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It probably wouldn’t be completely unexpected to find that a filly named after the mythical home of a popular cartoon character would bring joy to those around her. In the case of Bikini Bottom, a three-year-old pacer named after the city in which SpongeBob SquarePants lives, the reason, though, is much deeper than simply a name.

Bred and co-owned by Jeff Eckburg of Rockford, Illinois, Bikini Bottom on April 5 won the first leg of the Blossom Series at the Meadowlands Racetrack, rallying from 13 lengths behind early in the race to score in 1:53.3 at 29-1. Still seventh in the stretch, she chased down Armbro Davina and previously unbeaten favorite Future Destiny to earn her second victory of the season.

The race was the first for Bikini Bottom since Eckburg’s uncle, John Flynn, was killed in a snowmobile accident in Wisconsin.

"It’s been sad," said Eckburg, who was a business partner with Flynn and runs an insurance agency. "He was a great guy. He owned part of the very first horse we ever owned. [Bikini Bottom] is providing some sunshine to an otherwise gloomy situation. Maybe my uncle’s got something to do with her winning like that."

Eckburg, who owns Bikini Bottom with Martin Scharf, got into harness racing as an owner in 1995 when he and 11 buddies threw $1,000 apiece into a pot and bought a pacer named Rig. The following year, Rig earned $312 in 18 starts.

"We used to get together at the OTB to watch him race," Eckburg said. "We’d have our wives, our kids, cousins, a big crowd. One time we were watching a race and we all thought it was Rig who won. There was a roar like you never heard before. It turned out that it wasn’t Rig. He was dead last, just like always."

Eckburg and several other partners were unfazed by Rig’s lack of success. They did a little better with their next horse, a filly pacer named Sweet Smile. In 1999, Eckburg bought HR Sosa, who earned $156,552 in 2000, and Sassy Girl, who banked $127,518 in her career. "I’ve had limited success," Eckburg said. "Enough to pay the bills every now and then."

By the late 1990s, Eckburg and some of his friends became interested in breeding horses rather than trying to only buy yearlings. In 2000, he purchased mares named Red Cape and Easy Dragon. Red Cape is the mother of Bikini Bottom, who was sired by Cam’s Card Shark.

"Red Cape came through the Harrisburg sale," Eckburg said. "I was bidding on her, and when it got to $25,000, I said no. Afterward, I was sick to my stomach. As it turned out, the guy who bought her thought he was paying $2,500, so they put her back. This time, I got her for $25,000. That worked out great.

"Her first foal was Red Diamond. He trained down nicely, but had some injuries and never made it. Chad Yoder, who conditions a yearling as good as anyone in the state, said he was one of the nicest colts he ever broke. I was kind of soured after he got hurt, but now I’m more excited again."

Bikini Bottom has won four of 15 lifetime races and earned $52,517. Last year, she was second by a neck to Ideal Weather in the New Jersey Sire Stakes series, but went off stride behind the gate in the $175,000 final and finished eighth. She was second in the Miss Vera Bars Series at Woodbine in Toronto in February.

Eckburg’s children – 11-year-old Ali, 8-year-old Adam and 2-year-old Anna – get to come up with names for his horses. Currently, players from the world champion Chicago White Sox, like Konerko and Pierzynski, are popular choices.

"My son is a future horse owner," Eckburg said. "He’s my little horse partner. He just loves harness racing. He’s the biggest 8-year-old harness racing fan in America."

In addition to Bikini Bottom, Armbro Davina and Future Destiny, the other fillies in the first round of the Blossom were Kiss Me Once Again, She’s Game, Pacific Philly, Best Chance Hanna, Winbak Rita, Blaze Of Color and Fionavar Hanover. Future Destiny was the 2-5 favorite, having won her first three career races. She is trained by George Teague Jr., who won the Blossom final in 2004 with Horse of the Year Rainbow Blue. Teague shares ownership of Future Destiny with former heavyweight boxing champ George Foreman Jr., ex-New York Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet and K&R Racing.



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