Team Tritton finding a new home in the States
story by James Witherite
After winning multiple training and driving championships in their native New South Wales, Shane and Lauren Tritton were determined to take on the epicenter of the harness racing world.
And so they did.
In the 3½ years since leaving Australia and embarking on their American adventure—and all its ups, downs and unexpected bends in the road—with a dozen horses, the Trittons have found their groove.
“I’ve always lived with the idea that if you stay doing the same thing, you never really improve,” said Shane Tritton. “We took a lot of different steps in our career to try to get to the next level, and we thought this was the next stage for us. Obviously, it’s a very daunting one—it’s a whole new country and a whole new way of training.”
The duo had conquered just about every major test in southeastern Australia, and consistently ranked in the top five of the metropolitan training and driving tables in New South Wales every season since 2013-14. Lauren (née Panella) amassed 907 driving wins—10 in Group 1 races—while maintaining an astonishing 27-percent win rate, while Shane trained the winners of 995 races (four Group 1 wins) and maintained a 19-percent strike rate under his own name before he and Lauren together—operating under the Team Tritton moniker since 2016—added another 364 training wins and six Group 1 titles.
“We’d been training over there for 15 years,” Tritton said. “We always had 50 to 90 horses; we were a Grand Circuit premiership-winning stable. Things were at the top of the game of what we could achieve in Australia, and we got the idea in our head that we’d like to dip our toe in America if we got the opportunity. We put all the balls in place and had everything ready (to leave mid-2020), but then COVID hit, which forced our hand to go a few months earlier than we expected. We jumped on a plane, landed in New York, and it’s been a roller coaster since then.”
Despite the Trittons’ success with mile racing in Australia, there was—by Shane’s admission—a much bigger learning curve involved to acclimate to training and racing in America than he had initially conceived.
“We were predominantly more successful at mile racing in Australia than we were at the longer trip, so we figured that when we came here, it would suit us because they race over a mile,” he said. “But it’s so different to that—the mile racing here is kind of like 1½ miles back home. The way they drive them in this country, in every single race, is so taxing on the horses. It does change the way you have to approach the training, the treatments, and how you look after them.
“It’s certainly been an eye-opener. I assumed it was just mile racing and that it is what it is, but it’s been different. Getting used to that and letting the horses acclimatize to that has been the biggest part I needed to learn.”
The other major stumbling block the Trittons faced on arrival was finding the right horses to be competitive in the first place.
“It wasn’t horses that we chose; it was the ones that (the owners) wanted to go,” Tritton said. “We said, ‘Look, if you want to come, we’ll come.’ We didn’t knock back anyone. In hindsight, we probably should have been a little more selective.”
He related that his most successful horses in Australia were those that could accelerate on a dime, downshift just as easily, and sustain multiple moves in a race. But given the more aggressive nature of mile racing in the States, sheer hardiness—more so than stamina over long stretches of ground or the ability to shift gears—is often a horse’s most valuable attribute on this side of the Pacific.
“We’ve spent the last 2½ years working out what type of horses you need, what type of stable you need, what horses work, what horses don’t,” Tritton continued. “I trained most of the horses I brought with me (in Australia), and I saw how some of them reacted differently—some improved, some struggled, some didn’t handle the type of racing. It was a unique perspective for me, because sometimes you bring a horse over and you just think the horse wasn’t good enough in the first place or something was wrong with it, but the way we did it, we experienced how the horses can actually change because we’ve seen it on both sides.
“It opened our perspective a lot to what type of horses suit here. That’s the biggest positive that’s come out of it. We can be very selective about what type of horses we buy for our owners, and I think it sets us up for hopefully a lot of success in the future.”
This season has been something of a turning point for Team Tritton—not just in terms of the horses under their care, but especially with those which they own. Their starters are winning at a 20.6-percent strike rate, and they are on pace to achieve single-season highs in both wins and purses with 53 wins and $1.022 million in purses earned through mid-September.
