Coming off a season in which he earned just over $2.3 million, the largest annual sum of his 26-year career, and competed in numerous Grand Circuit events, John Butenschoen acknowledges 2017 could be a banner year as well.
“We are just starting to bring in all our horses,” said the Wind Gap, Pa. resident. “Of course, we have not begun training them, but we are getting them ready. I’m happy with how all they came back in and very pleased with the 2-year-olds that have now turned three. I have to admit it is pretty fun walking down the barn and looking at all their faces every day. I’m looking forward to the year, but it’s like I’ve been telling my help, they better enjoy the good mood I’m in right now, because another month or so when things start to get serious, I start worrying about everything and won’t be easy to be around.”
Butenschoen, 53, is certainly no stranger to success. Born and raised in Illinois, Butenschoen plied his trade there for decades, until difficulty making a living in his home state spurred him to move to the Keystone State several years ago.
His first top horse was Falcons Scooter, who won the 1996 New Jersey Classic, however, he is but he is best known for trotting superstar Plesac, a winner of $2,501,758 who raced from 1999-2003.
Butenschoen has amassed more than $22.3 million in purse money from more than 10,000 trips to the gate and 1,488 wins. He and his son Tyler, his assistant trainer, focus primarily on young horses and he has quite a talented group of sophomores for this season.
While defending Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion and track record holder Giveitgasandgo and the royally bred Pennsylvania Sire Stakes winner Dover Dan may have received more attention as two year olds competing in high profile contests such as the Breeders Crown, the 3-year-old star of Butenshoen’s stable may very well be Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion Fine Tuned Lady.
“She came in and grew and put on more weight,” Butenschoen said. “I am very, very happy with her and look forward to what she can accomplish this year.”
The daughter of Cantab Hall-Poster Princess was selected and purchased for $27,000 by William Wiswell and M And L of Delaware at the 2015 Standardbred Horse Sale at Harrisburg. In her sole year of racing, she has compiled a resume of 12-6-5-0 and collected $438,430.
As her dam won $153,407 on the track and has produced Prince Rocco (SJ’s Photo, $159,510), Poster Pin Up (Andover Hall, $439,454), Call To Post (Tom Ridge, $315,715) and Everyone’s Talkin (Donato Hanover, $131,993), Fine Tuned Lady’s connections felt quite fortunate they could bring her home for that price.
“We were definitely shocked and were looking at each other when the gavel went down and it was only for $27,000 for her,” Butenschoen said. “We were prepared to go much higher, but we were not going to complain or even give too much thought as to why. We were just very, very happy to have her for that amount of money with her family being as good as it.”
Fine Tuned Lady commenced her career with a second place finish in a $30,000 division of the Pennsylvania All Stars series held at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on June 27. She followed her debut effort with a maiden-breaking score at the same facility in a $14,000 non-winners event on July 4 and another victory in Sire Stakes company at The Meadows the subsequent week in a stakes record 1:56.1.
After another second under the same conditions in a return to Mohegan Sun Pocono on July 19, Fined Tuned Lady received several weeks off, won a qualifying contest on Aug. 3 and then was second in two Sire Stakes races at Harrah’s Philadelphia on Aug.11 and The Meadows on Aug. 23.
Qualifying at Pocono yet again on Aug. 31, the filly then led from gate to wire to capture the $252,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final for her age, sex and gait on Sept. 11 at Harrah’s Philadelphia.
“Everyone that got behind her at first thought she was a good horse,” Butenschoen said. “But just good. When Corey Callahan drove her for the first time in her first baby race he told us she might be better than that. As soon as he got out of the bike he came right over and said, ‘I really like this filly and I will follow her wherever she goes.’ Now that is saying something when a driver like Corey makes that kind of commitment and he turned out to be right. She has not done one thing wrong and had a great year.”
Fine Tuned Lady left the friendly confines of her home state and Sire Stakes company to contest some of the sport’s elite fillies in the $250,000 Kentuckiana Stake at Hoosier Park on Sept. 23, which she won, prior to journeying to The Red Mile to finish second and fourth in divisions of The Bluegrass Stake and the International Stallion Stake.
A return to Philadelphia on Oct. 28 yielded a victory in the Simpson Stake and Fine Tuned Lady capped off her season with a triumph in the $148,700 Matron Stake at Dover Downs on Nov. 3.
Butenschoen had a plan to manage her season and he did not deviate from it.
“We got lucky with her when she won the Kentuckiana because that other filly broke right at the start,” Butenschoen said.
He is referring to Dan Patch Award champion Ariana G, who captured the Breeders Crown, the Doherty Memorial and the Peaceful Way en route to her honors. Prior to that miscue, the filly was undefeated and appeared invincible.
“We mapped out a schedule where we could still dodge some top fillies like Ariana G., take advantage of Pennsylvania’s Sire Stakes programs and make some money in other races later in the year with her,” Butenschoen said. “We could have put her in the Breeders Crown or taken her to Canada but instead we kept her here for two races where we knew we could get a nice check rather than having her knock heads with the top ones in those races, then not being able to hit the board. Also, she is very handy and comes off the gate very well. We were not sure how that advantage would have played over the bigger, mile tracks with the best fillies who are proven over that type of track.
“We will follow a similar schedule with her this year,” he continued. “It will be up to her whether we put her in races like the Breeders Crown. As I said, I’m very pleased with how she looks, but it is a long season and in this business, you can never predict what is going to happen.”
In addition to the three horses mentioned, Butenschoen also has 3-year-olds Simply Volo, who earned more than $100,000 in Pennsylvania, Funknwaffles ($257, 284) and Affair Of Honor ($80,586), and 4-year-olds Lookin Sharp ($284,682) and Hititoutofthepark ($331,307).
“We also have a new Muscle Hill colt that has not arrived, but should be here any day now,” Butenschoen said. “We also have another colt, Paraglider, that I only qualified once last year and he stepped on a nail that went up into his hoof to the coffin bone. Obviously, we had to wait on him last year, but we will be getting him ready soon and we think he’s a nice horse.
“We have had some luck at these sales with being able to buy these kinds of horses at good prices,” he continued. “I learned a long time ago you just never know what is going to happen in the sales ring and there is no way to figure it. You just take what comes and we were able to have this come our way. The beginning of each year is always exciting, but this year is a bit more so because of the horses we have. All we can do is see what happens because it is a long season.”