By Bill Finley
Steve Elliott has the ability to boil everything down to the simplest terms. Why is he doing so well this year after a rare down period in his career?
“I have good horses,” he replied.
It’s obviously a bit more complicated than that, but Elliott does have a point. In Rockeyed Optimist and Doo Wop Hanover he has two horses that are on top of their games, making good money and figure to dominate in the $250,000 final of the Graduate Series for 4-year-old pacers tonight at the Meadowlands. They could be the two best horses he’s had since Well Said and Donato Hanover.
But what they have done, besides winning, is to revive a stable that had suffered through some poor years. Elliott’s barn peaked in 2007 when Donato Hanover won the Hambletonian and the stable earned $5,051,665 for the year. But just five years later, Elliott’s horses earned just $661,030 and he won only 35 races. He says the poor showing was the result of a number of things, including his decision to cut back on the size of his stable.
When things weren’t going well he never got discouraged. At 61, he’s been in the business a long time and has learned that you should never get too up or too down, that is if you want to keep your sanity.
“You can’t have any ego in this business,” he said. “You’re going to have good years and bad years. That’s just horses. You can’t get down or second guess yourself. You just keep doing what you’ve always done to have success and you stick with it. If you start second guessing yourself you’ll get in trouble.”
Elliott still doesn’t have a particularly big operation. He currently trains 38 horses and said he wishes he had fewer. But they are a productive bunch. Elliott has already won 53 races this year, equaling the amount he won all of last year, and his barn will almost certainly go over the $1 million mark in earnings tonight. Last year, his stable earned just $1.15 million.
“We have a nice mix of horses,” he said. “No great ones, just a nice mix.”
Along with Rockeyed Optimist and Doo Wop Hanover, he has Stacia Hanover, a winner of an elimination for the James Lynch Memorial, New York sire stakes winners Rock Me Gently, Artistic Major and Not Before Eight and Pennsylvania sire stakes winner Mcardles Lightning. He’s also high on a trio of 2-year-olds in Soulmate Hanover, Talk Show and Boston Red Rocks. The latter will be among the favorites in a New Jersey sire stakes race tonight at the Meadowlands.
There is one thing, though, that does bother Elliott. He said he’s tired of people concluding that the only reason he is having such a good year is that he has found a magic and illegal potion.
“Whenever you do good everyone wants to give you horses and after a while you just have to say no,” he said. “They think you have the magic drug. That’s the way this business is. You’re going good so you have to be using something. It not because you work hard or have good horses, it’s because you have some kind of drug. It’s almost where it’s comical. I had an owner call me and he said he wanted to give me some good horses. He told me ‘you got the stuff. ‘ I said, ‘really, what’s the stuff?’ It’s just amazing how it is. It’s just having good horses. It’s a shame that’s the mentality in our sport these days. Thoroughbred guys do well and they put them on a pedestal. A harness guy does well and they all say you have to be using something.”
Tonight at the Meadowlands, some of his finest work will be on display. Rockeyed Optimist looked no better than a good wintertime horse back when was winning the Sonsam Series and the Clyde Hirt Series, but he has kept right on going into the prime racing season. He won two legs of the Graduate series before finishing second behind stable Doo Wop Hanover in his last.
“He was getting good last year,” Elliott said. “We turned him out and when he came back he was a different horse. When we brought back he had grown and filled out and has kept getting better and better. They let me pick his schedule and I said let’s not race him against the older horses, let’s stick with the 4-year-olds this year and hopefully by doing that we’ll turn him into an open pacer. It looks like we did the right thing.”
Doo Wop Hanover has won three straight, his biggest win to date coming when he scored a mild upset over Rockeyed Optimist in the most recent leg of the Graduate.
“He was notch or two below the good colts last year,” Elliott said. “If he got a good trip he could go with them, but it was hard for him to get a trip because he was kind of bull-headed and when he wanted to go he wanted to go all he could go. When we brought him back up here this year he was similar to way he was. We made one little equipment change and it changed him completely around.”
The two will battle for favoritism tonight and very well could finish one-two again. If so, Elliott will be in the winner’s circle, ready to give all the credit to his horses.