Lady Is a Champ

Shartin N rewrites the history book as Horse of the Year

story by Melissa Keith

Shartin N was the overwhelming choice as the 2019 Dan Patch Older Pacing Mare of the Year, Pacer of the Year and Horse of the Year for obvious reasons. The Jim King Jr. trainee picked up exactly where she left off the previous season when she also was honored as the sport’s champion older female pacer and entered the history books as the only member of her division to earn more than $1 million in a single season.

In 2019, the daughter of Tintin In America – Bagdarin came up just short of reaching the million-dollar mark again as she earned $982,177 in 19 starts, 15 of which she won. She also became a world champion with a 1:46.4 triumph at The Meadowlands, is the first older female pacer to be named as Horse of the Year and was the first horse bred outside of North America to receive this honor. Shartin N is the fifth female pacer to be named as Horse of the Year and, unlike many of her predecessors, she didn’t have to defeat the boys to do so.

Jo Ann Looney-King, the mare’s co-owner with Richard Poillucci and Tim Tetrick LLC, often stated on social media there were never specific plans for the then 6-year-old to tackle that type of competition.

Nonetheless, Shartin N was voted No. 1 every week of last year’s Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown Weekly Top 10 Poll, indicating widespread respect for her accomplishments against her own sex and entries into the record books.

The mare collected 83 votes en route to being crowned as Horse of the Year. Bettor’s Wish was second with 42 votes and Greenshoe third with 14.

Horse of the Year honors have traditionally rewarded performers who demonstrated absolute dominance over their peers, but only in the divisions where competition was already regarded as strong. For this reason, the title has usually been awarded to a 3-year-old male trotter or pacer, or an older male of either gait.

Interestingly, in all but one instance where a female trotter was named U.S. Horse of the Year, it was a filly or mare who was tested outside her division who triumphed. The USTA’s Trotting and Pacing Guide lists every annual winner since 1947, and adventurous female trotters have fared well in the year-end tally.

The first mare to be named Horse of the Year was the 8-year-old Proximity in 1950. She retired at the end of that season as the richest trotter of all time and collected $252,929 in purse money for her owners, Ralph and Gordon Verhurst.

It was a two-vote win margin for the filly Stenographer over Scott Frost for the 1954 Horse of the Year title. Voters expressed a slight preference for the filly who set a world record at 3 and defeated males. Scott Frost, however, was Horse of the Year in 1955 and 1956, and was the first horse to win the trotting Triple Crown.

Emily’s Pride (1958) was also a world champion at 3, the same year she won the Hambletonian and Kentucky Futurity. Ironically, she edged out the first older female pacer capable of capturing overall Horse of the Year honors in the remarkable Belle Acton. But Emily’s Pride retired that season as the fastest 3-year-old trotter in history and her Kentucky Futurity was the first race in the history of the sport to have three sub-2:00 heats.

Belle Acton made history from her career debut. She was voted 2-Year-Old Pacer of the Year for 1955, because no separate filly division existed until 1978. In 1958, she was named Older Pacer of the Year, again because there was no distaff category prior to 1968. No other female pacer earned older pacing divisional titles in the years when this was possible.

The first filly to win a leg of the Pacing Triple Crown (the 1956 Messenger Stake), Belle Acton also fittingly earned her titles in seasons in which she beat both sexes.

Roosevelt International Trot champions Fresh Yankee (1970) and Delmonica Hanover (1974) earned Horse of the Year titles based on campaigns punctuated by conquests against the world’s best trotters.

Fan Hanover (1981) broke barriers in becoming the lone filly to win the Little Brown Jug, and subsequently, the first female pacer to be voted overall Horse of the Year. She was also Canada’s Horse of the Year in 1980.

While filly and mare trotters would continue to be well-represented in Dan Patch Horse of the Year titles—Fancy Crown (1984), CR Kay Suzie (1995), Continentalvictory (1996), Moni Maker (1998, 1999), Bee A Magician (2013) and Hannelore Hanover (2017)—only three filly pacers would follow in Fan Hanover’s hoofprints in winning the sport’s top annual honor.

Bunny Lake (2001) and Rainbow Blue (2004) raced only against other fillies but orchestrated nearly flawless sophomore seasons.

JK She’salady (2014) stayed within her age/sex group and became the first-ever 2-year-old pacing filly to claim the crown, beating Sweet Lou, 57 to 52. In another historic first, she became the lone Horse of the Year pacer not named Pacer of the Year, as Sweet Lou had one vote more in a tight 74-73 decision.

Staying within the ranks of solely female competition only amplified how dominant Bunny Lake, Rainbow Blue and JK She’salady were within their own respective groups on the racetrack.

Taking a risk, however, can come at a price: Miss Easy, 1991 3-Year-Old Pacing Filly of the Year, was not named Pacer or Horse of the Year. She broke in her Meadowlands Pace elimination, which was captured by Precious Bunny, but went on to win the Meadowlands Pace consolation over Cambest, while Precious Bunny boosted his 1991 Horse of the Year credentials by winning the Pace final.

