Hannelore Hanover is ready for her 2017 debut.
Co-owner Frank Baldachino was already excited to watch his million-dollar mare’s seasonal debut this weekend, and events from the past week have ratcheted that excitement up a few extra levels.
Coming off a breakout campaign in which she won the 2016 Dan Patch Award for best older female trotter, Hannelore Hanover starts her 5-year-old season Sunday in the $86,400 Miami Valley Distaff for older female trotters at Miami Valley Raceway in Ohio. Hannelore Hanover won last year’s Distaff in a track-record time of 1:52.3.
She will not, however, line up behind the gate as the record-holder as 4-year-old Kestrel set the new standard of 1:52.1 at Miami Valley on April 29.
Thus, the two most recent record-holders will go at it Sunday on the track they own.
“What was shaping up to be maybe not the most dramatic and dynamic race of the season could be really interesting and really exciting this Sunday for everybody involved,” said Baldachino, who owns Hannelore Hanover in partnership with trainer Ron Burke, the partnership of Mark Weaver and Mike Bruscemi, and J&T Silva Stables.
“We thought Bee A Magician and Mission Brief would be back this year, but unfortunately they both got hurt and they’re both retired. Kestrel kind of stepped up. They talk about the next man up. This will be the next mare up.”
The central New Jersey resident sees some similarities between the two trotters.
“If you look back at her 2- and 3-year-old seasons in Ohio, she (Kestrel) has a lot of the same characteristics that Hannelore had,” Baldachino said. “She looks like one of the best ones out there in Ohio at 2 and 3. And she’s come back pretty well after an extended vacation at 4. She set that track record pretty handy on the front end.”
And while that lends to some nice build-up for the race, the bigger anticipation will be how Hannelore Hanover looks in her first start of 2017. If it’s anything like last year, look out.
In 2016, the mare won 17 of 20 races and finished second twice to earn $1.11 million. She finished one vote behind Marion Marauder for Trotter of the Year. For her career, Hannelore Hanover has earned $1.42 million, hitting the board 38 times in 41 starts, with 26 victories.
That wasn’t really the plan when the ownership group ponied up an extra $2,000 to purchase the Indiana-sired horse for $32,000 at the 2013 Standardbred Horse Sale. Then again, it’s always nice when a plan doesn’t work out in this kind of way.
“She kind of caught us all off guard,” Baldachino said. “Not the fact she was a good horse, but of the way she did it. Me, Ronnie and Mark all knew she was a nice horse. We thought as a 3-year-old she was Ronnie’s second-best trotting filly behind Mission Brief, so that says a lot right there.”
Her performance said even more.
Last year’s victories included several against the boys, such as the Hambletonian Maturity, Baldachino’s personal favorite since it came at his home track at the Meadowlands, and the Centaur Trotting Classic.
She also won the Breeders Crown, the Armbro Flight, TVG Series Mares championship, Fresh Yankee and Muscle Hill. In further competition against the boys, she won an elimination for the Maple Leaf Trot and finished second in the final.
Baldachino felt her “total coming out party” was when she equaled the world record of 1:51 while setting the Canadian record at the Armbro Flight at Mohawk.
“She ran away and hid from that field in (1):51,” Baldachino said, adding about driver Yannick Gingras, “He could have gone faster if he had to. Right then and there I knew we had something really special. And the Meadowlands race (Hambletonian Maturity) kind of just reiterated that.”
Talk about exceeding expectations. And when asked, Baldachino didn’t mind talking about that at all.
“I thought she’d be a nice horse, maybe dabble around in a couple of Grand Circuit stakes for the mares because you did have Bee A Magician, you did have Mission Brief, you did have some really top quality horses you had to race against.
“We knew she could compete against those types but whether she could win was another story. She didn’t only win but she usually devoured the competition and won pretty handy. We’re really looking forward to this year. We think there’s a lot more things to come. She’s bigger and she’s stronger.”
Baldachino feels Hannelore Hanover at age 5 is entering her peak years.
“We think this should be the year she should come full circle,” Baldachino said. “If we see a little improvement from 4 to 5, you could be seeing some world-record performances and some performances no trotting mares have ever seen before.
“She’s bigger; she’s a real big, strong filly. She’s long gaited, just put together great. You couldn’t ask for a more put together female trotter than what’s there.”
The mare is eligible for every major trot race for both boys and girls this year, but was held out of Saturday’s Arthur J. Cutler Memorial because Burke wanted to start her out with a few girls-only races. By making herself eligible for the boys’ races this year, Hannelore Hanover has saved her owners close to $110,000 in supplement money that they had to pay last year.
“That will probably make our decision a little easier to drop her in against the boys, if she’s in top condition and racing well,” Baldachino said. “(As to) how much she will race, we’ll take it one week at a time and one start at a time. If she comes out of Miami Valley good and sound and healthy, she has Miss Versatility next (first leg at Mohawk on May 22).
“We have a lot more Grand Circuit stuff between Mohawk and the Meadowlands and Hoosier. I’m sure there will be some 4-year-olds that come out of the woodwork this year that were good last year. And we’ll play it by ear. One week at a time; one race at a time. But she’s in everything.”
In addition to her North American stakes, Hannelore Hanover is under consideration for Sweden’s prestigious Elitlopp at the end of May, but Burke said it was “50-50” whether he would accept an invitation for the mare.
“I’m leaning toward no,” Burke said. “It puts the Armbro Flight a little bit in jeopardy and that’s a very important race to her. But I do appreciate it because you don’t get these opportunities all the time to go over there and have a chance to be competitive. And I think she would be very competitive. I won’t say no, but 50-50 at best. I love the idea, but it’s a matter of making her schedule work.”
For now, the focus is on Sunday. Hannelore Hanover drew post three in the field of seven and will have Gingras in the sulky.
“Yannick said she’s qualified super both times,” Baldachino said. “We expect her to race really well in her first start. She’ll be ready. We’re not going to gun her by any means; it’s her first start back.
“She’ll be ready with whatever she has to line up on the gate with. We expect her to race real well. The two horses to beat are the ones inside of us, beside her. It looks like she drew a good spot to stalk, hopefully come on late or a quarter-pole move and maybe play catch me if you can. That might be the way to go. But you leave that up to Yannick.”
That has certainly been a winning formula so far.
Following is the Miami Valley Distaff field in post order with listed drivers and trainers. The race is No. 9 on Sunday’s card, with a 4:45 p.m. estimated post time.
1-Churita-Trace Tetrick-Matt Rheinheimer
2-Kestrel-Josh Sutton-Chris Beaver
3-Hannelore Hanover-Yannick Gingras-Ron Burke
4-South Side Hanover-TBA-Paul Fusco
5-Flowers N Songs-Jim Pantaleano-Rich Gillock
6-Barn Girl-Aaron Merriman-William Bercury
7-Charmed Life-Louis-Philippe Roy-Rene Allard