A new twist on comprehensive predictive rankings for 3-year-olds
by Ken Weingartner
It is that time of year again. As preparations kick into high gear for stakes season, thoughts turn to what exciting performances will be witnessed, what horses will become or continue to be champions, and what records will fall. Since Stan Bergstein’s tenure as executive editor, it has been a long-standing tradition of Hoof Beats to compile statistics, thoughts and opinions of individuals in-volved in the industry to determine which equine stars will shine in the coming season.
After much rumination and discussion, Hoof Beats decided to move in a different direction to predict who the sport’s top performers in the sophomore class will be. Although the new method continues to rely on statistics—such as the top 10 horses in each division of age, gender and gait based on their 2018 record, total earnings, number of stakes contests won, and number of stakes with a purse of $75,000 or more won—it also includes trainer interviews.
Based on the data collected, Woodside Charm, Gimpanzee, Captain Crunch and Warrawee Ubeaut are the horses to beat heading into their 3-year-old campaigns. It is, however, a long sea-son where anything can happen. Also, each of these Dan Patch Award winners will have to fend off the bids of numerous challengers in order to reign supreme.
Colt and Gelding Trotters
When trainer Marcus Melander was prepping his 2-year-old trotters for action in the winter of 2018, Gimpanzee was the type that did nothing to stand out as the best of the group, but he also did nothing wrong.
One of those two things changed when the season began. Gimpanzee continued to do nothing wrong, winning all nine of his races. But when he concluded his campaign with a victory over stablemate Green Manalishi S in the Breeders Crown, he was not only the best in Melander’s stable but also in all the country.
Owned by Anders Strom’s Courant Inc. and Lennart Agren’s SRF Stable, Gimpanzee led all 2-year-old trotters in purses last season with $591,358, swept through six preliminary legs of the New York Sire Stakes before winning the final, and then capped his year with victories in his Breeders Crown elimination and the final. He set track records for 2-year-old male trotters at Saratoga (1:55.4) and Yonkers (1:56.3) along the way.
In December, he was named the Dan Patch Award winner for best 2-year-old male trotter. Since 2007, six male trotters have repeated at age 3 as a Dan Patch recipient: Donato Hanover, Dew-eycheatumnhowe, Lucky Chucky, Muscle Hill, Father Patrick and Pinkman.
“If we go back to last March, I felt he was a nice horse,” Melander said about Gimpanzee. “I may have liked Greenshoe or Green Manalishi better, but he did nothing wrong training down. When we brought him to The Meadowlands with the other horses [to train and qualify], you could see he was a really good horse.
“He went :55 in his first qualifier and :55 at Saratoga and :56 at Yonkers, which is pretty good for a 2-year-old trotter to go around those tracks that fast. He went around those half-mile tracks like he’d done it all his life. He was sound and healthy all year. When it came down to the Breeders Crown, he showed that he was the best.”
Gimpanzee was somewhat under the radar during the season because he raced on a state-bred cir-cuit while Green Manalishi S, also owned by Courant Inc., was winning on the Grand Circuit, capturing the William Wellwood Memorial and a division of the Bluegrass Stakes. He also finished second in the Peter Haughton Memorial. He was no worse than second in 10 races, winning five.
“He was a big horse last year,” Melander said. “I think he will improve even more this year. He filled out very nicely. I think he will have a really good season too. He was great. He lost maybe a little of his form at the end of the season, with the long trips to Canada and Lexington. But we were very happy with him. He’s a very nice horse.”
The wild card in Melander’s stable, and perhaps the entire 3-year-old male trotting ranks, is Green-shoe. Another owned by Courant Inc., Greenshoe won the New Jersey Sire Stakes final in 1:53.3, the fourth-fastest mark of 2018 for his division, but started only four times because of immaturity and sickness.
“He is a very, very fast horse,” Melander said. “He is probably the fastest of all my horses. He just needs to keep it together. He is more relaxed now and hopefully it stays that way. He would get a little too anxious behind the gate. He needs to be quieter; otherwise, he won’t do any good because he’s go-ing to need all of his energy to race instead of doing stupid things before the race and behind the gate. If he is mature enough, he will definitely have a good year. He is as good as the other two if he just keeps his head right.”