Miss Conna Adios (1969) and Handle With Care (1975) did capture the mixed-sex 4-Year-Old Pacing Champion trophy in the brief period of its existence (1968-1975), and famously mixed it up with male rivals en route to their titles.

Stepping out against males is eye-catching and beneficial to capturing filly/mare divisional honors, but unless a top female beats the boys and/or breaks their records, her prospects for Pacer of the Year/Horse of the Year awards are usually not enhanced.

For example, in 1975, Silk Stockings beat males in the Monticello O.T.B. Classic and was the season’s fastest 3-year-old; she was named Pacer of the Year and was a narrow second to trotting gelding Savoir in Horse of the Year balloting.

The temptation to test exceptional mares in Open waters will always be part of the sport. Several Pacing Mares of the Year were part of memorable battles against the best stallions and geldings of their generations.

In her divisional championship season, JEF’s Eternity (1983) became the only mare ever to beat Cam Fella. Two-time Pacing Mare of the Year Armbro Feather (1988, 1989) was edged out in a 1:53.1 photo finish against eventual Horse of the Year Matt’s Scooter in a 1989 event at Mohawk Park. Ellamony (1995) finished a fast-closing third to Pacific Rocket and Ball And Chain in the Canadian Pacing Derby at Woodbine Racetrack. In an elimination of the race, she was second to Ball And Chain when he recorded the first sub-1:50 race time (1:49.4) in Canada.

That year Ellamony became the first older mare pacer to be named as Canada’s Horse of the Year.

These ambitious campaigns outside of the mares-only ranks have resonated with Dan Patch Award voters, although never sufficiently to elevate an older female pacer to Horse of the Year status until Shartin N in 2019. Consider that all but one distaff trotter, Bee A Magician, faced top males and beat them in Grand Circuit races during her Horse of the Year season. It can be argued that no female pacer in recent years has shown that kind of divisional transcendence, although a few have made a strong showing.

In 1992, three-time Dan Patch Pacing Mare of the Year (1992, 1993, 1994) Shady Daisy put Artsplace to the test in a 1:50 event at The Meadowlands when she finished second to the eventual Horse of the Year, and was second to Odds Against in the U.S. Pacing Championship at Sportsman’s Park.

In 1993, the mare was second to Cambest in Northfield Park’s Battle of Lake Erie. In 1994, she finished third in the Freehold Cup (won by 1994 Pacing Horse of the Year Arrive At Five) and the Graduate final (won by Silent Spring) at Freehold Raceway, in a season marred by her own breaks.

Eternal Camnation was Canadian Horse of the Year for 2003 and captured three Dan Patch titles as Pacing Mare of the Year (2001, 2002, 2003). The richest-ever female pacer’s $3,748,574 earnings record still stands today, yet she was never voted U.S. Horse of the Year. Her few starts against top-tier males did not enhance her resume or bankroll.

Dreamfair Eternal, 2010 O’Brien Horse of the Year, was 2010 Dan Patch Older Pacing Mare of the Year. She did defeat Lucky Man in a 1:50.2 Woodbine Open that season, but her campaign was otherwise restricted to distaff company.

The top female pacer in 2017 was Pure Country, who won the fastest qualifier of all time that July 1, defeating Filibuster Hanover in 1:48 flat over The Meadowlands. In her Dan Patch Award-winning sophomore year, she finished second to Betting Line in Northfield Park’s Carl Milstein Memorial and was fourth when supplemented to the Cane Pace.

As owner Adam Bowden of Diamond Creek Farms told Hoof Beats of the three-time Award winning (2015, 2016, 2017) U.S. divisional champion, “It’s nothing to be upset about, by any means. Because she’s a homebred and because she’s a mare, it was worth taking a chance.”

When speaking of taking chances, it’s tough to imagine Shartin N struggling in mixed competition, because she’s been down that road before. Prior to export, she won the 2017 Queensland Oaks and finished second by a head to the colt The More The Better N in the 2017 Queensland Derby. She won seven of 13 Australian starts, three of them against males, including overall Victorian Harness Horse of the Year Jilliby Kung Fu.

Shartin N was invited to last year’s Dan Patch Invitational at Hoosier Park, but co-owner Looney-King stated in an interview with Harness Racing Update the race followed too soon on the heels of her world record victory (1:46.4) in the Lady Liberty at The Meadowlands.

Late-season losses to Caviart Ally in the TVG final and Breeders Crown didn’t affect the division-leading star’s standing in Dan Patch Award voting results for pacing mares, as she received 145 of 147 total votes.

But are older pacing mares held to a unique standard when it comes to being selected Horse of the Year in the U.S.? Not anymore.

Melissa Keith is a freelance writer living in Nova Scotia. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

 

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