Happy for Happy Lady

It’s been a long road to try to get Happy Lady into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, but former Standardbred Canada CEO Ted Smith said he’s pleased the stellar pacing filly is finally being honored.

by Chris Lomon

Her racing career was brief – just two years – but Happy Lady’s impressive exploits are undoubtedly worthy of Hall of Fame recognition.

For Ted Smith, the man who started his longstanding association with the standardbred world at the Canadian Trotting Association in 1976, seeing Happy Lady’s name announced as one of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame’s 2017 inductees is deeply gratifying.

Smith, a member of the Hall’s nominating committee, is a big backer of the pacer who stamped herself as a superstar talent in the late 1970s.

“She was nominated in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017,” said Smith, who was responsible for the management and administration of the amalgamation of the Canadian Trotting Association and Canadian Standardbred Horse Society and became Standardbred Canada’s first president and CEO in 1998. “She made the ballot from 2014-17 and finally got in. I spoke very highly of her to the committee. She was the horse that time forgot. But, she was a great horse.”

A daughter of Most Happy Fella, Happy Lady’s two years on the racetrack – 1977 and 1978 – for owners Myra Masterson of St. Catharines, ON and Linda Lockey of Ridgeville, ON, were defined by consistency and championship-caliber performances.

Bred by J William Masterson of St. Catharines, the bay won $528,825 in purse earnings and attained a life’s best mark of 1:55.3. Trained and driven by the late Jim Rankin, she fell one race shy of a perfect record in her juvenile campaign, one that yielded 15 victories from 16 starts.

Happy Lady was named the two-year-old pacing filly of the year by both the Canadian Trotting Association (CTA) and the United States Trotting Association (USTA).

There was no sophomore jinx, as she won 19 of her 24 three-year-old starts.

“She was very feisty,” said Smith, who retired from his Standardbred Canada post in 2010. “She never gave in and used every ounce of strength she had in her whenever she competed. And she didn’t duck and dive. She took them all on.”

Happy Lady holds the distinction of being one of only two fillies to ever win the Monticello OTB Classic. Her 1:58.4 triumph in the Lady Maud at Roosevelt Raceway was a stakes and track record.

Said Rankin after the three-length Monticello score, “They say the best horses race in front and that’s where she raced. I wanted to race her in front. In a 10-horse field there is a lot of traffic, and I wanted to be up front controlling it.

“She won 15 of 16 races as a 2-year-old by margins of anywhere between one and eight lengths. Her only defeat was she broke stride, and that wasn’t her fault. She is the kind of filly that you can race from behind or in front. You can do most anything you want with her.”

Happy Lady’s year-end hardware haul included three-year-old pacing filly of the year for the Canadian Trotting Association, United States Trotting Association and Harness Tracks of America, as well as Horse of the Year for the CTA.

Her life was cut short on January 10, 1981, when she died – along with 13 other mares – in a barn fire at Castleton Farms in Kentucky, while in foal to Bret Hanover.

Smith hopes when visitors to the Hall read her plaque, they realize the significance of her short, but spectacular racing career, and also acknowledge the man who was very much a driving force behind her success.

“I hope people would appreciate what she was in her given period of time,” he offered. “Jim Rankin was a natural for that filly. He was a very astute young man and an intelligent horseman. He made her.”