The 27-year-old Melander, who received the 2018 Rising Star Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association, has additional depth in the division with Gerry and Demon Onthe Hill, who were winners on the Pennsylvania stakes trail.
“There are other nice horses out there, but I’m really happy with my group,” Melander said. “I wouldn’t trade them for anyone.”
Don’t Let’em won the Peter Haughton Memorial on Hambletonian Day with a stakes- and track-record 1:51.4 mile. At season’s end, the time remained unsurpassed by any 2-year-old trotter.
The victory was the colt’s third in four starts, with his loss coming by a nose, but following the Haughton he went off stride in five of his final six races, winning only once.
“He went fast early and I think in the long run that might have hurt him a little bit,” said Nancy Jo-hansson, who took over the training of the colt. “He was probably a little bit more talented than he was ready mentally to go. He was never hot, he was just making stupid breaks. It just got to him, I think. I think we’ll keep him home as much as we can before the Hambletonian and keep his stress level down.”
Trainer Richard “Nifty” Norman watched Southwind Avenger end his season with a win in the Valley Victory Stakes following a second-place finish in the Ontario Sire Stakes Super final. The gelding won twice last year but had six runner-up performances. Norman’s Reign Of Honor won once, but made it count by capturing the Kindergarten Classic final.
“It’s always good to put them away in good shape,” Norman said. “Neither one of them really had any issues last year; they were sound and healthy. They grew a little over the winter, filled out a little, and I’m happy with both of them. Obviously, Gimpanzee and some other horses are better on paper, but I think mine are Top 10 horses anyway.”
O’Brien Award-winner Forbidden Trade was the Ontario Sire Stakes Super final champion, beating Southwind Avenger by a half-length in the final. He won seven of 11 races.
“He is a very smart horse,” trainer Luc Blais said. “He started slow, but he got better and better as the year went. I like that. He’s got a good attitude and he’s not tough on himself. He’s a very professional horse. I think he is going to be a very nice 3-year-old. We have big hopes for him.”
Super Schissel notched two Grand Circuit wins last year, including the Matron Stakes. He is now in the stable of Per Engblom, who also brings back Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champ Osterc.
“We paid Osterc into the Dexter Cup, so hopefully we can have him ready for that,” Engblom said. “I think he can fit that race pretty well. Then he’s going to be a player in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes and hopefully he can step it up and race with the better ones. Super Schissel raced late, so we gave him some extra time. We’re probably not going to race him until the Goodtimes eliminations, so we’ve got plenty of time with him and we’ll take our time. He’s a nice colt.”
Cantab Fashion put together a five-race win streak, including two stakes victories at Lexington’s Red Mile, during his seven-start campaign and tied for the season’s fastest time with a 1:51.4 mile.
“He went through a little problem where he got sore in his feet and missed the first couple stakes,” trainer Jim Campbell said. “We backed off with him a little bit, but he was really good when he got to Lexington. We had high hopes going into the Breeders Crown; it just didn’t work out. But he’s got a re-ally good attitude, high speed, good gaited—everything you would want in a horse. I’m really looking forward to his 3-year-old year and I was very happy with the way he looked when he came back in this year.”
Melanie Wrenn-trained Chin Chin Hall broke his maiden with a Grand Circuit win at Lexington’s Red Mile and won his Valley Victory elimination before finishing second in the final.
“He’s doing well,” driver Peter Wrenn said. “Those couple weeks in Lexington, he blossomed into a nice horse and he showed at the end last year he can do a little work on his own. It seems like he’s ma-tured a lot, put on a lot of bulk, which I like. He’s ready for the battles, I hope. He’s a player. That’s fun to have.”
Verlin Yoder is best known as the owner/trainer/driver of Dan Patch Award-winning filly trotter Wood-side Charm, but his colt It’s A Herbie was the Indiana Sire Stakes champion last year at 2 and finished no worse than second in his final 10 races. He will get a chance to race on the Grand Circuit this season.
“He made enough to pay his way into them, and I thought he deserved a shot,” Yoder said. “He was a very teachable horse last year. He’s not the smoothest gaited; he’s just a big old gangly horse. He drives fine and everything, but those big horses just take longer to get there than the others. But usually if they do get there, they’re a lot of fun.”
