COVID-19 restrictions made Harrah’s Hoosier Park’s signature event different than in past years, but the action on the track was on par with previous editions.
by James Platz
The 27th edition of the Dan Patch Stakes did not offer the pomp and circumstance expected of Harrah’s Hoosier Park’s signature event. It was different. Different is the new reality in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the crowd was smaller and the purse leaner, the track’s top event for free-for-all pacers did not disappoint in star power Friday evening (Aug. 14). Century Farroh and David Miller, sent off as the second choice, slipped up the inside late to deny favored Bettor’s Wish by half a length in a time of 1:49.
The effects of the pandemic have been felt throughout the racing industry, and this year’s Dan Patch Stakes exemplified some of the challenges track operators and horsepeople face. In a season where Hoosier Park will play host to the Breeders Crown for a second time, the Dan Patch is the event that officially kicks off the championship portion of the meet. Greeted with great weather, fans did turn out Friday night, just not in the volume witnessed in previous years.
“You’ve got the Kentucky Derby that’s going from 160,000 people to 23,000; the (Indianapolis) 500 is not going to have anybody. We had a nice crowd tonight and everyone has had a good time. Everyone has maintained the social distancing protocols, and that’s the important thing. That’s the only way we can have people here,” said Rick Moore, Hoosier Park’s vice president and general manager of racing. “Every time you put on an event you learn. Tonight, we learned this is the right number of people to have here, whether it’s Kentucky Derby day, Caesar’s Trotting Classic, Hoosier Championship Night or the Breeders Crown, this is the crowd that we have to maintain.”
The 2020 renewal offered a purse of $225,000, the first time the race has not carried a purse exceeding $300,000 since 2014. That did not stop the connections of 17 horses from signaling their intent to compete, with the top 10 based on earnings securing spots behind the starting gate. Moore said that the purse reduction for the Dan Patch and upcoming stakes is part of a fine balance as Hoosier Park offers an attractive stakes schedule while maintaining a healthy overnight structure. He said that cutting stakes from the schedule was not an option management considered.
“Take a look around North America and look at the number of races that were cancelled for these horses, for older pacers this year. We maintained a $225,000 purse and had 17 horses at the end that still wanted to race in the Dan Patch,” said Moore. “I understand why other tracks are cancelling races. They have to protect their overnight purses. We’ve tried to earmark as much money as we could for our overnight races, but we still want to maintain a nice stakes program, and I think it is a fine balance and we’ve been able to do both. We thought we could maintain our stakes schedule by cutting the amount of money Hoosier Park contributes, cutting a piece of it down. It is important we have a great stakes program.”
Friday’s stake attracted Bettor’s Wish, the 2019 Dan Patch Award winner as the sport’s top 3-year-old pacing colt, as well as Century Farroh, himself an O’Brien Award winner, and a five-horse entry from trainer Ron Burke. Burke’s Backstreet Shadow entered the contest fresh off a second place performance in the $229,660 Sam McKee Memorial, beating Century Farroh to the wire while a neck short of winner Bettor’s Wish.
It looked as though Chris Ryder’s charge Bettor’s Wish would collect his second win in as many starts after cutting the mile through fractions of :25.3, :54.1 and 1:22.2, but Hoosier Park’s long stretch has produced many thrilling sprints to the wire, and Friday night was no exception. As Dexter Dunn looked to keep the favorite in front, Matt Kakaley had Dorsoduro Hanover flying on the outside late. However, it was David Miller and Century Farroh that reached the line first. Turning for home the duo found themselves three deep along the rail, but Miller found daylight along the inside and the Mach Three—Beachy girl 4-year-old brushed by Bettor’s Wish in the final strides to pick up his second score of the abbreviated season. Despite a :25.4 kick home, Dorsoduro Hanover finished third and stablemate Backstreet Shadow paced fourth. The stallion, trained by Dr. Ian Moore for Ratchford Stable NS, is now two-for-two over the Anderson oval, winning last year’s Jenna’s Beach Boy. Century Farroh returned $8.60-$3.80-$3.00 in the victory. The triumph is his 18thin 34 career starts, and his earnings now exceed $900,000.
“Obviously he’s been locked in or raced really hard. He actually got a good trip tonight and with the open stretch, I was able to get to the inside,” said Miller in a post-race interview. “He’s been racing good, and he was due.”
The transition from three to four can be difficult, but Dr. Moore said that Century Farroh has handled it better than any horse he has conditioned in recent memory. He also pointed to the schedule between his start in the McKee Memorial and the Dan Patch victory as a sign of the stallion’s resilience.
“This horse is just a tough, very competitive S.O.B. He’s tough as nails, he just seems to overcome everything that’s thrown at him,” said Dr. Moore. “He raced Saturday, had a 15-hour truck Wednesday from Jersey to Indiana, and he raced again on Friday. He jogged three miles on Thursday morning, and I think he had maybe five miles on Tuesday because he always has two days off after he races. He comes to work every day and does his job. He just gives you all he’s got every time out.”
The trainer said that Century Farroh will return to Canada and get a three-week break just as he did before shipping to the Meadowlands. Due to Canadian restrictions, the horse is subject to a 14-day quarantine when re-entering the country. After the break, the plan is to race in the Canadian Pacing Derby and return to the United States to take aim at the Hoosier Park Pacing Derby, Dayton Pacing Derby, and Lexington before shipping back to Indiana for the Breeders Crown.
Friday’s victory also helped to ease a bad memory for Dr. Moore while adding to his list of accomplishments. In 2014, he brought State Treasurer to the Dan Patch, his only other entry into the race. The pacer finished eighth that night after a tough trip.
“He was parked three-wide the whole mile,” he said. “That brings up bad memories.”
Miller had fallen just short of the winner’s circle on three different occasions, piloting Armbro Operative (1997), Canyon Wind (2005) and favorite Always B Miki (2016) to runner-up performances in the Dan Patch. He also steered favored McWicked to a fourth-place effort in 2017. Friday night, he added his name to the Dan Patch record book.