An exhaustive — and excellent — breakdown of the 1:50 mile.
by Philip and Jonathan Sporn
Just over 40 years ago, a high school kid from New Jersey got interested in harness racing shortly after The Meadowlands racetrack opened. He kept track of all the top performers that raced at “The Swamp” and organized them every which way into a collection of charts. Keep in mind this was in the pre-computer and pre-Internet era, when record keeping was done via pencil and paper, and created on a typewriter (youngsters can Google that for photos and history).
The kid decided to send a package of information to Stan Bergstein in care of his Harness Tracks of America office in Chicago, thinking he might use the stats in an issue ofHoof Beats. Stan wrote back, thanking the kid (me) for the submission, and used them in his weekly Loose Lines column in Harness Horse magazine.
The title of this article is a takeoff of the headline of that April, 1980 column, “The 2:00 mile, Once a Hallmark, Now a Ho-Hum.” As archaic at this sounds, at the time, with a little bit of effort, one could keep track of all the 2:00 performers, in my case at The Meadowlands.
Fast forward a few months, and I started college at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ. Lo and behold, FDU was situated under two miles from the new location of Stan’s HTA office. In fact, it was literally on the grounds of Morristown Airport, notable for playing host to Air Force One during the last president’s weekend vacations to his golf club in nearby Bedminster. I became a sporadic visitor the HTA office, visiting with Bergstein’s executive assistant Chris Castens, with occasional interaction with Bergstein, who gave me the nickname Boy Wonder.
Fast forward a few more years, to my first full-time job, with Sports Information Data Base (OTC: SIDB), a company attempting to put the entire history of sports on computer. I was assistant editor of standardbred racing, under the tutelage of future Hall of Famer John Berry, a friendship which exists to this day. The company, however, a precursor to the Internet, failed within a short period of time.
In the winter, 1979 issue of Hub Rail magazine, Berry wrote an article entitled The 1:50 mile: Sorry It’s a Long Way Away.In it, he chronicled the fictitious pacer SPEEDING COMET, who, on Aug. 28, 1997, time trialed in a record 1:49.4 at The Red Mile “to the delight of the crowd” becoming the sport’s first 1:50 performer. Elsewhere in the article, Berry stated that “there is little evidence to support the possibility that a standardbred can support a rate of speed of 27 ½ [seconds] for four consecutive quarters.” He also said that “in fact, the first 1:50 mile just could be or 15 or 20 years away.”
After analyzing some of the fastest miles in recent memory, Berry provided proof like a CSI investigator. He detailed two main reasons why the 1:50 barrier was a long way off: “speed not sustainable” or that some horses needed a “breather.” At the time, ABERCROMBIE held the world record of 1:53 in a race, while STEADY STAR’s T1:52 time trial was the all-time speed record. Through the end of 1979, no horse had ever trotted faster than 1:55 in a race.
Turns out John was 100 per cent spot on in his findings… until he wasn’t.
And I rib him about it to this day.
Unfortunately, Niatross’ 1:49.1 time trial in 1980 busted his theory less than a year later. Since then, it was become such a routine occurrence that it barely merits a mention. As a result, I decided to see just how common the 1:50 mile has become, and in my usual “every which way imaginable” investigatory research, here are some of my findings. However, a major shout-out goes to my assistant (and son) Jonathan who helped me navigate through almost one million characters of data and put them in a readable, and easily explainable, format.
SPEED, SPEED, SPEED
As of 12/31/2020, a total of 2,403 DIFFERENT horses have paced a mile in 1:50 or faster (2,387 pacers, 16 trotters). In terms of total miles, these horses are responsible for a total of 6,472 1:50 miles. This list includes qualifiers and time-trials.
BEST OF THE BEST
The all-time leader is the iron-tough GOLDEN RECEIVER, who leads the way with 36 career 1:50 miles (out of his 64 lifetime wins). Next on the list are a pair of Horses of the Year MCWICKED (27) and WIGGLE IT JIGGLEIT (26), then ALWAYS B MIKI and BETTOR’S EDGE (24). Rounding out the top 10 are the richest ever standardbred FOILED AGAIN (23), SWEET LOU and DANCIN YANKEE (22), and a three-way tie of STATE TREASURER, SCOTT ROCKS and SHARTIN N (20). Scott Rocks is the leading active 1:50 performer.
GIRLS CAN PACE FAST, TOO!
Among females, trailing Shartin N (20) on the all-time list are KISSIN IN THE SAND (14), ANNDROVETTE, DROP THE BALL and CAVIART ALLY (tied at 13), LADY SHADOW (12), PARTY GIRL HILL (10), and, tied at 9, DREAMFAIR ETERNAL, PUT ON A SHOW and PURE COUNTRY.
