The landslide winner is the third Horse of the Year campaigned by the man who also was voted Trainer of the Year for the third straight time.
by Dave Briggs
On Monday (Dec. 19), two days before he picked up his third straight Trainer of the Year award and sixth such honor in his career, Jimmy Takter became just the second person in harness racing history to lay claim to training three different Horse of the Year (HOY) winners when Always B Miki won both the 2016 title and Pacer of the Year honors by a landslide in voting conducted by the U.S. Harness Writers Association (USHWA).
Yet, despite his success, the Hall of Famer pointed out it has been 17 years since he had a Horse of the Year.
“I haven’t had one since ’99,” Takter said, referring to Moni Maker who won in 1998 and 1999. In 1997, Malabar Man was the first Takter trainee to be named the HOY. “It’s not that easy to get Horse of the Year. It’s really tough.”
Takter said he was happy to have his first Pacer of the Year.
“Every year we have two or three divisional winners, this year we have four, but getting Pacer of the Year… it’s the first time for me, it’s great,” he said.
Takter’s other divisional winners were Miki in the older pacers, Idyllic Beach in the freshman pacing filly group, Pure Country in the three-year-old pacing fillies’ division and Ariana G in the two-year-old trotting fillies’ class.
“I do maybe 30 per cent of purses in pacing now. Three of my award winners are pacers this year. Things changed quite a bit… It’s a tough game, these pacers… I’ve never had the best pacers, so this is really exciting. I wish I had another one to campaign for 2017 at that level, but they are really tough to get, these kind of horses.”
Takter joins Stanley Dancer as the only trainers to condition at least three different Horse of the Year winners. In addition, Takter is the fifth trainer to have both a pacer and trotter receive HOY honors. He joins Dancer, Blair Burgess, Billy Haughton, and Clint Hodgins in that group.
Always B Miki defeated 4-year-old gelding Wiggle It Jiggleit in the voting for Pacer of the Year, 109-37, and 102-32 for Horse of the Year. Wiggle It Jiggleit was the 2015 Horse of the Year.
“I thought he deserved it,” Takter said, referring to Always B Miki. “You could argue other horses deserve it, but he stands out a little bit.”
Always B Miki, who was twice sidelined by injuries that forced him to miss the end of his 3-year-old season and the majority of his 4-year-old campaign.
“I would say I put a lot of work into this guy. His ability, that’s what God gave to him, but to keep him there through the year hasn’t been easy,” Takter said. “I’m pretty sure if I had this horse 15 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to do it. It’s experience, you know. When you work with a horse like that you know he has ability, but I had to really, really, really listen to the horse every day with this guy. What he did given the problem he had, was just amazing.”
Always B Miki paced the fastest mile in harness racing history on Oct. 9 at Lexington’s Red Mile when he won the Allerage open pace in 1:46. His time eclipsed Cambest’s 1:46.1 mark — which was established in a time trial and stood as the record for 23 years — and lowered the race record, shared by multiple horses, by four-fifths of a second.
“If he wouldn’t have issues, this horse, he would have smacked at least another second off the record, I’m pretty sure about that,” Takter said.
In addition to becoming the fastest horse in history, Always B Miki shares the world record of 1:47 for the fastest mile by a horse on a five-eighths-mile track. Always B Miki paced 1:47 on a five-eighths oval on three occasions, an unprecedented feat. He also holds the record of 1:47.1 for the fastest mile ever paced in Canada.
Always B Miki was driven by Hall of Famer David Miller, who was voted the Driver of the Year for the second straight year and third time in his career.
The pacer, a five-year-old son of Always A Virgin out of the mare Artstopper, was bred by Joe Hurley’s Roll The Dice Stable, which owns the stallion with Bluewood Stable and Christina Takter.
Veteran caretaker Rufino Telon looked after Always B Miki.
“He’s been with me many, many years,” Takter said of Telon. He took care of Father Patrick, Costa Rica. He’s had a number for me. He’s a big guy and Miki’s a big horse. He was just the perfect person to care for that horse.’
Always B Miki won 12 of 18 races this year and finished worse than second only once. His victories included the Breeders Crown, Ben Franklin, William Haughton Memorial, and TVG Series championship for male pacers. He earned $1,487,292 on the track in 2016 and has been retired to stud at Diamond Creek Farms in Pennsylvania with a career record of 30-13-3 in 53 starts and earnings of $2,715,368. His book is already full and closed for 2017.
“He’s my all-time favorite,” Takter said. “He is the greatest. He has such charisma, it’s unbelievable. I love this horse, just to be around him, playing with him. There’s just something about him. You can see it in his eye. He’s a very friendly horse, extremely friendly. He pretends that he can be tough, but he’s actually the biggest sweetheart ever. You think he’s going to eat you up when he goes at you, but he never bites with his teeth. He bites with his lips.”
All winners will be honored at the Dan Patch Awards banquet presented by Hoosier Park on Feb. 26 at the Planet Hollywood casino in Las Vegas. Information is available at; www.ushwa.org.
— with files from USHWA