Apart from being the unanimous Trainer of the Year for 2020, Nancy Takter collected five other Dan Patch Awards, including Horse of the Year, Pacer of the Year, sophomore pacing colt of the year (Tall Dark Stranger) as well as the awards for both older mares — trotter Manchego and pacer Kissin In The Sand.
by Dave Briggs
For those scoring at home, trainer Nancy Takter was the unanimous choice for 2020 Trainer of the Year and campaigned the Horse of the Year, Pacer of the Year and sophomore pacing colt of the year Tall Dark Stranger, along with Older Trotting Mare of the Year Manchego and Older Pacing Mare of the Year Kissin In the Sand.
Oh, and the Pacing Broodmare of the Year, JK She’salady, is a former Takter pupil that produced the trainer’s first Horse of the Year award in 2014.
The Dan Patch Awards, presented by the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA) were announced in a 30-minute virtual broadcast ceremony on Saturday (Jan. 16) at The Meadowlands before the East Rutherford, NJ track’s racing card began.
“I hope they are like that in the future,” Takter said.
Completed in 30 minutes?
“No, me winning everything,” she said, laughing of her six Dan Patch Awards (seven if you count JK She’salady), including three of the sport’s biggest awards — Horse of the Year, Pacer of the Year and Trainer of the Year.
“You definitely have to appreciate the high moments when they come along,” Takter said. “(Assistant trainer) Josert (Fonseca) texted me, ‘Well, that was like the Nancy Takter hour’ or ‘One hour of Nancy Taker appreciation.’ He wrote something funny like that.”
Takter said she regretted that COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the traditional Dan Patch banquet, but she vows to have a small, socially-distanced get together with friends to celebrate.
“Really, it kind of sucks. We didn’t have very many celebrations throughout the year,” she said. “My horses got to go to the winner’s circle a lot of times, but there were a lot of times we weren’t able to join them in the winner’s circle. At this point, we’re kind of used to it, but definitely in 2021 the quicker it can get back to normal, the happier I think everyone will be… especially for the owners because I get to at least see the horses every day and appreciate the horses. The only time that the owners really get to see the horses is if they go to the races.”
As for having a second Horse of the Year, Takter, 39, said it was, “an awesome feeling. I don’t know actually how many people have accomplished that. I realize how hard people work just to be able to do that once in their life, so I feel very fortunate to not only do it once, but to be able to do it twice, with horses that I trained as babies.”
Takter said Tall Dark Stranger is, “just a winner. He won. It’s as simple as that. No horse goes through a season perfectly healthy… they ship a lot, they travel. He went to Canada. Just shipping back and forth from Canada, going through Buffalo, going to Kentucky. They overcome a lot of things that maybe we take for granted, so he’s a winner and winner’s win. That’s what he did.
“He understood that he was supposed to be first. You can’t teach that to horses. I can condition horses so physically they are in good shape and they have stamina and things like that. Obviously, those are God-given things, too, but I can improve on a horse’s conditioning and I can make sure that a horse stays sound and things like that, but to win? That comes from the horse himself and he did that, he knew to win.”
Tall Dark Stranger is now beginning his stallion career at Hanover Shoe Farms and Takter is predicting big things for his offspring if he passes on his desire to win.
“And he’s very fortunate that a lot of the mares he’s getting to breed, they know how to win, too,” she said. “I can’t wait to see the Tall Dark Stranger—Kissin In The Sand babies.”
Kissin In The Sand has long been one of Takter’s favorites and she said she was thrilled she won the Dan Patch Award considering she wasn’t originally scheduled to race in 2020.
“She’s one that I brought out of retirement. (Part-owner) Marvin (Katz) kept saying to me in 2019, ‘This is her last year of racing and she’s going to retire’ blah, blah, blah. But then she kind of finished 2019 pretty strong and I was like ‘You know, Marvin, you really want to breed her to Tall Dark Stranger anyway and he’s got one more year of racing…’ And Marvin was like, ‘Okay, I’m only going to let you bring her back for 2020 because I know you love her and you’re not ready to let her go.’ He said, ‘I just have one request if we bring her back for 2020 – you have to win the Breeders Crown.’ She had never won the Breeders Crown and I was, like, ‘No problem, we’ll go and win the Breeders Crown.’”
Takter laughs, knowing that was a bold promise. However, both she and Kissin In The Sand delivered.
“I was happy that I was able to hold up my end of the deal with the Breeders Crown,” she said.
As for Manchego, Takter said she had no idea whether USHWA voters would pick her over chief rival Atlanta. In the end, Manchego received 72 votes to Atlanta’s 58. It was, by far, the closest divisional race of the year. Atlanta took the honor in 2019.
“I thought (Manchego) was going to win last year and she didn’t, so I didn’t know (this year). It’s really based on people’s opinion of how the season went,” Takter said.
Though she didn’t necessarily agree with the USHWA voters last year, Takter did accomplish something akin to a miracle being named unanimous choice for Trainer of the Year.
“(Hambletonian Society COO) Moira Fanning texted me and said, ‘You got all the horse writers to agree on one thing, that never happens,’” Takter said.
Though Manchego had an off stretch in the middle of the summer, she finished up the year strong.
“She’s just amazing,” Takter said. “Just to watch her in the last two races of the year, she was just like a whole different animal. To be relaxed and come off the gate and just pass horses like that, it was unbelievable. I know that she can still whack one out on the front if she has to, but to have another dimension like that, it’s just another tool for her.”
Takter said Manchego was having trouble with her cycle last summer.
‘We tried to put her on Regu-Mate and then took her off Regu-Mate and she would cycle through it. It was just a mess. Finally, I just said, ‘You know what, we’re not giving her anything. Let her just cycle through normally and let her get through this on her own.’ When she was in Kentucky, I had a specialist from Rood and Riddle come and look at her and everything. Sometimes you just have to let nature take its course. She was able to cycle through and once that was done with she was fine,” Takter said.
“It was messing up her gait a little bit. As I’m sure a lot of women call tell you, if there’s ovary pain or whatever, your whole back hurts and everything, so she was not perfect in her gait, which is her strong suit, usually.”
Manchego, now 6, is currently back in training with Takter.
“She’s in great, great shape. This is actually the best she’s ever been for me bringing her back. She’s super and has a great attitude… she’s always had her head a little cocked to the left and it’s pretty straight right now, perfectly straight actually,” Takter said. “She’s relaxed and I think more than anything just seeing the maturity. It’s very rare that I get to bring horses back at 6, usually they leave after 3 and you never get to see them fully mature, both physically and mentally, and she’s definitely done both of those things.”
COVID-19 might have other plans, but Takter said she would love to take Manchego to Sweden to race in the Elitlopp.
“You’d have to see how things pan out (with the pandemic),” she said. “If we were able to go to Sweden and represent the United States in the Elitlopp, I mean, there isn’t much of a bigger dream for anybody than to represent their country in something. If we were to be able to do that it would be awesome, but we’re really just going to have to play it by ear.
“She’s got a lot of racing in North America as well, so even if we weren’t able to do something like that, she’s got lots of opportunity to shine this year. I think she could probably be one of the best ones this year, if not thebest one.”
Meaning, Nancy Takter is hoping for many more Dan Patch Awards in the future.
Katz texted Takter Saturday and reminded her that he and partner Al Libfeld use the slogan: The best is yet to come.
“He said, ‘Remember, the best is yet to come’ and I texted him back: ‘For sure, this is just the beginning.’”