1980 STARTED IT ALL
Of course, NIATROSS was the first 1:50 performer via his 1:49.1 time trial on 10/1/80. It would be almost another five years for the first 1:50 race mile (1:49.3) by his son NIHILATOR on 8/3/1985. Three more years would lapse until there were multiple 1:50 miles in a single year (three in 1988): two in time trials (MATT’S SCOOTER and JAGUAR SPUR), and one in a race (CALL FOR RAIN). The year 1991 saw the first female 1:50 performer, CAESARS JACKPOT, by virtue of her T1:49.2 time trial.
THE SPEED EXPLOSION
However, it wasn’t until 1992 when multiple 1:50 race-miles in a single season (DORUNRUN BLUEGRASS and ARTSPLACE, twice) happened. In fact, Artsplace became the first horse with more than one 1:50 mile to his credit in the same year. The year 1993 became the first season with double-digit 1:50 speed (11 miles). Seven years later, 2000 was the first year with 100 or more 1:50 miles (102), and, after a few lean years, the count started back up again in 2004 (176). Since then, the numbers continue to rise, with the all-time seasonal record (553) occurring in 2019, with 2020 just behind at 545.
By gait, there have been 26 trotting miles (by 16 trotters), and 6,446 pacing miles (by 2,387 distinct pacers).
WHERE IN THE WORLD?
So where did these 6,472 miles occur? Not surprisingly, The Meadowlands accounted for 1,975 of them, double the next leading track, Mohawk (698, and its alter-ego Woodbine Mohawk Park−245), for a combined 943. Next is Pocono Downs (897), followed by the combo of Harrah’s Philadelphia (248) and its previous name Chester Downs (192) at 440. Completing the top 10 are Hoosier Park (403), Woodbine (thru April 9, 2018) (316), Lexington (266), Balmoral Park (231), Dover Downs (184) and The Meadows (164).
By size, mile tracks have accounted for 2,584 1:50 miles, followed by 5/8 mile (2,009), 7/8 mile (1,744), and ½ mile tracks (99). There have also been 36 miles on a 1 ¼ mile track.
Canada’s first 1:50 mile was by BALL AND CHAIN (1:49.4) at Woodbine in 1995. The first on a 5/8 mile track was JENNA’S BEACH BOY (1:49.2f) at Rosecroft in 1996, and he was also the first on a ½ mile track (1:49.3h) a few weeks later, at Delaware.
In terms of drivers, Tim Tetrick leads the way, steering 209 different horses to a total of 409 1:50 or faster miles. Right behind are Yannick Gingras (186), David Miller (181), George Napolitano, Jr. (166) and Brian Sears (148). Rounding out the top-10 are Ron Pierce (138), George Brennan (106), Andy Miller (97), John Campbell (96) and Brett Miller (83). Overall, 259 different drivers have recorded at least one 1:50 score, with 72 of them having one lone 1:50 credit.
Among the top 25 dash-winning drivers of all-time, only #3 HERVE FILION (15,183 wins) and #9 WILLIAM PARKER. JR. (11,313 wins) have failed to steer a 1:50 performer.
Two female drivers have sat behind a 1:50 performer. STACY CHIODO drove MIGHTY YOUNG JOE to 1:49.3 and 1:50 wins at The Meadowlands in 2014, while JENNIFER LAPPE drove BETTOR’S EDGE to 1:50 victories at Vernon Downs, in 2019 and 2020.
Here’s an interesting tidbit. Among the 72 single-credit drivers, Frank J. Davis has the fastest performer (JK PANACHE), whom he steered to a 1:47.3 win in 2015 at Vernon Downs, followed by Jared D. Finn’s 1:48 win behind ROCKIN GOOD at Lexington in 2015. Curiously, JK Panache also accounts for another driver’s lone 1:50 score, a 1:49.3 win for driver D. Jimmy Whittemore in 2013 at Vernon Downs.
The leading sire of 1:50 performers is a tight race between BETTOR’S DELIGHT (122 – Shebestingin the fastest) and SOMEBEACHSOMEWHERE (115 – Dr J Hanover and Cattlewash). ROCKNROLL HANOVER (84 – Pet Rock), WESTERN IDEAL (76 – Western Joe) and WESTERN HANOVER (71 – Jereme’s Jet and Won The West) complete the pentafecta. Rounding out the top 10 are CAMLUCK (Nirvana Seelster) and ART MAJOR (68 – Art Official), CAM’S CARD SHARK (65 – Holborn Hanover), DRAGON AGAIN (Donttellmeagain) and AMERICAN IDEAL (64 – He’s Watching).
