Dancin Yankee’s spirited ways make him a fierce competitor
story by Evan Pattak
As the season swings into full gear, Dancin Yankee is hoping to accomplish what few Standard-breds have: his ninth consecutive year with at least $100,000 in purse money. It won’t be easy, as the 11-year-old world champion has few, if any, stakes engagements on his schedule, and his more than 220 starts may begin to take their toll.
But he has a few things going for him. For one, he’s trained by Ron Burke, who’s done OK with older horses—the name Foiled Again comes to mind. For another, he’s feisty, sometimes argumentative and occasionally dangerous. It’s a temperament that has marked the stallion for careful handling, but it also signals his ongoing competitiveness.
Beth Yontz of Kentucky’s Anvil And Lace Farm remembers when Dancin Yankee wasn’t that way. When Yontz bred her mare Dancewiththebest to Yankee Cruiser, the mating produced a youngster whose looks and demeanor marked him for success.
“We always thought a lot of him,” she said. “He was one of the nicest colts I ever worked with at that age until about two weeks before the sale. Then he realized he was a boy. Did I think he would win nearly $2 million? No. But you knew he was special.”
Yontz consigned Dancin Yankee to the 2009 Ohio Selected Jug Sale where Gary Green, father of trainer Josh Green, gave $17,000 for him—not much by today’s standards, but the sport in the Buckeye State was pretty much at its nadir then. Yontz had decidedly mixed feelings about the price.
“Ohio was kind of down and out at the time,” she said. “So, I was calling people to promote him. When the price got over $10,000, I was delighted because the market in Ohio was not what it is now. Looking back, I was an idiot, but hindsight is 20-20. We could have bought him back only to be disappointed if he never made it to the races.”
Racing primarily in Ohio at 2, Dancin Yankee was a minor hit, collecting $60,406; it was the only year he would earn less than $115,082. His best season was 2014 when, at 6, he banked $509,140 and took his mark of 1:47.2 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, which was a world record.
That memorable campaign had many highlights, including victories in the Ohio Sire Stakes championship for older horses and geldings and a sparkling performance in the Joe Gerrity Memorial at Saratoga Casino Hotel, where he defeated both Foiled Again and Heston Blue Chip in a world-record 1:48.4.
That year could have been even greater but for some bad racing luck.
“He races like hell in eliminations,” Yontz said. “But something always happens in the finals. He actually could have $3 million on his card.”
One of those fiascoes occurred in the George Morton Levy series at Yonkers Raceway. Dancin Yankee won a preliminary leg for Ron Pierce; what happened in the $567,000 final is something Pierce would rather forget.
“He was the best in that race—really fast and pretty slick, too,” Pierce said. “When I came with him, a couple came in front of me. George Brennan was first-up (with Bettor’s Edge) and didn’t go anywhere, so we were stuck in traffic. Looking back on it, I should have raced him more aggressively and tipped about four deep. I’m not real happy about the way I drove him. I’d kind of like to do it over.”
Even with the miserable trip, Dancin Yankee was beaten only 1¾ lengths while finishing fifth.
Just as Dancin Yankee was exhibiting his great talent and determination, he was cementing his reputation as something of a rogue. Corey Callahan, who piloted the stallion to two wins during a five-race win streak at Dover Downs in 2014 for Josh Green, noticed it.
“He has speed, but he can do it from anywhere,” Callahan said. “He was on the front during that winning streak, but he could have won from dead last. On the racetrack, he was all about his job, but he could be a little mean. He has a lot of fight in him. He definitely needs a groom that can handle him.”
Green, his trainer for much of this period, believes Dancin Yankee’s antics stem from his high spirit.
“We raced him off the pace at first,” he said. “But when we started rolling on the front with him, he could get a little headstrong. I don’t think it’s so much meanness. He’s just a great-
Yet Green also remembers a time at Northfield Park when Dancin Yankee was so fractious that the trainer and his staff could not get him hobbled.
“He was squealing and kicking,” he said. “And when they called the horses for the post parade, we were panicking a little.”
Rigged eventually, Dancin Yankee won that race. Nevertheless, Green got the message and began using a Hannibal Lecter-type mask on Dancin Yankee whenever he needed to be handled. It was only partially successful, as the horse compiled an honor roll of chomped fingers, victimizing a urine catcher at Miami Valley Raceway, as well as Green’s girlfriend, Sasha Moczulski, who discovered that Dancin Yankee preferred her thumb to the treats she was trying to feed him. That injury required two surgical procedures to repair.
“Her thumb still isn’t 100 percent, but it’s functional,” Green said. “She’s still my girlfriend, but she wouldn’t get around him a lot after that.”
After his sale to Maine interests in 2017, Burke Racing Stable and Weaver Bruscemi LLC purchased Dancin Yankee later that year, near the end of his 9-year-old campaign. Burke thought the stallion, even at that age, would continue to excel against top competition. Indeed, the old boy responded by earning $193,275 at 10, and minding his manners for his new connections.
“He can be a little tough in the stall,” Burke said. “But he’s just class on the track. He hasn’t been nearly as bad for us as others have said. They told us we couldn’t turn him out, but we haven’t found that. I think we caught him at the right time when he’s chilling out a bit.”
Dancin Yankee, now owned solely by Burke Racing Stable, got off to an uneven start this year, finishing out of the money in his first three outings before winning the next two and finishing second, but Burke is sticking to his plan.
“He began that way last year, too,” he said. “As we race him, he’ll come to his speed and put it all together. He’ll probably stay in Ohio, and we might race him a little at The Meadows. We talked about the Levy, but he doesn’t seem to love Yonkers. In a perfect world, he’ll reach $2 million, and we can start breeding him some next year. I think he could fit in Ohio and be a possible surprise stallion.”
Meanwhile, Yontz, buoyed by Dancin Yankee’s success, has continued to breed Dancewiththebest. Her 2016 Sweet Lou colt, Dancin Lou, brought $140,000 at the 2017 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. Burke was the underbidder behind David Kryway and Ronald Haskell.
And Yontz will be represented this year by an Always B Miki filly named Dancin In Lace. That is unless the breeder changes her mind about sending the filly through the ring. It would be a first, as Anvil And Lace never has raced the horses the farm breeds.
“A goal of mine is to one day have a racehorse,” Yontz said. “But in our operation, we believe if you’re good at something, stick with it. On the other hand, if my lucky numbers show up on Powerball, we’ll have that Always B Miki filly.” HB
Evan Pattak is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.