Swandre The Giant finished second to It’s A Herbie in the Indiana final and is now in the stable of train-er Ron Burke.
“I love him,” Burke said. “He’s training down great. He gives me a chance to maybe be a factor [in the division]. A couple of my other colts disappointed me last year and are training down great, but they’ve got to prove it to me this year.”
Kings County was one of the season’s fastest 2-year-old male trotters and a multiple stakes winner.
“We raced him at a lower class when we started, but when we stepped up, he showed how he was,” trainer Domenico Cecere said. “He is a speedy horse. You can’t teach speed; the speed is there. He’s come back pretty good, stronger than last year. I know there are a lot of good 3-year-olds, but I’m happy with him.”
Wellwood Memorial runner-up Smart As Hill hit the board in eight of 10 races and won his elimination of the Breeders Crown before going off stride in the final.
“We’re pretty excited about him,” trainer Mike Keeling said. “I think he has all the tools to be a nice colt. He’s a great-mannered horse, very easy on himself, and he’s got a tremendous gliding ability. He can achieve a high speed and carry it a long way.”
John Butenschoen will be without New York Sire Stakes runner-up Thunder until after the Hambletoni-an because of a coffin bone injury, but the trainer hopes Kentucky Sire Stakes champion Forecast and Seven Hills can prove to be contenders for the event.
“I’m happy with both of them,” Butenschoen said. “Forecast grew up nice. He was a big tall rangy colt last year and I think he’s filled out real nice and will be a stronger version of himself. Seven Hills seemed to have a big set of lungs. He had some ability and he seemed to be able to carry his speed.”
Stakes-winner Prospect Hill won seven of his first nine races for trainer Julie Miller. He was diagnosed with a broken foot toward the end of the season but has returned strong.
“So far he’s been sound and training really well,” Miller said. “He’s more of a fine-boned-featured horse for being a stud, which is uncharacteristic. But he has a great gait and covers a lot of ground.”
Entering last year, filly trotter Woodside Charm was unknown to most people in racing. After a dominant 2-year-old campaign, in which she finished 7-for-7 and which included a world record at Saratoga Casino Hotel, a Breeders Crown trophy and a Dan Patch Award, she enters this year known as her division’s horse to beat at age 3.
Woodside Charm—owned, trained and driven by Verlin Yoder—won her seven races by a total of nearly 38 lengths and never saw a rival within 1¾ lengths of her at the finish. Her 1:53.4 victory at Sa-ratoga Casino Hotel is history’s fastest mile by a 2-year-old trotter on a half-mile track, bettering the previous record of 1:55.2 for a 2-year-old filly, not to mention Don Dream’s 1:55 mark for a male.
She earned $521,658 in purses, which led all 2-year-old filly trotters. Her best win time of 1:53, set on the five-eighths oval at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in her Breeders Crown elimination, was second in the division to only When Dovescry’s 1:52.3 clocking at Lexington’s Red Mile.
“Woodside Charm looked scary,” said trainer Richard “Nifty” Norman, who conditioned the most re-cent 3-year-old filly trotter to be named Horse of the Year, Bee A Magician, in 2013. “We’ll see how she comes back, but she looked like a freak. You don’t see a gait like that too often—an unbelievable gait.
“Sometimes things change when they turn 3; maybe some of the others catch up. It can always change. But she looked head and shoulders the best.”
For his part, the 45-year-old Yoder, who last year established career highs of 31 wins and $1.38 mil-lion in purses as a trainer to go with a career-best $1.15 million as a driver, prefers focusing on his filly rather than handicapping the competition.
“I try not to go there,” Yoder said. “There are a lot of nice fillies out there.”
If nothing else, Woodside Charm has recent history on her side. Over the past 17 years, no division has produced more repeat Dan Patch Award winners than the 3-year-old filly trotters, with nine 2-year-old champions returning to claim a trophy the following year. The majority of those repeaters have occurred in the past seven years, when Check Me Out, Shake It Cerry, Mission Brief, Broadway Donna and Ariana G all accomplished the feat.
“You hope they come back good, but you really don’t know until you get behind the gate a couple times and see if they’ve still got fight,” Yoder said. “[Woodside Charm] has done everything she’s sup-posed to do so far. She grew up, she got longer and thicker, so that’s good. That’s what you’re hoping for at this stage of the game.”
