Better With Age
M-M’s Dream excelling far beyond the Hoosier State
story by James Platz
In the fall of 2022, Frank Baldachino contacted trainer Ron Burke regarding an Indiana-sired trotting filly that he owned in partnership. M-M’s Dream was in the midst of a dominating sophomore campaign at Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, and Baldachino felt she was a special horse with significant upside. The Hall of Fame conditioner was skeptical considering the name the owner dropped during the conversation.
“Frank told me that she was another Hannelore (Hanover),” Burke recalled. “I thought, ‘Yeah, that doesn’t happen, Frank.’ And, you know, it turns out he was right. She is another Hannelore.”
Drawing comparisons to Hannelore Hanover is both flattering and nerve-wracking. Owned during her racing career by Burke Racing Stable, Baldachino, Weaver Bruscemi and J&T Silva Stables, “Hannelore” earned more than $3 million on the track, collecting many of the sport’s top trophies and being named Horse of the Year in both the United States and Canada in 2017. That’s a lot to live up to, but M-M’s Dream managed to make an impression on the Grand Circuit in 2023, both in victory and defeat.
Henry Graber Jr. attended the 2020 Hoosier Classic Yearling Sale in hopes of buying a Swan For All baby. His father, who campaigns horses under the banner of Eleven Star Stables, set the limit at $20,000. As the perennial top trotting sire in the state, Swan For All’s foals tend to bring top dollar. Graber knew that he would have to settle for one of the lesser yearlings.
“She videoed really well, but her front feet were kind of short. We knew that once she had normal-sized feet that she would be better. We knew that a lot of other guys are not going to try to buy her because her feet are not the straightest,” Graber explained. “She’s crooked here and there. She’ll touch her knees now and then. It worked out for us. We wanted a Swan filly, and we knew we’re not going to be able to reach the ones that were 100 percent correct.”
As it turned out, when M-M’s Dream walked into the sale ring that afternoon, she was the last Swan For All in the sale, cataloged as hip No. 359 in a book of 373 yearlings.
The Portland, Ind.-based trainer had one last chance.
“We were holding our breath,” Graber said. “We were going to go up to $20,000 if needed. We got her for $18,500.”
Training down as a freshman, M-M’s Dream struggled to stay flat. Graber said that she made many breaks while training and was plagued by foot and knee issues.
“As a 2-year-old, her feet were bad. It just seemed like they were always sore,” he explained. “Her feet and her knees weren’t the best. At one point, we thought about turning her out as a 2-year-old, but we kept going.”
If they had any hesitations about their decision, they quickly disappeared once the Swan For All-Trading Places filly began racing. After two successful qualifiers at Hoosier Park, Baldachino and Ernest Schwartz of Hillside Stables each bought in on the trotter.
“I liked what I saw in the first qualifier and wanted to watch one more,” Baldachino said. “I liked what I saw in the second one. I was already partners with the Grabers on another horse named Brookview Bullet. He was a nice 3-year-old at that time. I asked if they had any interest in selling. They didn’t really have any interest in selling the horse, but they let me buy in for a piece. It’s worked out pretty good.”
Despite her physical issues, M-M’s Dream won six of eight freshman starts, capturing four Indiana Sires Stakes legs and the $270,000 Super Final. She finished the season with $268,462 in earnings and was named divisional champion in the state. Sam Widger steered the filly in each of her pari-mutuel starts.
“She was really hard to post parade. When she hit the track, she would just take off,” said Graber. “As a 2-year-old, a lot of times they didn’t even have her on the camera post parading. She went by all the horses and flew once around there, then Sam turned her around and she relaxed until they went to the gate. I’m not sure there are many drivers that could do that with her. He just had the kind of patience that it took.”
After wintering in the Bluegrass State, the filly returned to Indiana, and the ailments that had nearly shelved her at 2 were gone. Graber said she was a different horse, and she proved to be nearly unbeatable on the track. Over the course of 13 starts, M-M’s Dream registered 12 wins. Her lone blemish was a third-place effort in the Moni Maker, her first taste of open stakes action that year.
“As a 3-year-old, it was a lot easier,” admitted Graber. “She’s not hard on herself. If you look up all her wins, they’re all pretty close. That’s because she doesn’t give more than she has to. Sometimes I wish she would have kept on going. I wouldn’t have been on edge as much.”
On her way to sweeping all eight Sires Stakes legs and the $270,000 Super Final, only once did the filly win by more than two lengths. In all, nine of her victories that season came by margins of a length or less. For his part, Widger made sure M-M’s Dream had open racetrack when she sprinted home.
“He never got anxious in a race,” Graber said of the driver. “It just seemed like he never worried if he was two lengths off or 10 lengths off at the half. He always kept comfortable and waited until she was ready to go.”
M-M’s Dream would tack on two open stakes wins—the $28,000 Pegasus and $110,000 Crossroads of America—to close out the 2022 campaign. With $496,550 in seasonal earnings, the filly was named Indiana Trotter of the Year.
