The influence of the Meadowlands Pace on the Horse of the Year award

by Bob Heyden

Do you see a pattern here? It seems like every five years or so the Meadowlands Pace winner ends up winning the Horse of the Year award and 2020 appears to be the year this could happen again.

The following Pace winners were the HOY the same year:

1980 — Niatross
1985 — Nihilator
1990 — Beach Towel
1991 — Precious Bunny
1994 — Cams Card Shark
2000 — Gallo Blue Chip
2005 — Rocknroll Hanover
2010 — Rock N Roll Heaven
2015 — Wiggle It Jiggleit
2020 — ???????????

M. Pace and Hambletonian same year

Talking about impressive doubles, the following drivers won both the Meadowlands Pace and Hambletonian in the same year:

1979 — George Sholty with Sonsam in the M. Pace and Legend Hanover in the Hambletonian
1985 — Bill O’Donnell with Nihilator in the M. Pace and Prakas in the Hambletonian
1991 — Jack Moiseyev with Precious Bunny in the M. Pace and Giant Victory in the Hambletonian
1995 — John Campbell with Davids Pass in the M. Pace and Tagliabue in the Hambletonian
2003 — Mike Lachance with All American Theory in the M. Pace and Amigo Hall in the Hambletonian

Favorite sons? NOPE

The last five Triple Crown winners of both gaits were not favored in either the Meadowlands Pace or the Hambletonian:

• Marion Marauder in 2016 was the $7.00 third choice in the Hambletonian; Bar Hopping, the favorite, was fifth.
• Glidemaster in 2006 was the $14.00 third choice in the Hambletonian; Mr Pine Chip, the favorite, was last.
• No Pan Intended in 2003 finished fourth in the M. Pace; Jim Campbell’s entry was the odds on favorite and finished second and off the board.
• Blissful Hall in 1999 was dismissed in the wagering; The Panderosa, the favorite, won.
• Western Dreamer in 1997 finished third; Arturo, the slight favorite, was fourth.

Why was the great Jate late for 1987 M. Pace?

Jate Lobell, the winner of the first million-dollar race ever held in Canada (the 1987 North America Cup), was the horse to beat in the 1987 Meadowlands Pace.

Even though he was second in his elim, he was odds-on in the final.

He was, after all, the undefeated HOY runner-up the year before to another undefeated horse Forrest Skipper.

Meadowlands management doubled the New Jersey Sires Stakes final to $200,000 to entice him to come east at the end of May.

In short, he was the Great Jate.

But, it turned out he was almost late for the Meadowlands Pace final.

Jate Lobell was stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Mark O’Mara, now 63, drove and trained the colt for Joe McCluskey of Michigan. Mark recounted the events of that week.

“We had the crew from Sports Illustrated with us all week. In the elimination for the Pace, Jate was lame warming up. I got him around there second and when we pulled the shoe after the race, he had a bad abscess. We cut it out to relieve the pressure. In the final, we drew outside, and I put him in a bad spot early. I was simply out of position. He came home as well as he ever did, but he was just too far back.”

But wait, what about the Turnpike business?

“Because of the abscess, we wanted to give him as much time as possible home and as little as we could at the track. So we left a little late. Then we hit traffic. Big time. I tried rolling up on the shoulder, but a state trooper stopped me. I told him what was going on and, in retrospect, I was lucky to get off with just a warning. What it comes down to is that WE were stressed, not the colt. He shipped well, and like I said he came home as well as ever. I just couldn’t make up that ground.”

Jate Lobell was not a factor in the Pace and finished seventh. Frugal Gourmet and Trevor Ritchie won it for trainer Blair Burgess.

“I try and forget stuff like this,” O’Mara said. “Remember that Sports Illustrated still did the story. Joe McCluskey took it well. He was really good like that. The colt acted good — and for the rest of the year he was 1-2 in all his races until the Breeders Crown when he was third twice, mostly due to me.”

Jate Lobell the 2-year-old pacing colt of the year in 1986 and the 3-year-old pacing colt of the year in 1987. He went on to a $100 million plus siring career and had three NA Cup winners. His son Davids Pass won both the Meadowlands Pace and the NA Cup of 1995.