Majority owners retain Atlanta after $1.55 million online auction; Ron Burke to train

The 2018 Hambletonian winner was purchased back Thursday through with a winning bid of $1.55 million by Michelle Crawford, Howard Taylor and Brad Grant as part of a sale to remove trainer Rick Zeron from the group. Atlanta will now be trained by Ron Burke.

by Dave Briggs

In the end, Friday’s sale of 2018 Hambletonian winner Atlanta for $1.55 million through the online auction site was as expected — a very public exercise for the majority owners to buy out trainer Rick Zeron and his five per cent share in the trotting filly.

“This past week has been a trying week for many, ending with the auction of our great mare Atlanta,” said the winning bidders in a statement to HRU. “As a result of the sale, going forward the ownership group will consist of Crawford Farms (Michelle and Al), Brad Grant and Howard Taylor. We would like to also thank Bill and Christine of Holland Racing for their support throughout this whole ordeal and wish them well in their future racing ventures.”

Grant confirmed Saturday night that the Hollands — who originally had a 25 per cent share in Atlanta — have opted not to remain among the filly’s owners.

Atlanta will now be trained by Ron Burke.

“Going forward, Atlanta will be entrusted to the care of Ron Burke whose record as a trainer and horseman speaks for itself,” the remaining owners said in their statement. “Ron has the experience of dealing with great horses in the big races and we look forward to an exciting year. I would also like to thank Tony Alagna for taking the mare into his care and looking after her until she is shipped to the Burke barn.”

Was the $1.55 million winning bid truly a record for a standardbred sold at auction? Maybe if you attach an asterisk. Since the people that owned 70 per cent of the horse — Brad Grant (25 per cent), Howard Taylor (25) and the Crawfords (20) — ended up with the winning bid, it is believed $527,000 changed hands — $387,500 to the Hollands, who decided to cash in their 25 per cent share, $77,500 to be paid to Zeron and the expected fee of $62,000 to based on its published commission of 4 four per cent.

The $1.55 million bid technically surpasses the $1.1 million Finnish owner Erkki Laakkonen paid in 2001 to purchase Cameron Hall at the Tattersalls December Mixed Sale. Even that record likely deserves an asterisk since it was also made to break up a partnership — that one between Laakkonen and Cameron Hall’s breeder Walnut Hall Ltd. In 2008, Total Truth, the 2006 Pepsi North America Cup champion, sold for $900,000 at Tattersalls, but that was also to break up a partnership.

That makes the highest-priced standardbred to completely change hands at a public auction Donato Hanover’s full-brother Detour Hanover, who was purchased by John Cancelliere for $825,000 at the 2011 Standardbred Horse Sales Company’s yearling sale in Harrisburg, PA.

Atlanta, the 2018 Dan Patch winner as Three-Year-Old Trotting Filly of the Year, found herself up for auction on on Tuesday night (Feb. 12) after a bizarre week in which the majority partners asked trainer Tony Alagna to pick Atlanta up from Rick Zeron’s shedrow at Sunshine Meadows training center in Florida (full story here). Once the filly was moved, Zeron instructed his top assistant Ernie Hendry to go get the filly back.

Grant told HRU the only choice was to buy Zeron out.

“It’s a choice that had to be made to… remove Rick,” Grant said Thursday.

The group offered Zeron $50,000 for his five per cent share, but Zeron declined saying she was worth more than $1 million total. Zeron ultimately proved to be correct, though Atlanta sold for much less than the $4 million Zeron was allegedly requesting from the other owners (he allegedly asked for $200,000 for his five per cent cut, putting Atlanta’s value at $4 million).

In the end, the remaining owners ended the week on a conciliatory note.

“In closing we would like to congratulate Team Zeron on the great year Atlanta had with a special thanks to Ernie Hendry who looked after Atlanta as if she was his own. He was a big part of her success,” the owners said.