After two sensational seasons in Indiana, Baldachino believed M-M’s Dream was poised to make the leap to Grand Circuit racing. He was following a blueprint similar to what was used with Hannelore Hanover. While lightly raced at 2 in the Hoosier State, she finished first or second in 16 of 19 starts as a sophomore.
At 4, Burke started her 20 times and she finished the slate 17-2-0, with major wins in the Breeders Crown, Centaur Trotting Classic and Hambletonian Maturity (as a supplement). Hannelore Hanover was named Older Trotting Mare of the Year in the U.S. and Canada that season.
“Henry and I have a great relationship,” Baldachino said. “After (M-M’s Dream’s) 3-year-old season, we talked about it. They’re a family organization that pretty much races at Hoosier and a little bit in Ohio. They didn’t have the capacity to go on the Grand Circuit.
“It just made a lot of sense, and Henry and I had a real logical, sensible conversation about the whole matter. We all came to the conclusion that Ronnie would be a great fit to take her.”
M-M’s Dream qualified and made two starts at Hoosier Park, both wins, before shipping to Canada for Burke. She raced fifth in a Miss Versatility leg and finished out of the money in the Armbro Flight before returning stateside.
“At the start of the year, a couple of things just went wrong,” Burke said. “I’m thinking, ‘I know this horse is better than we’re showing.’ I’m worried I was going to lose her before I had a chance to show that I could get her to go. And then everything went right.”
The next time out, a Miss Versatility leg at the Meadowlands, M-M’s Dream regained her winning form. That win, and the qualifier that followed, set the mare up for her signature win of the season. Sent off as co-third choice in the $410,250 Hambletonian Maturity, M-M’s Dream and David Miller upset heavily favored Jiggy Jog S by a neck in the 1⅛-mile contest. It was validation for Baldachino, who always felt the mare had the talent.
“I always had confidence in her, and I thought she could make that next step,” he said. “I was ecstatic. I was choked up a little bit. When you beat a horse like Jiggy Jog S, you don’t take that for granted. That was a really special race.”
To have the Maturity win in and of itself is impressive. But M-M’s Dream had several highlights in 2023, winning seven of 15 attempts and hitting the board 13 times. She added wins in the Steele Memorial on Hambletonian Day (taking her 1:50 mark that day), the $250,000 Bob Miecuna Invitational Trot at Yonkers, and Miss Versatility final at the Delaware (Ohio) County Fair while parked most of the mile. Burke said the key to the mare’s success is racing barefoot.
“Pretty much every big mile she went was without shoes,” he explained. “She ticks everywhere sometimes. Just like a tick here and tick there. Usually, it will clean them up. The first time I pulled in the Hambletonian Maturity, I pulled all four. David said, ‘Has she ever gone without shoes in her life?’ I said, ‘I know she was born without shoes. She’ll be fine.’ I knew we needed something. Even I was surprised.”
In the Breeders Crown, contested on her home track, the mare nearly repeated her late-race upset of Jiggy Jog S, making up ground late but falling a half length short in the $400,000 final.
“The Hambo Maturity was incredible—from leaving from the outside, Jiggy Jog S opening up on her, and then she lunges at her at the wire,” Burke said. “The Breeders Crown, same thing. Jiggy Jog S blew by her, and then another two steps and she was going to get by her again.”
Baldachino added: “She’s awesome. She just tries; she never stops. If there’s somebody in front of her, she just wants to run them down.”
During her first season in the open ranks, M-M’s Dream banked another $673,452, raising her career earnings to more than $1.4 million. And she’s provided her connections with plenty of thrills throughout the season.
“It’s incredible. We were just hoping to be competitive,” Graber said of the Mervin Miller-bred mare. “I’ve never dreamt of having a horse winning sires stakes finals, let alone going on to this level.”
Baldachino said that there is a chance the mare could open her 2024 campaign in Europe with a trip to the Elitlopp. Only general conversations have taken place, and a decision would not need to be made until March or early April, but Burke believes M-M’s Dream might be well suited for the conditions.
“I would love to do it. She’s the kind of mare that doesn’t need things her own way, and that’s why I think she would be really, really good at that. And, most of the tracks there you can race with their shoes off, and it makes a huge difference in her,” the trainer added. “Long distances aren’t going to hurt her. She’s very versatile.
“I would love someday to get her to Vincennes. I think that track and that race (the Prix d’Amérique) would fit her to a T. In that way, she has an advantage on Hannelore in that she’s even more manageable. She’s more like Atlanta that way. She’ll do anything you want.
“She’s the one that might fit. She can race without Lasix. She’s easily handled. If they would want to give it a shot, I’m a little bit better than I was the first time I went over. Buck I St Pat was awesome, but that was the first top trotter I ever had. Since then, I’ve gotten better.”
Whether or not a trip overseas is in the cards, the connections hope M-M’s Dream will take another big step forward in 2024.
“We plan big things for her as a 5-year-old,” Baldachino said. “Maybe she’ll do some Hannelore-type things.” HB
James Platz is a freelance writer living in Indiana. To comment on this story, email us at email@example.com.