Phenomenal

Party Girl Hill paces her way into history

Story by Hope Ellis-Ashburn

Party Girl Hill had quite the year—a near-perfect year, to be exact.

The 3-year-old filly with international connections is by Captaintreacherous and out of Look Cheap. She competes as a homebred for Tom Hill, a native of Lancashire, England, and is trained by New Zealander Chris Ryder.

Hill was born into the sport. Ryder, the son of a horse dealer and trainer, has developed into a highly successful conditioner in the U.S. Dexter Dunn, Party Girl Hill’s regular pilot, provides an additional international connection in that he, like Ryder, hails from New Zealand.

While it’s undeniable Party Girl Hill deserves the high praise she has earned, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

As a 2-year-old, Party Girl Hill broke the P1 bone in her right hind leg. The break turned out to be a common hairline stress fracture that required only rest, no surgery, to heal. She had been training strongly and appeared to have a bright future.

“A couple of days before she was due to qualify, I got a call from Brian Brown, who was her trainer at the time,” said Hill. “He said, ‘Tom, I don’t know how to tell you this, but the filly is lame.’”

Brown explained he had Party Girl Hill X-rayed and, while the results did indicate a fracture, it was not complete.

“[Brown] said to give her time off and it would heal properly,” Hill said.

Hill explained that while they would have been content with giving Party Girl Hill six to eight weeks off, at that point the season would have been more or less over.

“She didn’t need as long as she got, but she was worth waiting for,” Hill said. “It wasn’t viable to bring her back.

“She would have been getting the tail end of some races in bad weather and I didn’t want to do that. She’s really nice and I wanted to give her the best chance, so that’s what we did.”

While the extended time off prevented Party Girl Hill from demonstrating early dominance, her connections knew they had something special long before she appeared in a pari-mutuel event.

“Brown said the filly was well worth waiting for,” Hill said. “He knew she was an exceptional filly and how great she would be.”

After a dazzling sophomore campaign during which Party Girl Hill became a world champion and defeated males, it appears the year off may have been a blessing in disguise.

“Bone heals,” Hill said. “It’s soft tissue injuries that can be a bit of a dodgy thing, so thank God, it was just a bone and once they do heal, they probably become stronger.”

While the filly was recovering, Hill decided to change trainers and selected Ryder to pick up the reins.

“I received the call from Tom over the winter that they were sending her to me,” Ryder said. “I spoke with [Brown] while we were in Florida and he gave me the heads up that she was doing really well. She was shipped to me in March and arrived in terrific order. She was a lovely filly and there was never one complication taking care of her.”

Prior to arriving in Ryder’s barn, Party Girl Hill finished second in a qualifier at Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park on March 9, 2020. After adjusting to her new surroundings, the filly captured two qualifiers at The Meadowlands on May 30 and June 6.

Party Girl Hill demonstrated her ability in her very first start, which was a conditioned event at The Meadowlands on June 12. The filly, with Dunn in the bike, cruised over the East Rutherford oval. She stopped the clock in 1:50.2, more than two seconds faster than her closest rival, and paced a :26.3 final quarter.

Ryder was not shocked about the performance.

“We knew immediately what we had on our hands,” he said. “It was simply waiting for the opportunity for her to show it, so I was not surprised by what she did right away.”

Despite knowing he had such a talented filly in his barn, Ryder chose to bring Party Girl Hill along slowly. Her second start was a non-winners event at The Meadowlands before taking on sire stakes competition at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. This resulted in two more victories and prepared her for a Grand Circuit debut in the $107,320 Adioo Volo on Aug. 1 at The Meadows.

After winning the Adioo Volo with relative ease, Party Girl Hill began to attract attention and extended her unbeaten streak to six with another victory at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on Aug. 9. Ryder had entered Party Girl Hill in another sire stakes leg scheduled for Aug. 20 but called an audible and shipped her to Canada to compete in a $26,600 elimination of the Fan Hanover at Woodbine Mohawk Park on Aug. 22.

The filly won that race and the $304,000 final prior to returning to the Keystone State to annex the $253,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final at Harrah’s Philadelphia on Sept. 6. That is when Party Girl Hill’s undefeated record and ability became one of the top headlines in the sport.