Woodside Charm is by Chapter Seven out of Fireworks Hanover and is a half-sister to millionaire Explosive Matter. She overcame a leg injury as a weanling that cast doubt on her future to become the best horse of Yoder’s career to date.
“I like her speed and smartness,” Yoder said last year. “There are a lot of trotting fillies that are fast, but if you find one that’s teachable and you can use when you want to use, then it’s a different game.”
So does going from an unknown to the talk of the division put pressure on Yoder and Woodside Charm?
“No,” Yoder said. “As a human being, if you go behind the gate enough you’re going to screw up. You will make mistakes. You’ve got to be able to accept that, and then there is no pressure.
“You’ve got to enjoy the ride and have fun while you’re doing it. Just to be with those [other top horses] is rewarding.”
Woodside Charm, who is not eligible to the Hambletonian Oaks, was among the five fastest and five richest 2-year-old filly trotters last season, a distinction shared by—in alphabetical order—Sonnet Grace, The Ice Dutchess, When Dovescry and Whispering Oaks.
The Ice Dutchess won two of the season’s most lucrative stakes for 2-year-old filly trotters, the Jim Doherty Memorial and Peaceful Way. She was trained by Jimmy Takter, who retired at the end of last season, and is now in the stable of Nancy Johansson.
“She’s really nice,” Johansson said. “Nothing bothers her. She’s tough. She’s really good-gaited too. I think she was maybe a little tired at the end of last year. Woodside Charm is a very nice filly, but she maybe had a little more in reserve at that time. I think people will be surprised how even they will race this year, in my opinion.”
Sonnet Grace went off stride in her Breeders Crown elimination, but otherwise won three of her final four starts, including the Goldsmith Maid. Her loss came by a neck to When Dovescry in the Matron.
“We’re all chasing Verlin’s filly,” Sonnet Grace’s trainer Ron Burke said. “Everybody is a step behind her. There’s another group of us that are there, but we’ve got to go get her. She to me was as impressive as anybody since Mission Brief. She’s special and people are going to find out that don’t know already that Verlin is sharp.
“Mine does have high, high speed. If I can teach her to race, she’s got the breeding to go long. I’ve definitely aimed her for (ages) 3 and 4.”
Per Engblom, running his own stable after six years as Takter’s top assistant, inherited Whispering Oaks as well as Beautiful Sin, who was limited to five 2018 starts because of injury. Whispering Oaks won sire stakes titles in New Jersey and Kentucky. Beautiful Sin was favored in all five of her races, winning three, and was second by a nose in her Doherty elimination and by a neck to The Ice Dutchess in the final.
“Whispering Oaks put on a lot of weight and she’s actually looking much more solid this year,” Engblom said. “She’s a fast horse. I don’t think she is one that can go all the way, but if she trips out, she can pretty much beat anyone.
Rene Allard-trained When Dovescry hit the board in all eight of her starts, winning five of her last six. In addition to capturing the Matron, she won a division of the International Stallion and her elimination of the Breeders Crown. She was second to Woodside Charm in the Breeders Crown final.
“She was born good,” driver Simon Allard said. “She was naturally fast, good conformation, and a very clean gait. She always did everything easily. She really wanted to go faster than we asked her to. We always thought she was our best one. We could have raced her early, but we waited so she was fresh late in the year.”
“Evident Beauty has always had trot—that’s one thing I liked about her,” Norman said. “She’s always finishing up good. She’s done everything we’ve asked of her. She got better and better as the year went on. I liked her all along. I have a lot of confidence in her.
“Princess Deo is the same; all she did was finish strong all the time. She’s a great big strong filly. She looks like the right type—the big, powerful go-all-day type.
“Mother Bonnie won her first start in :55 flat and looked like a really good filly. She had a couple little things go wrong, but she looked like she had enough ability. She’s got a beautiful gait and is very athletic.”
Stella Jane, called “a classic overachiever” last year by trainer John Butenschoen, won three races, in-cluding the Kindergarten final, and was second on four occasions—three times to Woodside Charm and once to Beautiful Sin.
“She grew up well and is training back good,” Butenschoen said. “She’s just a nice filly. She shows up every week and she tries. She’s just very consistent. You need them.”
