A dozen years after their first date at the Lexington sale, Michelle and Albert Crawford stand astride the world thanks to their trotter Homicide Hunter.
by Dave Briggs
Saturday night, nearly 12 years to the day after Michelle and Albert Crawford had their first date at this exact location — at this very same horse sale — the couple was standing beside the outdoor walking ring at Fasig-Tipton gobsmacked about all Crawford Farms had accomplished in those dozen years. Just a few short hours earlier, their beloved 6-year-old gelded trotter Homicide Hunter set the fastest trotting mile in the history of harness racing with an epic 1:48.4 performance at Red Mile in the $145,000 Allerage Trot, sponsored by Jeff and Paula Gural.
“It feels surreal, it’s numbing. We all went and had drinks afterwards downtown. We couldn’t process. My phone was going off and every time it was a different picture of him, it’s just like ‘Oh my God, it’s real. He did that,’” Michelle said.
Homicide Hunter’s 1:48.4 mile lowered the all-time trotting mark previously set by Hannelore Hanover, who beat the boys in the Allerage Farms Trot last year with a 1:49.2 mile. The time also lowers the record for gelding trotters of 1:49.4, set by Jl Cruze at the Meadowlands in 2015.
The monster mile comes as part of a monster year for Crawford Farms, who earlier bought into the ownership group of sophomore trotting filly Atlanta, who went on to win the Hambletonian.
“It’s just the most insane feeling – to win the Hambo with a filly and then have your trotter, that you love so dearly, hold the world record,” Michelle said of Homicide Hunter. “This is my guy, since he was three. There’s just something about him, he’s just special. I worry about him a lot. He’s high maintenance in the sense that he likes to be turned out. He’s very finicky and was in the detention barn since yesterday.”
Homicide Hunter’s trainer, Chris Oakes, pulled the gelding’s shoes for the forgiving red clay — “That’s the only place Chris does it,” Albert said — and the trotter responded.
Off the gate, Guardian Angel As took the lead from Pinkman firing at the rail while Lindy The Great floated for position into third. Lindy The Great brushed to the lead by the quarter in :26.2 as Will Take Charge, away fourth, angled off the rail and began his move for the lead, clearing before a :53.2 half.
Will Take Charge faced first-over pressure from Guardian Angel As around the far turn with Pinkman positioned second over and Homicide Hunter, with Brian Sears at the reins, third over. Guardian Angel As inched to the lead past three-quarters in 1:22 and fought for command into the eighth pole. However Homicide Hunter, poised from his setup, accelerated past the field with ease and trotted to the wire going away from Guardian Angel As holding second. Pinkman finished third while Lindy The Great weaved into fourth.
“When he fanned out, I was like ‘he can do this, he’s got this’, but I was waiting for Brian ‘C’mon, Brian, c’mon,’ but he’s so ultra patient with the horses and he’s always cool as a cucumber,” Michelle said. “Brian said when he came off that turn he was just swelling up huge. He just had to give him clearance and let him go. He said, ‘I really never used him that hard.’ He won by three and he was good.”
It was the eighth win in 13 starts for the son of Mr Cantab out of Like A Prayer mare Evening Prayer and Homicide Hunter’s 38th victory in 75 career starts. He surpassed $1.4 million in earnings with the win that returned $5.20.
“I bet him pretty good, because I thought he could win and I was, like, ‘Wow, he’s going off 2 or 3-1,’” Albert said.
For Michelle, the bet she cashed on the world record performance had more to do with having acquired Homicide Hunter’s dam, Evening Prayer, for the Crawford Farms broodmare band.
“I think it means that the value of his mother just increased for our broodmare band,” she said, smiling.
As for Homicide Hunter, Michelle credited Oakes for the horse’s performance.
“Chris has done an amazing job with Homicide. He treats this horse like gold. He gives him everything he needs for his routine, to make him better. If there is ever a question, we do what’s right for the horse first and we wouldn’t race him and put him in harm’s way. He’s very sound and very pure-gaited,” Michelle said, adding, “I’m not even going to steal all of the limelight on this. Al and I do everything together. We live, eat and breathe it. We go through mares together. We go to our races and he’s super fixed on looking at the schedules and trying to maximize where the horses are racing. There’s just nothing that we don’t do together.”
Albert said being both a breeding farm and a racing operation hasn’t always been easy, but it’s in his blood.
“I grew up in the business and we love to race, so we want to bring product to the market because we love the farm and the babies and everything else, but it can get tricky at times. So, is this good for the farm? I don’t know,” Albert said, adding that his phone blew up with congratulatory messages after Homicide Hunter’s world record performance.
“I’ve been in the business since I was five years old. My father started a farm back in ‘67 and I was born in ‘62. I’ve been in this business for a long time and, as a family, we didn’t have horses like this. We raced in New York and we raced Precious Fellas, Most Happy Fellas… we went for the deal, wherever the deal was. He passed away 10 years ago and he would’ve loved this.”
“His mom is on social media,” Michelle added, “so she saw it before we were able to talk and she was really excited for us, too.”
A dozen years after Michelle and Albert had their first date at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale, they were basking in the glory of one of the greatest moments in Crawford Farms history.
When Homicide Hunter left the winner’s circle earlier in the day, he received a warm ovation from the Red Mile crowd. That’s when Michelle’s tears began to flow.
“I was talking to Nick (Salvi) and when (Homicide Hunter) left the winner’s circle, the crowd just started clapping. It shook me up, it choked me up because that’s my horse,” Michelle said. “It’s the perfect storm. This is the pinnacle of our sport, in Lexington, and this is the showcase for everybody internationally, and to have something like this happen is just… there are no words. I was so choked up.”
— with files from Ray Cotolo for Red Mile