place with a track, two paddocks and an 11-stall barn.

Better make that 10 stalls, because the stall next to Pittster is always empty because the "King of the Barn" (as Stoddard's wife, Annette, calls him) won't tolerate another horse nearby.

Pittster's stall is a mess, too. He chews the wood and likes to, as Arrigenna puts it, "make kindling" out of the wallboards.

If Pittster (he got the name from his sire, Pitt Boy) were a human athlete, he'd be a cross between Bryan Cox and Albert Belle: A good athlete, but not a nice guy.

But bad boys can be tolerated. Especially if they win. Which is what Pittster, a bay with a small white spot on his forehead, does at lot.

With 16 victories already under his girth (he goes for No. 17 in tonight's seventh race at Batavia Downs), Pittster is 1996's winningest local horse. With a 24-of-30 in-the-money record and earnings of $18,957, he's earned the right to be ornery.

Pittster and Arrigenna, a 41-year-old who has "been monkeying around with horses since I was 12," have been a team since the spring of 1994 when he and trainer-driver Jeff Altizer claimed him for $3,000 at Pocono Downs.

Arrigenna said Altizer "had this horse named Graylord that he thought was pretty good. But every week this horse (Pittster) would pass him in the stretch and catch him."

Arrigenna said he and Altizer didn't know about Pittster's bad attitude when they claimed him. They knew from the program that he had "back class" (earnings of more than $80,000 and a 1:56 lifetime mark set at age 4) and after they bought him they found that he also had bad legs and ankles.

Altizer later left the business and Arrigenna took over as official trainer in the spring of 1995. After a late-summer rest, Pittster blossomed last fall and came into full bloom in the winter.

"All of a sudden he just started clicking," Arrigenna said. "He just started going out and boom, boom, boom."

Pittster won seven in a row between Feb. 2 and March 27. Then he won one in April, two in May, two in June, and one each in July, August, September and October. As he moved up the class ladder, he won in every class from $3,000 to $8,000. His last victory came for $6,000 on Oct. 5.

Over the year, Pittster's winning mile times have ranged between 2:05 3/5 back in February to 1:58 1/5 in August. Jack Flanigen has been the winning driver 12 times, Don Rothfuss and Dave Vance have one each, and Richie Mays, his current reinsman, has won twice.

"I never would believe that he'd keep going this long. Usually you get about three or four months of good racing and you've got to stop. I'm just going to play it week by week as long as he can hold up," Arrigenna said.

He has a couple of theories about why Pittster has had such a big year.

"Last winter, I was able to get caught up on all my work (he owns PM&A Contracting Inc., named for wife Pam, son Mike and daughter Amanda), so I was here full-time with him. . . . We keep the track plowed and are able to jog on it all winter."

Another important move turned out to be the transfer of Pittster from a stall at the east end of the barn to his current stall, one with a window that allows him to see the training track, at the west end.

"Just over a year ago we moved him up here and he got a better attitude," Arrigenna said. "He's being good now, but he used to be bad. . . . We used to replace two or three boards (in the stall wall) a day down there."

Pittster is on his worst behavior on race nights. He hates to be near horses in the paddock, where he is required to spend two hours before race time.

"When he gets into the paddock, he's an entirely different horse," Arrigenna said. "He'll charge at you. . . . He was on cross ties the other night, and people'd come by and he'd lunge for them with his ears pinned back. He comes in squealing and kicking. Sometimes it takes two people to get a harness on him."

Most of Pittster's victories fit a pattern. After a slow start he moves into the outside flow on the second lap and then charges like a runaway train through the final quarter.

"He is tough," Flanigen said. "He's just an old classy horse. But he's just 100 percent guts. He'd try until his leg fell off. You don't want to have him neck-and-neck with you at the head of the lane, that's for sure."

There are no comments - be the first to comment