Julie Miller-trained Special Honor was a Grand Circuit winner and second to Woodside Charm in the Kentuckiana Stallion Management Stakes.
“I really like how she’s matured, particularly physically,” Miller said. “She’s an athletic-looking filly and has a good attitude. She got a little sick last year, so we missed some of the bigger races in Canada, but she bounced back well at the end of the season. It’s a tough division; there are a lot of nice trotting fillies out there, and I think she’s one of them.”
Once-beaten sire stakes champions Winndevie (New York) and Only Take Cash (Ohio) were also among last year’s richest filly trotters. Winndevie, trained by Trond Smedshammer, suffered her only loss when she finished second in Woodside Charm’s world-record mile at Saratoga.
Only Take Cash lost by a neck in her Ohio debut, but won her remaining races by a minimum of one length for trainer Bob McIntosh.
“She did everything we asked of her and we never really had to go to the bottom of the tank, which is nice,” McIntosh said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how she stacks up against [Grand Circuit competition]. My biggest fear was that she wouldn’t grow, but she did, so that was a relief. I’m really happy with her.”
Colt and Gelding Pacers
Fairytales can come true. And true stories can become fairytales. So it is with the true story fairytale of Captain Crunch.
Captain Crunch’s co-owner Buck Chaffee, who owns Caviart Farms with his wife, Judy, offered his take on the tale for the crowd at February’s Dan Patch Awards banquet, where Captain Crunch was honored as the sport’s best 2-year-old male pacer of 2018.
He told of a young girl, Ella Johansson, falling in love with a colt and her mother, trainer Nancy Jo-hansson, putting together a team of owners to buy the horse. He talked of Johansson and her husband, Marcus, turning him “from a young whippersnapper into a great athlete.” Enter driver Scott Zeron, guiding the horse to victories “until one rainy night at the Breeders Crown the horse wins his Crown and the young girl, who is now a princess, comes back and kisses the horse and he turns into a champion.”
“That’s sort of the story of Captain Crunch,” Chaffee said. “At least that’s the first year. And now we’re looking forward to the next year. Hopefully, Marcus and Nancy have some more magic left and will work their magic and the horse will do well and we’ll be back here again. But I know we’ll all live happily ever after. It’s a great story.”
Captain Crunch, a son of Captaintreacherous out of Sweet Paprika, from the family of Dan Patch Award-winner Sweet Lou and multimillionaire Bettor Sweet, won six of 10 races last year and led all 2-year-old male pacers in purses. His victories included the Breeders Crown, Governor’s Cup and divi-sions of the International Stallion Stakes and Nassagaweya.
He will try to become only the fourth male pacer in 24 years to earn Dan Patch honors at ages 2 and 3, joining his sire Captaintreacherous, Somebeachsomewhere and Bettor’s Delight.
“Right now, he’s definitely the one to beat,” said trainer Brian Brown, who returns several horses that will take aim at Captain Crunch. “He’s the one we’re all going to be shooting for.”
Johansson brought Captain Crunch along slowly last year, for a variety of reasons; his big size, his immaturity, and the need for preservation for the long haul. He won his first three races, then battled sickness at mid-season before winning three of his final five starts while finishing second once.
“Scott did a great job with ‘Crunch,’” Johansson said. “We never saw the bottom with him. And until maybe the Breeders Crown final, it was probably the first time he actually knew what he was doing out there. He was very mentally immature.”
The colt matured over the winter, Johansson said, and he remains an eye-catching specimen.
“He has charisma,” Johansson said. “You see him and you’re like, ‘Who is this?’ When he is on the track jogging with the other horses, it’s like he’s got a spotlight on him. I pinch myself. I’m like, ‘How did we end up with him for $85,000? How did that happen?’ It was just meant to be, I guess. We were at the right place at the right time. You need to be lucky.
“And you need Ella too.”
Captain Crunch is not Johansson’s only top returning horse in the division. She took over the train-ing of Matron Stakes winner Blood Money from her retired father, Jimmy Takter.
“I always liked Blood Money when he trained down last year,” Johansson said. “I always had my eye on him and told my dad it was his best pacer. I personally think he was one of the best of the year. He had to be in the top five pacing colts. He’s a good-sized colt, so if he can just get a little stronger, I think he will be right there too.
