Manchego, trained in New Jersey by Jimmy Takter, is the first undefeated three year old to win a Dan Patch award. Photo credit Mark Hall/USTA.
When all 131 ballots were tabulated and the results revealed on Dec. 21, nine of harness racing’s latest champions were either PA and NJ-breds or the humans responsible for their careers resided there. Pennsylvania equines will also likely sweep the trifecta for the sport’s Horse of the Year, Trotter of the Year and Pacer of the Year when those honors are announced at the annual Dan Patch Patch Awards Banquet in Orlando, Fla. on Feb. 25.
Five of the horses whose names will be permanently entered in the history books are pacers Lost In Time, Youaremycandygirl, Downbytheseaside and Keystone Velocity. The remaining four, What The Hill, Hannelore Hanover, Manchego and Ariana G, strut their stuff on the trot.
“It’s fun to be involved with good horses,” said Diamond Creek Racing and Diamond Creek’s Farm’s Adam Bowden to the United States Trotting Association’s (USTA) Ken Weingartner. “Just being part of the ride is exciting. A lot of times, we as owners get to give interviews and get attention, but really it’s a team effort, especially for us with these homebreds. From the girls that work at the farm to the farm managers to the trainers to the grooms to the drivers. Everybody gets to take credit for the success of these horses, everybody can share in it. That’s great.”
Bowden and his father Chris were lifelong harness racing fans who hail from Maine. In 2005 the duo created Diamond Creek Farm in Versailles, Ky. and have since expanded their operation to Wellsville, Pa., where they stand stallions. The Bowdens bred older mare pacing champion Pure Country and 2-year-old pacing champion Lost In Time, while owning part of the aforementioned colt. They also co-own 3-year-old pacing colt Downbytheseaside.
Pure Country, who is conditioned by Hall of Fame member Jimmy Takter, has always held a special place in their hearts. The world champion daughter of Somebeachsomewhere-Western Montana was produced from one of the first quality broodmares the Bowdens purchased.
The now 4-year-old mare was an undefeated 10-for-10 in her freshman season, earned divisional honors as a sophomore and collected her third straight Dan Patch trophy by virtue of her second Breeders Crown triumph. She also ended her season with a strong victory in the $175,000 TVG Mares final at the Meadowlands on Nov. 25.
Pure Country is the only female pacer to capture Dan Patch Awards at ages two, three and four and also is the only horse in 45 years to collect three consecutive versions of this particular trophy.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” Adam Bowden relayed to Weingartner. “It takes a special horse to be the best at 2 when they’re early developers and then continue to be the best at 3 and 4 when everybody else catches up. I’m just happy to be part of it.”
The Bowdens were no less thrilled when Lost In Time and Downbytheseaside received their divisional honors.
From the first crop of A Rocknroll Dance, one of the first high quality stallions Diamond Creek stood, Lost In Time is co-owned by A Rocknroll Dance Stable, Denny Miller, William Rufenacht and Team S. Racing. From nine trips to the post, the son of Summer Mystery collected five wins and two second place finishes with $608,112 in the bank.
Conditioned by Jim Mulinix for his first seven starts, Lost In Time commenced his career at an Ohio fair shortly before annexing the $660,960 Metro Pace at Mohawk Racetrack. The colt followed that win with two more in a division of the International Stallion Stake at the Red Mile and his Breeders Crown elimination at Hoosier Park. Unfortunately, after a rough trip in the final, he was sixth and placed fifth prior to entering the Takter barn.
He was sixth again in his Governor’s Cup elimination at the Meadowlands prior to a scintillating victory over rival Stay Hungry in the $411,700 final.
Downbytheseaside, like Pure Country and Lost In Time, also appeared to find his best stride at the end of 2017. Trained by Brian Brown, the newly turned stallion is owned by Country Club Acres, Joe Sbrocco, Richard Lombardo and Diamond Creek Racing. A world champion as a 2-year-old, the son of Somebeachsomewhere-Spring Hanover began his season on all cylinders with a win in the $300,000 Art Rooney Pace final and was third by a nostril in the $730,000 North America Cup.
He also captured the $300,000 Carl Milstein Memorial Pace and the $500,000 Messenger Stake final, yet Downbytheseaside was hampered by foot problems in late summer and early fall. The compromised feet undoubtedly cost him a placing in the $500,000 Little Brown Jug final as well as a win in the $300,000 Tattersall’s Pace. He was also defeated by hometown hero Beckham’s Z Tam in the $527,200 Breeders Crown final at Hoosier Park.
After that mishap, however, Downbytheseaside rolled through the final four starts of his career and was spectacular in the $308,060 Progress Pace final at Dover Downs. He set his lifetime mark of 1:48.3 in that event and now will stand at Sugar Valley Farm in 2018.
Ron Burke Trainees
Although he did not win the sport’s award for leading trainer despite another stellar year, Canonsburg, Pa. resident Ron Burke was responsible for three Dan Patch Award winners: Youaremycandygirl, What The Hill and Hannelore Hanover.
Owned by William J. Donovan, 2-year-old filly pacing champion Youaremycandygirl is a daughter of American Ideal-Sweet Lady Jane. While others in her division were lauded as ones to watch early in the year, this filly demonstrated her superiority throughout the season.
Youaremycandygirl served notice she was on center stage with a statement victory over a very talented group of rivals in the $405,000 She’s A Great final at Mohawk Racetrack on Sept. 23. She followed that prolific performance with a world record clocking of 1:50 in a division of the International Stallion Stake at the Red Mile and ended her debut campaign with four more victories in her Breeders Crown elimination and final, the $174,400 Matron Pace and the $381,200 Three Diamonds final at the Meadowlands.