Counting the number of total 1:50 miles (not distinct horses), SBSB offspring leads with 394 miles to the 382 by offspring of Bettor’s Delight. Overall, 362 different sires have produced at least one 1:50 performer. Of those, 198 sires have multiple 1:50 credits.
Of the 164 sires with just one 1:50 credit, the fastest is I’M GORGEOUS’s son LATHER UP (1:46 the fastest of his 12 wins), followed by TINTIN IN AMERICA (20 by SHARTIN N – the swiftest in 1:46.4) and HURRIKANE KINGCOLE (HURRIKANE EMPEROR 1:47, the best of his 8 scores).
Among sires with one 1:50 credit, with only one solo 1:50 mile, MATTUITY’s son WHOLEFTTHEGATEOPEN, and MR CANTAB’s son HOMICIDE HUNTER (both at 1:48.4), are the fastest one-hit wonders.
DAM GOOD PRODUCERS
Among dams, 2,059 mares have produced a 1:50 performer. Of these, 287 have multiple 1:50 performers. Three broodmares lead the way with five 1:50 credits: BOLERO TAKARA (Bolero Charles, Bolero Andrew, Shamballa, YS Lotus and Shamwow); KIKIKATIE (Rockin Image, Time To Roll, Grams Legacy, Rockin Amadeus and Tellitlikeitis); and JATED LOVE (Bettor Again, Just Fine, Modern Gesture, Stolen Glimpse and Enough Sun). Additionally, six mares have 4 1:50 credits each.
ARTSPLACE THE BROODMARE SIRE
ARTSPLACE dominates the broodmare sire list, with a remarkable 190 1:50 broodmare sire credits (Always B Miki his fastest). That is almost double the next on the list (CAMLUCK), with 99 credits (American History), then WESTERN HANOVER (92 – Betting Line), ABERCROMBIE (91 – Holborn Hanover) and JATE LOBELL (80 – Panther Hanover). Even more impressive: over one out of every 10 1:50 miles has been recorded by a horse with an Artsplace dam (677 of 6,472).
REMEMBER TIME TRIALS?
Once a staple at Lexington, as well as the Midwest Grand Circuit tracks, time trials have virtually disappeared since the late 2000s. Overall, there have been 10 1:50 miles in time trials. The first by NIATROSS (T1:49.1 in 1980) and the last in 2007 (JEREMES JET at T1:47), which was the first since CAMBEST’s T1:46.1 in 1993.
Forty-four 1:50 miles happened in qualifiers, the swiftest being PURE COUNTRY (1:48) in 2017, followed by SHARK GESTURE (1:48.2 in 2010) and ALWAYS B MIKI (1:48.2 in 2015).
ALWAYS B MIKI and LATHER UP (1:46) are the co-fastest on a mile track. On a 5/8 mile track, SWEET LOU (2014) and ALWAYS B MIKI (1:47f) are tied as fastest, with ABM doing it 3 times in 2016. On a ½ -mile, PET ROCK (2013) is the fastest at 1:48.1h, followed by DANCIN YANKEE and DRAGON STRIKER, both at 1:48.4h.
The rarest occurrences of a 1:50 mile happen on a ½ mile track. It’s only happened 99 times in harness history, accomplished by 72 distinct horses. Only 13 pacers have multiple 1:50 ½-mile track scores. Two warriors have performed the feat six times: WIGGLE IT JIGGLEIT (including a single-season record four in 2015) and SOUTHWIND AMAZON. Another two have four such miles: CLEAR VISION and DANCIN YANKEE. Amazingly, Southwind Amazon has accomplished it in each of the last four years (2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020)!
A GOOD DAY TO PACE FAST
July 26, 2014 was the most popular date for 1:50 miles, occurring 26 times. In terms of one track, 11 1:50 miles have occurred 5 times on one race-card: 3 times at The Meadowlands (the last in 2007), and twice at Pocono Downs (both in 2014).
FAST AT ANY AGE
By age, 4-year-olds lead the way with 1,629 1:50 scores. Next are 5-year-olds (1,492), 3YOs (1,250), and 6YOs (933). Two-year-olds have compiled 68 1:50 miles, while a lone 12-year-old, TATTLER’S JET, won in 1:49.2 at Colonial Downs in 2010.