“Blood Money and Crunch are different types of horses. I think that works to our advantage. Blood Money is one of those quick, handy horses. I think he will do well some places I wouldn’t take Crunch. I like Blood Money. I wouldn’t sell him short. I think he can improve from last year. I’m very excited about this year.”
O’Brien Award winner and Metro Pace champion Stag Party hit the board in all nine of his starts last season, winning six, for trainer Casie Coleman. He was worse than second only once, in the Ontario Sire Stakes Super final, when he was coming off a three-week layoff and bout of sickness. He was scratched from the Breeders Crown the following week because of an issue with a high nail.
“It was just one thing after another the last couple starts, but I’m real happy with him and the way he’s come back so far,” Coleman said. “I couldn’t have been happier with him last year. You can do any-thing with him. It’s very easy to manage him and he gets around any sized track.
“It’s going to be tough this year because there are a lot of nice colts. Captain Crunch looked great last year, ended his season very good, but I don’t see anyone that looks like that killer standout right now. I hope there is a standout and it’s Stag Party, but I think it’s going to be the kind of group that mixes it up a lot.”
Brown’s hopefuls in the division include three returning stakes winners: Proof, who, in addition to winning on the Grand Circuit, was the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion and Breeders Crown runner-up; once-beaten Workin Ona Mystery; and Air Force Hanover.
“Even though I think Captain Crunch is the horse to beat, I like my three and I like how they’re coming back,” Brown said. “I’m not looking to trade them for anybody. None of them had any serious lameness issues last year, so they’re coming back in pretty good shape so far.
“Air Force Hanover has really grown and filled out. He was a June foal, so he was always kind of a little bit behind. It didn’t seem to really hurt him. His biggest problem was he was a little hard to handle. I think by the end of the year we had that worked out. Proof looks really sharp right now and I expect him to be better this year.
“Workin Ona Mystery—last year at one time, I thought he was my best one of the three. He bled pretty good in his Breeders Crown elimination and that’s the only time he was beaten. I think Lasix is going to help them a lot. They were all [Pennsylvania] horses and you can’t race a 2-year-old on Lasix in Pennsylvania.”
Tony Alagna also had a stable with multiple stakes-winners last season, including Captain Trevor, Cap-tain Ahab and Escapetothebeach.
“Captain Ahab was definitely the best 2-year-old pacing colt I’ve ever sat behind,” driver Andy McCarthy said. “I think he’s got a big year ahead of him. He’s something special.”
No Mas Amor paced 1:49.1 to win an International Stallion Stakes division, sharing the mark for the season’s best clocking with Captain Crunch, and won his Breeders Crown elimination before finishing fourth in the final.
“He always had enough speed and he seemed to put it all together at the end of last year,” said Linda Toscano, who trained the colt for his final three races. “I wasn’t sure if the [International Stallion] was a fluke because everything went his way and he picked up the pieces, but then he came back in the Breeders Crown elimination. He was a pleasure to train. He’s versatile, the perfect-sized horse for any racetrack, and he’s great-gaited.”
John McDermott Jr.-trained Hurrikane Emperor was a double sire stakes champ, winning titles in New Jersey and Kentucky. He was one of only three 2-year-old male pacers, with Captain Crunch and Stag Party, to rank in the Top 10 for earnings and speed.
“He impresses me more every day I’m with him,” John McDermott Sr. said. “His potential is endless. He’s got wicked speed like his father [Hurrikane Kingcole], but he’s the most intelligent and manageable horse I’ve ever been around. He’s like an old soul. He loves his job.
“I think he’s as good as any of them. I think Stag Party is amazing, I think Captain Crunch is amazing, I think the other colts are all really nice, and I think he’s right there with them.”
Mangogh was a multiple Grand Circuit stakes winner for trainer Bruce Saunders and ranked among the season’s fastest 2-year-old male pacers. Saunders is aiming for the North America Cup-Max C. Hempt Memorial-Meadowlands Pace stretch that begins in mid-June.
“He should be in the conversation,” Saunders said. “He has a couple of attributes that are necessary to be a top colt. He never gets tired and he developed the kind of gate speed to position himself in those races. He’s strong, he loves his job. He not only has lasting speed, but he has quick speed. He doesn’t need to improve much to be competitive.”