Her next engagement was at the Delaware County Fairgrounds on Sept. 23 in the $237,725 Jugette, and she did not disappoint. The filly set a world record of 1:49.3 in her elimination, which was the first sub-1:50 clocking in history for her age, gait, and gender on a half-mile track, prior to rolling home in the final by 3½ lengths in 1:50.3.

“She just proved what I’ve been telling everybody, that she’s the best horse I’ve ever owned,” Hill said after the final. “As we would say in England, she’s a Rolls Royce with hair.

“I don’t know how good she is. I don’t know where the bottom is, I really don’t.”

With her record now 11-for-11, Party Girl Hill’s next foray was to Lexington, Ky., and Red Mile.

She improved to 12-for-12 with a facile victory in a $79,200 division of the Bluegrass Stake on Oct. 4 subsequent to Hill and Ryder deciding it was time for the filly to take on the boys in a $239,500 division of the Tattersalls Pace on Oct. 11.

Again, the filly did not disappoint as she paced a :26.2 final panel to trip the timer in 1:47.2. She left the top colts Capt Midnight and No Lou Zing in her wake, as well as eventual Breeders Crown winner Sandbetweenmytoes.

Although Party Girl Hill did not compete against Tall Dark Stranger, who won the other division in the same time, her performance was impressive enough to solicit discussions about possible Horse of the Year honors.

“It’s a little surreal. What she does on the track is just what she is. She’s ridiculous, just phenomenal,” Ryder said. “Before we raced her, we knew we had a very good horse, but to imagine she’d do what she’s doing is unbelievable. I’ve waited 30 years since a filly beat the boys, so she’s comparable to (Little Brown Jug-winning filly) Fan Hanover. Who else would you compare her to?”

Dunn echoed Ryder’s sentiments about Party Girl Hill.

“She is definitely the best female pacer I’ve ever sat behind,” he said. “She’s exciting, that’s for sure. It’s just the way she’s done it. She went two heats in the Jugette without the plugs being pulled.”

After her stay in Lexington, Party Girl Hill traveled to Harrah’s Hoosier Park to vie for a Breeders Crown trophy. She won her $25,000 elimination in 1:50.1 and was the buzz of the backstretch at the Anderson facility throughout the week leading up to the $500,000 final. Could she remain undefeated and be Horse of the Year?

Unfortunately, a perfect record was not meant to be.

Leaving from post position two, Party Girl Hill and Dunn left the gate in fourth but gained the lead shortly before the first half-mile marker. They retained that position until deep stretch when Peaky Sneaky and Lyons Sentinel closed furiously down the lane to hand the filly her first loss.

Ryder declined an invitation for Party Girl Hill to take on older mares in the TVG Older Mare Pace at The Meadowlands on Nov. 21 and instead sent the filly to Dover Downs for the $154,450 Matron Stake on Nov. 12.

Party Girl Hill returned to her winning ways with a 1¾-length triumph over JK First Lady. Her final time of 1:49 bested Shebestingin’s track record of 1:49.1 established in the 2013 Matron.

There were rumors of Hill and Ryder retiring Party Girl Hill after not entering the TVG Older Mare Pace, but Ryder refuted them. He explained she was receiving a winter break at Olive Branch Farm in North Carolina and would return for her 4-year-old season this year.

“There were a tremendous number of other good horses last year,” Ryder said. “But no one else has done what she has done. She’s broken a world record and stepped out of her class and gone against the boys when she didn’t have to. She was dominant all year, even against males. She has just been super.”

“She is just an amazing animal,” Dunn said.

While it will be intriguing to witness how Party Girl Hill performs this year, there is no ambiguity when it comes to how Hill feels about his horse.

“She can leave, she can come from behind, she can sit parked—it doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “That’s when you’ve got a great one when they can win from anywhere. She’s just a very special filly. She’s a gift from God, that’s what she is. I’ve had a lot of good horses, but I’ve had nothing like her. I’ve been blessed.”

Hope Ellis-Ashburn is a freelance writer living in Tennessee. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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