Reaching New Heights
Shawn Steacy’s lifelong journey to a career-best 2022
by Rich Fisher
At age 3, Shawn Steacy already had his life mapped out. His father, Mark, has the proof.
“We’ve got pictures of him where he’d put a little suit on with a helmet and get on a little rocking horse,” Mark said. “He thought he was gonna be a driver even then.”
Shawn offered one slight correction to that recollection.
“I did have a little rocking horse like that,” he said, “but rather than rock on top of him, I put a driving bit on and sat behind him.”
The dream of driving was dashed as Steacy grew to be 6-foot-3, but that merely meant he became a trainer instead.
“He came to the barn his whole life with me,” Mark said. “When I went to the races, he followed along most of the time. There was never a doubt that’s what he was gonna do.”
It wasn’t like he couldn’t do anything else. Shawn was an active kid and played various sports, but even as a fastball came across the plate or he was standing at the foul line, his mind was elsewhere.
“Since I’ve been born, I’ve lived and breathed horse racing,” the 37-year-old Canadian said. “All I could think about when I was growing up was, ‘What was going on at the barn? And how could I get there to work with my dad and be a part of things with him?’ Any time I could get to the racetrack to spend time with him and be a part of the races, I was a happy kid.”
That happiness reached a new level in 2022, as the Steacy Stable enjoyed its best season ever.
The marquee breadwinner was Sylvia Hanover, a $135,000 yearling purchase at the 2021 Standardbred Horse Sale. The daughter of Always B Miki-Shyaway won eight of nine starts, finished second from post 11 at Woodbine Mohawk Park in her lone loss, and earned $675,565 to lead all 2-year-old female pacers in North American purses. Her victories included the Breeders Crown and She’s A Great Lady Stakes, both at the Steacys’ home track of Mohawk, where she raced exclusively.
“The She’s A Great Lady was a huge win for the whole barn,” Shawn said. “That was the first indication where Sylvia was able to take on the best of the best and then went out there and beat them. She just stepped up and was sensational.”
Sylvia Hanover was the most glittering star in the Steacy universe, but there were others that also shone brightly. The 3-year-old trotting filly Warrawee Xenia won her elimination of the Hambletonian Oaks and was the favorite in the final but went off stride. She rebounded to win the Matron Stakes at year’s end and totaled nine victories, good for $194,677.
“She was a sensational filly,” Shawn said. “She kind of dropped the ball once or twice in the big-money races, but she was a really good, fast filly.”
Ace Of Aces hit the board in all four of his Grand Circuit starts, including a third-place finish in the Metro Pace, and earned nearly $200,000 in his 2-year-old season.
“We also had a bunch of others that were lunch-pail kind of horses that had good years, too,” Shawn noted.
For the season, the Steacy Stable ranked second in Canada with nearly $3 million in purses, trailing only perennial leading trainer Richard Moreau. The stable also was among the top 10 in wins.
Shawn has been listed as head trainer for four years, but nothing has changed since he and his brother, Clarke, teamed up with their dad some 20 years ago. It’s a true team effort all the way.
Mark is the family’s first full-time horseman. His dad, also Clarke, owned some horses and Mark accompanied him to the track. Clarke had a knack for picking out good yearlings at the sales but was in the restaurant business; racing was just a diversion. Mark began working with his dad’s horses and, like Shawn, was hooked immediately.
“I grew to love it. At an early age, that’s what I figured I would do,” Mark said. “I went into it full time when I came of age.”
Mark won three Breeders Crown trophies between 2006 and 2009 and had Canada’s Horse of the Year with Majestic Son in 2006. Shawn replaced Mark in the head trainer listing in 2019 and won the 2020 Johnston Cup as the top trainer in the Ontario Sires Stakes. Since that time, the stable has won more than 300 races and earned nearly $5 million in purses.
But all the Steacys share in the success.
“I’m basically the boss,” Mark said. “Shawn and I make the calls together. He’ll tell me if he thinks there is something we should try, and I’ll tell him the same thing. All the success I’ve had he’s been with me. I couldn’t have done it without him, and he still can’t do it without me.”
Most of the yearlings are sent to the Steacy farm in Lansdowne, Ont.—just east of Kingston—where Clarke handles their early development. They are then shipped to Shawn at First Line Training Center in Milton, Ont., which sits just north of Mohawk. There, Shawn and his wife, Natasha, work on getting them into racing shape.
“My wife works side-by-side with me every day in the barn,” Shawn said. “She takes care of a lot of our profile horses, and she gives the care to them that I can’t give. There’s a caring, loving factor to it.”
Natasha’s late grandfather, Florian Rivest, was a well known horseman who got her into harness racing. Shawn and Natasha met when a group of friends went out to dinner, “and after that she just couldn’t resist me,” Shawn said with a laugh. Natasha’s son (now Shawn’s stepson), 11-year-old Lucas House, helps in the barn and is already yearning for a driving career as he raced mini-ponies in the summer.
In reflecting on the landmark 2022 campaign, Shawn ranked Sylvia Hanover as one of his best horses ever, along with the Mark Steacy-trained pacing fillies Hana Hanover and Stylish Artist. He admitted that being listed as the head trainer when Sylvia Hanover won the Breeders Crown brought him unique joy.
“It probably felt a little more special, being the first one in my name,” he said. “Myself and my wife worked really close-knit with Sylvia all year. She did all the caretaking, and I did all the training with her. It just felt we were closer-knit in that situation than maybe some horses in the past.”
Shawn’s ability to train horses has earned his dad’s full respect, which is something that Shawn always had for his father.
“Someday he’ll have to do it without me, but he’ll have no problem doing that,” Mark said. “He’s probably the hardest-working guy I know, seven days a week. He works in the daytime. He’s at the track at night. He’s watched and he’s learned, and he’s a very smart guy. He knows the routine. He knows how to make a horse healthy and feel good.”
According to Shawn, they are traits picked up from his father.
“My dad is my hero,” he said. “Everything I do in my life is just trying to replicate what he is, what he has done with his life and his career, and what I want to do with mine. I just strive to be as good a trainer as he is and as good a family man as he is. My dad means everything to me.”
In looking toward 2023, the Steacys plan on racing a bit more in America, but Shawn insisted that “Mohawk will still be our bread and butter.”
His goals for the year will remain the same: simple.
“Good family, good horses, and hopefully a good life,” he said. “That’s about it.” HB
Rich Fisher is a freelance writer living in New Jersey. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.