Nova Scotia’s Wayne McGean usually develops young horses and sells them, but decided last year to hold on to his 2-year-olds. His reward was O’Brien finalist Bronx Seelster, who counted the Battle of Waterloo among his seven victories.
“We staked him up pretty good,” McGean said. “He is one of those horses that just fights right to the end. He’s tough. He likes to race. He’s one of those kind you don’t get very often. It took me 61 years to get one that good. This is just a hobby. I’m just having a bit of good luck now.”
De Los Cielos Deo won his first five races last season before finishing second in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final and his elimination of the Metro. He was no better than fourth in three remaining starts, but was dealing with a foot issue.
“He started out like the horse that I thought he was,” trainer Ron Burke said. “He had a little hiccup at the end, but I still have faith in him. I still think he’s a top-top horse and can be as good as any 3-year-old we’ve had. I’ve got to work carefully with him and make sure soundness does not become an issue, and maybe change his racing style a little bit, but I still love that colt.”
When filly pacer Warrawee Ubeaut stopped the clock in 1:48.3 last October at Lexington’s Red Mile, co-owner Mark Weaver was thrilled. He was also relieved. For years, Weaver watched and wondered when Sweet Lou’s 1:49 world record for a 2-year-old pacer, set in 2011, would fall. The mark was equaled twice, but never lowered until one of Sweet Lou’s own offspring, Warrawee Ubeaut, accom-plished the feat.
“I’ve always kind of been protective of Sweet Lou’s 1:49 mark,” said Weaver, who was among Sweet Lou’s owners during his racing career and remains in the stallion’s syndicate. “When it got beat, it was actually a relief that it was by one of his. I thought that was pretty neat for her to do that. That was awesome.”
While becoming history’s fastest 2-year-old pacer was awesome, it was far from Warrawee Ubeaut’s only accomplishment. The filly won multiple Grand Circuit stakes, including the Breeders Crown, and led all 2-year-old pacers in earnings with $646,995 in purses. At the end of the season, she was named the division’s Dan Patch Award winner by the U.S. Harness Writers Association.
“She had a great year,” trainer Ron Burke said. “There is no limit on what she can do. The filly has as much speed as any horse we’ve ever had. I think as long as we manage her correctly, she is going to be very competitive and can do special things.”
Trying to predict success from one year to the next can be a fool’s errand. Since the first Dan Patch Award for 2-year-old filly pacers was handed out in 1978, only six divisional champions have returned at age 3 to capture a second trophy: Three Diamonds, Town Pro, Miss Easy, Worldly Beauty, See You At Peelers and Pure Country.
Beginning in 2011, though, being the fastest 2-year-old filly (or tied for fastest) has produced three Dan Patch Award winners at age 3: American Jewel, I Luv The Nitelife and Pure Country. Another four fillies in that category won at least $400,000 at 3.
“If you don’t have the speed, then the manners or the gait or anything else doesn’t matter really,” said Yannick Gingras, who was Warrawee Ubeaut’s only driver. “For her, I don’t think that part needs to im-prove too much. I think if she stays the same or improves just a little bit speed-wise, she will be just fine.
“But definitely, as a 3-year-old, there are more that can go with you. Manners and being able to put her in spots where she might be uncomfortable and have her relax, that’s a big thing when you go from 2 to 3, in my opinion. At 2, you can overpower them, but at 3, you just can’t do that. But I don’t think it will be an issue at all. I think she is the total package.”
Warrawee Ubeaut, a half-sister to O’Brien Award-winning millionaire Warrawee Needy, impressed Gingras from the time he began driving her.
“She always had the high speed,” Gingras said. “She’s got gears that not many horses have. The biggest thing with her was to get her to relax. It was a work in progress, but I thought that as the year went on, she got the point of what we were trying to do. She got better and better.
“I know she is training back good and is really relaxed. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. She is a smart filly and she is going to keep on learning.”
Burke’s group of 3-year-old filly pacers also includes Sylph Hanover, who won the Matron Stakes and Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship, as well as Grand Circuit winner St Somewhere.