Not to be outdone by the female counterparts on his shedrow, What The Hill provided Burke with his second Dan Patch Award winner in what must be defined as redemption. Owned by Burke Racing Stable, Our Horse Cents Farm, J&T Silva Stables and Deo Valente Farms, the son of Muscle Hill- K T Cha Cha won the Hambletonian, but was disqualified after the stewards determined he interfered with another horse in the stretch. He was eventually placed ninth.
Undaunted, What The Hill in his next engagement captured the $560,880 Canadian Trotting Classic final and demonstrated his class with triumphs in the $527,500 Breeders Crown final. He ended his 3-year-old season and career by besting his elders in the $350,000 TVG Older Male Trotting final.
After being purchased by Taylor Made Stallions, Edward Taylor and GBW Breeding Farms, What The Hill was retired to Hickory Lane Farm in December of 2017 to begin his second career.
Hannelore Hanover won her second consecutive Dan Patch Award as harness racing’s best older trotting female and is the prohibitive favorite to be Trotter of the Year and Horse of the Year.
“She has some sass to her,” co-owner Frank Baldachino said. “She is not opposed to thinking about kicking me when I’m around her in the barn. You can see her getting into position and that’s when I move right around her rear end. She makes you pay attention to her. But being sassy is not a bad thing, a lot of the good horses have that way about them.”
One of two horses to earn 100 percent of the votes for her trophy, Hannelore Hanover defeated males this year on multiple occasions, and trotted the second swiftest mile in the history of harness racing (1:49.2) when the 5-year-old won the $136,000 Allerage Farms Open Trot at Red Mile.
The daughter of Swan For All-High Sobriety became only the second trotting mare to win consecutive Dan Patch Awards since another Pennsylvania product, Buck I St Pat, won from 2008-2010. She is only the third mare in history to capture the Breeders Crown Open Trot over males. The last to do so was Hall of Fame member Moni Maker in 1998.
Also owned by Burke Racing Stable, Weaver Bruscemi and J&T Silva Stables, Hannelore Hanover was bred in Pennsylvania at Hanover Shoe Farms, who received a Dan Patch award for Breeder of the Year. Her dam also was recognized as Broodmare of the Year.
The dark brown mare did not start her season as swiftly as some would have hoped yet concluded it with a resume of 17-10-5-0 and $1.05 million in the bank. She demolished her male rivals in the $486,260 Maple Leaf Trot, was second in the $240,000 Centaur Trot at Hoosier Park against males and defeated them yet again in the Breeders Crown final over that same oval.
“I’ve had a lot of very good horses like All Bets Off and Go On BB,” Baldachino said. “And I would like nothing more than to go out and shoot my mouth off about how incredible Hannelore is, but I try to keep things on a middle ground. I try not to get too high or too low and accept things just for what they are. I take each race for what it is and only focus on that. You never know when it could be the last one, so I just enjoy each one for what it is; nothing more and nothing less.”
In a tightly contested division, 9-year-old Keystone Velocity came out on top by 31 votes against eight other horses that each received a nod as the champion older male pacer. The gelded son of Western Hanover-Venus Killean was born in Mechanicsburg, Pa. and was a result of the late, great George Hempt’s breeding program.
Trained by Rene Allard and owned by Allard Racing, Kapildeo Singh, Earl Hill Jr. and VIP Internet Stable, Keystone Velocity always demonstrated ability yet had his career interrupted by injuries.
This season the horse had 22 starts, the most in one year for him, to compile a record of 22-8-3-1 while earning $783,442.
While Keystone Velocity performed poorly in the Breeders Crown final (10th place finish), he reigned victorious in two of harness racing’s biggest events for his division in the $529,000 Levy Series final at Yonkers Raceway and the $500,000 Ben Franklin final at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.
The gelding also sizzled in the $100,000 Potomac Pace to set his lifetime mark of 1:47.3 at Rosecroft Raceway on Nov. 5.
Jimmy Takter Trainees
Like her Pennsylvania counterpart, Hannelore Hanover, Ariana G, the New Jersey Horse of the Year, was a unanimous selection by the voters, collecting her second consecutive Dan Patch Award. The 4-year-old daughter of Muscle Hill-Cantab It All competes as a homebred for Marvin Katz and Al Libfield. Trained by Jimmy Takter, Ariana G accrued $1.12 million from a 2017 slate of 15-12-2-1.
The filly defeated the boys in her $25,000 Earl Beal elimination at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on June 5, but was unable to duplicate that feat, finishing third in the $500,000 final the following week.
Ariana G’s top victories included the $125,000 Delvin Miller Memorial, the $385,000 Elegantimage final, the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks final and the $500,000 Breeders Crown final.
“She’s definitely our most exciting horse ever,” said Libfeld, to Dave Briggs after she set a stakes, track and Canadian record in the Elegantimage. “She’s special. We can only dream of this type of thing. It’s unbelievable.”
Undefeated Manchego also hails from Takter’s New Jersey-based barn. Owned by Black Horse Racing of Lebanon, N.J., John Fielding of Ontario and Herb Livermore of Miami Beach, the now 3-year-old daughter of Muscle Hill-Secret Magic compiled an unblemished record of 12-12-0-0 and banked $873,948.
The filly is the first undefeated winner in the history of the Dan Patch Awards, which were instituted in 1978. The world champion won the $330,800 Jim Doherty Memorial, the $307,500 Peaceful Way final and the $600,000 Breeders Crown final.
"Twelve straight wins, that's tough to do in today's market," Takter said in the winner’s circle after her Breeders Crown triumph. "It's so hard for a horse to stay shape for a season, but she's just a unique animal, and I'm so proud to be a part of her.”
All nine horses will receive their trophies on Feb. 25 at the Dan Patch Awards celebration in Orlando, Fla.