An elite group of six 2-year-old fillies have cracked the 1:50 or faster barrier, led by WARRAWEE BEAUT (1:48.3), TEST OF FAITH (1:48.4) and JK FIRST LADY (1:49.2). On the colt/gelding side, 46 different horses are on the list (62 miles), headed by the gelding ELVER HANOVER (1:48.3), and a 3-way tie of 1:49 by SWEET LOU, DOWNBYTHESEASIDE and HUNTSVILLE.
One hundered and twenty-two 3-year-old fillies have paced a total of 220 1:50 miles. Leading the pack are SHEBESTINGIN (1:47), PARTY GIRL HILL (1:47.2), DOUBLE A MINT (1:47.3) and KISSIN IN THE SAND (1:47.4). In terms of 3YO colt and gelding pacers, 1,023 1:50 miles have been performed (by 522 distinct horses) by this group, led by SOMEBEACHSOMEWHERE, HE’S WATCHING and CATTLEWASH in a 3-way tie at 1:46.4.
In terms of older horses and geldings, a whopping 4,657 miles (by 1,791 unique horses) are in this category, led by ALWAYS B MIKI and LATHER UP (1:46). 235 older mares account for 478 miles, headed by SHARTIN N (1:46.4), PUT ON A SHOW (1:47.3) and KISSIN IN THE SAND (1:47.4).
DON’T FORGET THE TROTTERS
Trotters can’t be ignored, as a select group of 16 (including seven females) are responsible for the 26 all-time 1:50 miles. HOMICIDE HUNTER (1:48.4), SEBASTIAN K S (1:49f) and MANCHEGO (1:49) hold down the top three spots. Manchego also leads the way with five individual 1:50 miles, followed by SIX PACK (4), SEBASTIAN K S (2), ATLANTA (2) and PLUNGE BLUE CHIP (2). They are the only five trotters with multiple 1:50 credits. Fifty per cent of the 1:50 trotting miles are by females.
SINGLE SEASON SENSATIONS
As far as 1:50 miles in a single year, WIGGLE IT JIGGLEIT (17) is the all-time single-season leader, set in 2015. Right behind him are CAPTAINTREACHEROUS (14), TALL DARK STRANGER (12), and a four-way tie between GOLDEN RECEIVER, ROCK N ROLL HEAVEN, SWEET LOU and ALWAYS B MIKI, each with 11. Most by a female in one year is a tie at 10: SHARTIN N (in 2019) and PARTY GIRL HILL (2020), with KISSIN IN THE SAND and CAVIART ALLY (9) close behind them.
Here’s a mind-blower in terms of dependability. The record for most 1:50 miles in different years is held by BETTOR’S EDGE. He recorded 1:50 wins in NINE different years — every year from 2012 thru 2020. Close behind are CLEAR VISION and DAPPER DUDE (8) and FOILED AGAIN, DANCIN YANKEE and ELLIS PARK (7).
SPANNING THE GLOBE
Needless to say, BETTOR’S EDGE also holds the record for the longest time between a horse’s first and last 1:50 mile: eight years and 11 days, from 7/21/2012 to 8/1/2020. Next in line are DALHOUSIE DAVE (seven years, 342 days), CLEAR VISION (seven years, 284 days), DANCIN YANKEE (seven years, 83 days), FOILED AGAIN (seven years, 81 days), MCERLEAN (seven years, 26 days) and DAPPER DUDE (seven years, 20 days).
A LONG TIME BETWEEN DRINKS
Seven years is a long time between drinks – just ask McErlean. He holds the longest 1:50 drought. He recorded his first 1:50 score on June 28, 2013, winning in 1:49.1f at Harrah’s Philadelphia. Fast forward over seven years to July 24, 2020, where he scored his next (and only other) 1:50 mile, winning in 1:49.4f at the same track. That’s a gap of 183 races. Dalhousie Dave has the next biggest schneid, between his 1:50 win on Aug. 18, 2012 at Mohawk; and a victory at Scioto Downs in 1:50f on June 16, 2018 – just under six years later.
BIG MONEY = FAST TIMES
There have been 25 races with purses of $1 million or more that resulted in a 1:50 mile. The highest purse was the 2011 $1.53 million North America Cup won by UP THE CREDIT in 1:49.3. Interestingly, two horses have 1:50 scores in $1 million races: ROCKNROLL HANOVER and THE PANDEROSA, and they both accomplished that feat winning the North America Cup and Meadowlands Pace.
A LITTLE MONEY FOR A LOT OF EFFORT
On the other side of the spectrum, TIME TO ROLL won in 1:48.2 in a Topline Pace at Springfield in 2015 for a paltry purse of just $1,425. He sat the pocket through splits of: :27, :53, 1:19.4 to pick up the winner’s share of (hold on to your hat) $898. The next smallest purse is $3,000, a 1988 race won by CALL FOR RAIN. Overall, there have been 22 1:50 or faster miles in races with a purse of $5,000 or under.
