Unprecedented Horse of the Year race in 2019

by Bob Heyden

Assuming nothing changes, the top six vote-getters in this year’s Horse of the Year (HOY) ballot, all will have lost their last race, which is completely unprecedented in harness racing history:

Shartin N
Bettors Wish
Warrawee Ubeaut

The likely top three finishers in the 2019 HOY ballot in some order had a combined 12 second-place finishes between them.

Shartin N — 3 times
Bettors Wish — 6 times

Greenshoe — 3 times

Outside of Shartin N’s post 8 off-the-board finish at Yonkers in the Matchmaker in her second start of the year (she would later dominate the $401,000 final), no other race saw this top trio worse than second all year.

A couple of precedents here:

No horse has ever been voted HOY while being the Hambletonian runner-up the same year. Greenshoe has that fact to deal with. Three times a Hambletonian runner-up has been HOY, just not that year. Savoir was the 1975 HOY four years after being the runner-up in the Hambletonian. Delmonica Hanover was the 1974 HOY two years after finishing second in the Hambletonian. Victory Song, the very first HOY in 1947, was the 1946 Hambletonian runner-up.

Bret Hanover lost three times to Adios Vic in 1965 as a 3-year-old — his only three losses of the year. He was easily voted HOY, and even more, he won his division over his only conqueror 174 votes to 2.

This year, Caviart Ally decisioned Shartin N three times, all on mile tracks. We’ll see how it plays out.

Matts Scooter and Shartin N

The 1989 HOY Matts Scooter was the runner-up the year before and won more money in 1988 than 1989 ($1,140,994 after a $1,783,558 season in 1988). Shartin N hopes to be the 2019 HOY and she too had a larger bankroll a year back becoming the first mare pacer to post a seven-figure season. In the 30 years in between, no HOY runner-up has come back the next year to be named HOY.

Killer “B”s

Bettors Wish, Bettors Delight, Bye Bye Byrd.

IF Bettors Wish is voted HOY for 2019, 21-year-old stallion Bettors Delight would be the first pacing stallion in 43 years of that age to have a HOY. Bye Bye Byrd was 21 in 1976 when his son Keystone Ore nailed down the award. Bye Bye Byrd himself was the 1959 HOY as a 4-year-old.

Bettors Delight surging

Bettors Delight was never a HOY, but possibly is a HOY sire in 2019 with Bettors Wish. In 2000, as a 2-year-old, Bettors Delight won the $871,475 Breeders Crown and sported a slate of 10 6-1-1 $804,661. He also sired Caviart Ally, whose late season surge put her into the national conversation as a dragon-slayer —and she approaches $2 Million career.

Meanwhile, Bettors Delight continues to surge as a sire. He has been the number one pacing sire in four of the last five years and his progeny earnings keep growing with each passing year. In 2019, he is on the cusp of the first $25 million siring season:
2015 #1 — $21,022,068 
2016 #1 — $21,382,375 
2017 #2 (to Somebeachsomewhere) — $22,918,898 
2018 #1 — $24,563,132 
2019 #1 — $24,680,089

Resilient HOY winners

1. Nevele Pride posted his 1:56.4 mile at Saratoga and his 1:54.4 mile at Indianapolis right after his defeat to Une De Mai in the high profile Roosevelt International.

2. Staying Together’s 1:48.2 world record mile of June 19, 1993 — an all-time record by a full second — came after three straight loses — in the Hudock, Battle OF Lake Erie and the Driscoll elim.

3. Cam Fella started the 1983 season winning just two of his first eight starts. Then he won 28 straight to go 30-for-36 on the year, a Horse of the Year (HOY) record for wins and starts during the award-winning year.

4. Even though Matts Scooter was fifth in the Levy, second in the Graduate, fourth in the Canadian Pacing Derby and disqualified in the Battle Of Lake Erie to second in 1989, he won 23 of 30 attempts en route to HOY honors. No horse has started that many times since and been named Horse of the Year.

5. Here’s something you almost never see for a horse voted the best of the year. Precious Bunny’s first three purses in 1991 were $7,600, $8,500 and $9,400. Yet, he still set the earnings record for a single season ($2,217,222), one season after Beach Towel became the first single-season double millionaire.

How can this be?

Muscle Hill, Chapter Seven, Donato Hanover, Glidemaster, Malabar Man, Mack Lobell, Green Speed, Nevele Pride, Speedy Scot, Scott Frost, Rodney and Victory Song all were trotters who were voted Horse of the Year at least once, but never sired a Horse of the Year.

Why not Frank first?

Bion Shively in 1967 at age 89, became the first ever trainer/driver inducted into the Hall Of Fame. Rodney and Sharp Note, the 1952 Hambletonian winner, would be his career highlights. Even though he was 26 years younger, Frank Ervin, entering the 1967 season, had five HOY trophies to his name. No one else had more than two. Ervin went into the Hall in 1968.