Additionally, the $363,468 earned by the nine horses they hold sole ownership of lands them just outside the top 100 owners in North America. To make matters more impressive, they’re achieving these numbers with a stable of roughly 20 horses—a far cry from their crowded shed rows half a world away.
“We’re operating under a very small scale of horses than we’re used to having, which was by design,” Tritton said. “We want to be able to spend the time to learn, and we do a lot of the things ourselves—we’re still very hands-on, and that requires that you can’t have a big stable. I’ve got to get my hands dirty to know exactly what happens, and that’s what we’ve been doing. Hopefully, it’s paying dividends as we go.”
Among those horses is Lochinvar Art A, whom the Trittons raced against in Australia before they landed together on this continent last October. The millionaire enjoyed a strong spring showing, winning six of 13 races this season, including two preliminary legs of the MGM Borgata Series at Yonkers, and taking his North American lifetime mark of 1:50 in the Battle of Lake Erie, on June 10 at MGM Northfield Park. The 8-year-old pacer has also given the other half of Team Tritton an opportunity to showcase her driving ability stateside.
An Australasian driving champion, the 30-year-old Lauren has only appeared in the stable’s signature black and pink colors 198 times since arriving in the States, but with 53 wins in that time, she’s maintained her sparkling 27-percent win rate. This season alone, she’s won 20 of 98 races, with Lochinvar Art A’s Battle of Lake Erie win Lauren’s biggest score to date. Not only was Lauren the first female driver to win the Battle, but she was also the first woman to ever start in the invitational for top older pacers.
“I’m glad she got a chance to show what she can do,” Shane said. “This country and this industry need that. The amount of young girls that have reached out to her saying that it’s amazing, and the amount of people that have stood up and said it’s great to see the girls can do it . . . it’s good that she’s done that.
“She gets, if not more, exactly the same as any other driver going around,” he continued. “If you look at her last 100 drives, you would struggle to find a bad one, and that’s an accomplishment considering where she’s driving and how often she drives. She rarely panics and doesn’t get herself into a tricky spot. If the horse is generally good enough, it can earn. You can’t teach that.”
But with two young kids at home—Levi, 6; and Emily, 2½—Lauren’s commitment as a mother takes precedence over a full-time driving career.
“It’s hard to be at race meetings at night when you’ve got young children at home,” Shane said. “She wants to make sure she’s home for them; she really puts them first, which is amazing.”
Shane and Lauren Tritton aren’t the first Trittons in harness racing to emigrate from Australia: Shane’s dad, Peter, made the trek in 2002, initially landing in Delaware before ultimately relocating to Pine Bush, N.Y., where Shane and Lauren also planted roots when they arrived.
“I didn’t really get a chance to grow up much with my dad, so this part of my life I thought it would be a chance to spend some time with him, as well,” Tritton offered. “When your dad moves to another country, it’s hard to keep in touch. This was a good opportunity for us, career-wise and family-wise.”
Peter, now 72, has enjoyed success with the likes of Australasian imports Bit Of A Legend N p,9,1:49.4h ($2,569,621) and Ball Gown A p,7,1:51f ($500,474). And after having had a few years to acclimate to racing in the States, Shane and Lauren Tritton have settled on a similar strategy to build their stable for future growth.
“The three years since we’ve been here had to happen the way they had; we had to trial a lot of things,” Tritton concluded. “Where we’re at right now is a reassessment of the last three years, and we’ve worked out what’s good and what’s bad.
“I think we’re going to go down the path of focusing more on what we know best: bringing horses over from Australia and New Zealand; searching for the right type; dabble with a couple of babies, not too many; and try to build our stable around our expertise—bringing horses over, acclimatizing them, and getting them to race—like Nandolo N, Anothrmastrpiece N, Lochinvar Art A. There’s a long list of horses that have come over here and been able to race at a high level. I know we can do that, and that’s probably where we should focus our attention—build a solid stable of hard-hitting horses, and try to uncover a few champions along the way.” HB
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