Hannelore Hanover makes bid for Horse of the Year by beating the boys

The Indiana-sired mare kicked off a big night for the state by becoming just the third mare to win a Breeders Crown Open Trot.

by James Platz

Before Hannelore Hanover achieved national stardom, she started from humble beginnings competing at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino. On Saturday, the queen of the trotting game made a triumphant homecoming in the $526,250 Breeders Crown Open Trot, becoming only the third mare in the history of the event to beat the boys with a dazzling 1:52.1 performance. It was her ninth win of the season and made the argument for Horse of the Year even more interesting, and compelling.

“She’s just unbelievable,” driver Yannick Gingras said after yet another big win. “When she’s on her game, she does amazing things.”

Bred by Hanover Shoe Farms Inc., the Swan For All—High Sobriety mare has become one of harness racing’s superstars over the last two seasons. The Indiana-sired trotter claimed divisional honors in the Hoosier State as a three-year-old. Last season, trainer Ron Burke expected to have a good open trotter for Hoosier Park. Instead, she blossomed into a mare that earned $1.1 million, won 17 of 20 starts, and came within one vote of being named Trotter of the Year. This year, she has again proved to be a tough mare, but Burke admits it hasn’t been the same as 2016.

“It wasn’t until probably three or four weeks ago where we started to think she was putting herself together,” he said. “She’s as sharp as she’s been all year. It’s been kind of a funny year. We felt like it’s been a struggle until the last couple weeks. It’s cool that she won here. She’s come home. This is where she learned to race.”

At Red Mile she served notice to the harness racing world, uncorking a historic 1:49.2 mile in the $136,000 My MVP Allerage Farms Open Trot, the second-fastest mile of all time for a trotter and a world record for a mare. After winning her Breeders Crown elimination last week, she was tabbed the favorite in the final, and she didn’t disappoint. Starting from post four, Gingras quickly moved her to the lead through a :26.3 opening quarter, but was shuffled to second by Scott Zeron and Marion Marauder. Sitting along the pylons, Gingras was able to find room in the stretch and stormed home in :26.4 in another historical performance, winning by a length and a quarter. Crazy Wow finished second and Marion Marauder trotted third.

“It wasn’t the trip I planned at all. The last place I wanted to be was in the two hole,” Gingras said. “That was Plan Z, but you’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt.”

Hannelore Hanover took those cards and turned them into a winning hand. Campaigned by Burke Racing Stable, Weaver Bruscemi LLC, Frank Baldachino and J&T Silva Stables, the mare has now won 35 of 57 career starts. A $32,000 yearling purchase, the trotter now sports a bankroll that exceeds $2.3 million.

“We never had expectations when we bought her. If she had been a nice Indiana-sired horse we would have been tickled pink. And for her to do this tonight is incredible,” said an emotional Baldachino.

Making history has become a regular occurrence for Hannelore Hanover. Saturday night, she added another chapter, joined CR K Suzie (1996) and Moni Maker (1998) as the only mares to win the Open Trot. The decision to put her in against the boys was strategic, and it paid off in spades

“We thought she was the best girl, so why not take a shot?” said Baldachino. “Even if she was second, it would be like winning the mare trot, even though you don’t get the notoriety of winning a Breeders Crown. We left it up to Ronnie. He knows the horse, he sits behind the horse all the time. Me and Mark (Weaver), if you want to take a shot, we’re as game as anybody.”

The approach of Burke, Baldachino, Weaver, and the rest of the ownership team is one of the keys to Hannelore Hanover’s success. They have not been afraid to test the mare against the best, and she regularly rises to the challenge. Once an understudy to the great Mission Brief in the Burke barn, this mare builds upon her impressive credentials each trip behind the gate. Now, with her Breeders Crown win, voters have to think hard as to whether she is the sport’s top trotter, and perhaps the best horse, regardless of gait.

“Obviously I’m a little biased. I’ll let the voters decide that,” Weaver said after the race. “I’m a big fan of the aged horse. Not only is she going against four-year-olds, five-year-olds, six- and seven-year-olds, she’s also doing it against the boys. The others are going against strictly two-year-olds and three-year-olds. I think (Hannelore Hanover) should get some credit for that.”

Burke is a little more pragmatic when it comes to end-of-year awards. His concern is more about putting Hannelore Hanover in the spots where she can excel.

“I don’t get caught up in that. You let awards come to you,” he said. “I want to make the most money I can for her and put her in the best spot to maintain her career.”

Burke and the rest of the partnership made the right choice Saturday night, and the result was something special.