Some horses can’t wait to go fast! SICILY (1:50f) kicked off the new year with a win on Jan. 2, 2020 at Dover Downs, while BETTOR SWEET (2009) and DOCTOR BUTCH (2015), both won on Jan. 3 at The Meadowlands. Some others, however, are…
IN NO RUSH
On the other side of the calendar, CITY HALL won in 1:49.3 on New Year’s Eve in 2016 at The Meadowlands, while SHU HANOVER (1:50) and BLUE BURNER (1:49.4) both waited until the bitter end (Dec. 30) of the year to take quick records in 2005 and 2006.
Not surprisingly, most horses take their 1:50 or faster records on a Saturday — 4,470 miles have been recorded on the Sabbath (Lather Up – the fastest – 1:46), with Friday right behind (726) followed by Sunday (678). American History (1:47) is Friday’s quickest, while Always B Miki (1:46) is Sunday’s best. If you want to feel special, pace in 1:50 on a Wednesday. It’s only been done 80 times, led by CAPTAIN CRUNCH’S 1:47.3f score on hump-day in the Progress Pace elim. at Dover Downs in 2019.
NO SUMMERTIME BLUES
It’s no shocker that most fast miles happen in the summer — 1,203 have occurred in June (1:46.4 – Dr J Hanover), followed by 1,158 in July (Lather Up – 1:46) and 1,085 (Cambest’s T1:46.1 time trial) in August of 1993. The least popular months would be in February (86) and January (94).
In terms of distinct tracks, WIGGLE IT JIGGLEIT does not care where he races. He recorded 1:50 wins at a record 11 different tracks. Right behind at 10 are BETTOR’S EDGE and MCWICKED, followed by BETTOR SWEET and SHARTIN N (9), and SWEET LOU, STATE TREASURER, CAPTAINTREACHEROUS and ALWAYS B MIKI, deadlocked at 8.
Breaking this down a bit further, two horses have recorded 100% of their 1:50 miles at different tracks: a tie between PET ROCK and DOWNBYTHESEASIDE, both with 6 1:50 miles at 6 different tracks.
TWO ONE-TRACK WONDERS
On the other side of the coin, both JK PANACHE and NIGHT PRO recorded ALL 17 of their career 1:50 miles at one track: JK loves Vernon Downs, while Night Pro is also happy close to home, adoring the track surface at Hoosier Park. It’s a big gap to Mohawk-loving MAJOR HOTTIE (11) and Pocono Downs’ local MUSTANG ART (10).
ANYWHERE, ANYPLACE, ANYTIME
Here’s a mark of consistency: only 37 horses have record 1:50 or faster wins over all size tracks (mile, 5/8 and ½). The first was JENNA’S BEACH BOY. If we fine-tune it to horses that accomplished it in thesameyear, that list is dwindled down to 26, first achieved in 1996 (JBB), and not achieved for another 11 years (GOLD DUST BEACH)! In 2020, 4 horses recorded the trifecta: SECTIONLINE BIGRY, CATCH THE FIRE, PARTY GIRL HILL and SANDBETWEENMYTOES, with PGH the only female to do so. Incredibly, WIGGLE IT JIGGLE is the only horse to accomplish it twice – in 2015 AND 2016.
MOTHER AND CHILD REUNION
Of the 326 females who have performed in 1:50, an incredible 53 have produced a 1:50 performer. Of these matrons, NINE have produced a pair of 1:50 performers: ARMBRO ROMANCE (The One-Night Pan, Armbro Damien), BENEAR (Limelight Beach and Manhattan Beach), BUNNY LAKE (Bestofbest Hanover and Tobago Cays), GALLERIA (Sandbetweenmytoes and Gallie Bythe Beach), HANA HANOVER (Hayden Hanover and Invest In Art), IDEAL NEWTON (Closing Statement and Inverse Hanover), MIDNIGHT JEWEL (Night Pro and Stroke Of Midnight), ROLLER CAM (Ellis Park and Fat Mans Alley) and TUG RIVER PRINCESS (Prince Of Tides and Masterson).
What will happen in years to come is unknown. Have horses reached the plateau where horses cannot physically go any faster? Hard to say, but time will tell. By the way, when John Berry’s imaginary horse Speeding Comet broke the 1:50 barrier on 8/28/1997, there had been 85 “real” 1:50 miles as of that date.