“I should have a good 1-2-3 punch all year,” Burke said. “But it’s a tough division. I thought the pacing divisions had more depth than in years past. I think you’re going to see a lot of tough racing this year.”
Said Gingras, “I think there are probably six to eight fillies that could be the best one this year, depending on how they come back. But at this point, I wouldn’t trade mine for any of them. I’m happy with the one I have. I think we’re sitting in a good spot.”
Joe Holloway-trained Zero Tolerance hit the board in all 13 of her races last year, winning seven, including a Bluegrass Stakes division. She finished second twice to Warrawee Ubeaut—in the Breeders Crown and Kentuckiana Stallion Management Stakes—and also was second in the Three Diamonds.
“Fillies are fillies; they’re temperamental,” Holloway said. “Not many of them just do their work, go about their business, and don’t have bad days. To me, she’s an anomaly. She doesn’t really have bad days. She never threw in a bad start. Knock on wood, I hope that continues.
“She got bigger over the winter. I think she looks tremendous. I’m really looking forward to her.”
Jim Avritt Sr. was the breeder of 13 horses foaled in 2016, and two of them finished last season among the richest 2-year-old filly pacers: Three Diamonds winner Prescient Beauty and Kentucky Sire Stakes champion Beautyonthebeach. Avritt retained ownership of the fillies, who finished third and fourth, respectively, in the Breeders Crown. Both are trained by Gregg McNair.
“They’ve come back nice,” Avritt said. “The year might help Beautyonthebeach a little more. She was a big, growthy filly and she filled out over the winter. I hope it will help her maybe step up. They were both very honest, very consistent last year. You got a good effort out of them each time. They really gave you everything they had.
“It’s great to own two fillies like this, it’s really amazing, but to have bred them, foaled them, raised them and broken them myself, it’s that much sweeter. It’s not often that one small breeder has two fillies that good. I guess I’m a little prejudiced, but I put both of them in the top five. If not, they’re not far away.”
Tony Alagna also trained two of the division’s richest horses last year, O’Brien Award and She’s A Great Lady winner Tall Drink Hanover and Treacherous Reign, who finished a dead-heat second with Prescient Beauty in the She’s A Great Lady. Alagna’s Key West and Odds On St Lucie also notched Grand Circuit triumphs.
Tall Drink Hanover’s mark of 1:50 at Red Mile would have equaled the world record for a 2-year-old filly pacer, but it came six races after Warrawee Ubeaut’s historic mile.
“She was terrific,” said driver Andy McCarthy, who was behind Tall Drink Hanover for her final eight races. “She was push-button to drive and very strong. You could pretty much do whatever you wanted with her. Her attitude and demeanor were terrific. She was a very relaxed filly. It’s not going to be an easy year [in 2019], but I definitely think she’s good enough.”
Queen Of The Pride, from the stable of trainer Kevin Lare, won the Ohio Sire Stakes championship and was second in three Grand Circuit races, including the Matron and Warrawee Ubeaut’s world-record International Stallion Stakes.
“I was very happy with her,” Lare said. “It was good to see she could go with the best of the best. The bigger track is definitely her forte and she even grew some more this year, her hobbles have been let out quite a bit, so I expect she is going to be able to cover a little bit more ground. She’s staked to everything this year; she’s not going to have too many weeks off.”
Money Shot Hanover won the New York Sire Stakes final and will look to make noise on the Grand Circuit this season for trainer Mark Harder.
“It might be a little bit of wishful thinking, but I think she’s got the talent,” Harder said. “I don’t know if she can beat those top-top ones, but she certainly can go right there with them. She’s fast, she’s good gaited, she’s grown up, strengthened up, and has got a good attitude. She wants to be a horse.”
Scott DiDomenico-trained So Awesome missed the New York Sire Stakes title by a nose to Money Shot Hanover and also could step up on the bigger stage. She had a win over St Somewhere in a sire stakes division last season and finished second twice to Zero Tolerance.
“That leads you to have some optimism about it for sure,” DiDomenico said. “She’s a good filly; she’s quality. I loved her handiness; she’s very quick. She gets into stride fast. I think she will be better this year. I think she will do well in New York and wherever else she goes. She looks great. She grew up and filled out some. We’ll see.”
Ken Weingartner is the USTA Media Relations Manager. To comment on this story, email us at email@example.com