by Dean Hoffman
Moni Maker was a huge filly and fumbled more than few times during races in her freshman season in 1995. But with a season of maturity, she was perfect in 1996. She began the season by winning and just kept on winning. She won the Hambletonian Oaks and by autumn she’d steamrolled her opponents in 18 straight races.
She came into the Breeders Crown at Vernon Downs in central New York as the heavy favorite. A big, roomy track like Vernon favored big horses like Moni Maker and, in fact, she was undefeated at Vernon Downs in four pari-mutuel starts over two seasons.
Her trainer Bill Andrews, driver Wally Hennessey, and owners David and Edmund Smith, Alan Foster, and the Lindy Racing Stable were hoping she could win the Crown and keep her unbeaten streak intact.
The bettors at Vernon saw no reason why she should not win easily and made her the odds-on favorite.
Still, you couldn’t overlook Act Of Grace with trainer Stanley Dancer and driver John Campbell. She had been racing against the best colts, finishing second in a Hambletonian elimiantion, third in the Zweig, and winning the World Trotting Derby for fillies. She was sent off at 2-1 odds in the Breeders Crown.
Then there was the late-blooming Personal Banner. She drew high praise with a trio of wins at the fall meeting at The Red Mile on the eve of the Breeders Crown.
Both Act Of Grace and Personal Banner drew inside Moni Maker but that seemed to be just a minor bump on the road to victory for the big filly.
Real Diamond left the starting gate like a scalded ape to cut the pace through an opening quarter in :26.4. Personal Banner sat second behind her and Act Of Grace was fourth. Moni Maker was fifth, but caught on the outside.
And Moni Maker stayed on the outside. She saw the inside rail in the race. It was a nightmare trip in such an important race, but it was about to get even worse. Moni Maker was following Act Of Grace with a quarter mile remaining and Hennessey started to move her out. Act Of Grace broke stride and Moni Maker had to lose ground and move out to the middle of the track.
That allowed Personal Banner to slip out from behind Real Diamond and seize control o the race. Moni Maker recovered from the mishap but was several lengths back. She took dead aim at Personal Banner in the stretch but simply couldn’t narrow the gap. She was beaten a head.
The perfect season was gone. Moni Maker was beaten after 18 consecutive wins. Hennessey felt horrible but fortunately he had first-class connections with this filly.
“The owners and trainer Bill Andrews were the greatest,” says Wally. “They didn’t blame me.”
Hennessey said that her losing effort might well have been the best race Moni Maker went all season. But she was still second-best.
Breeder Crown winner Personal Banner was exported to Italy, where she produced a son Equinox Bi who came to the USA and won a Breeders Crown in 2007.