Horse of the Year: a dozen early thoughts

by Bob Heyden

  1. In 1968 on Nov. 23, Nevele Pride was announced as the HOY repeater. That’s right, Nov. 23, folks. It was different in those days.
  2. Captain Corey on Hambletonian night might have won the whole thing right then and there, but he raced only seven times for the year (7 5-0-1, $758,695), over $100,000 per start.

Malabar Man was the first trotter to be HOY averaging over $100,000 per in 1997. But the seven starts are likely not going to work. Chapter Seven at 10 in 2012 holds the mark for the fewest ever for a HOY.

  1. How about the trotting mare division? Wow. Who wins this?

Manchego — 9 6-0-1, $421,596

Atlanta — 12 6-3-1, $432,699

When Dovescry — 18 8-7-2, $514,014

  1. Will the top five, six or even seven vote-getters all be female?

Test Of Faith, Niki Hill, Bella Bellini, Venerable, Lyons Sentinel, Joviality?

In 1958, 3YO Trotting Filly Emilys Pride got 28 first-place votes and 439 points overall to nail down the title, even though Belle Acton also got 28 first place votes, but 407 points.

  1. The year 2001 saw a 3-year-old pacing filly best a sophomore trotting filly to go 1-2 that year in the HOY balloting: Bunny Lake-Syrinx Hanover. In 2017, three trotting females dominated with Hannelore Hanover and Ariana G and Manchego going 1-2-3 with 95 votes to 12 to 10.
  2. Joviality had a unique daily double in 2021. No freshman filly has ever won the New York Sires Stakes final at Yonkers from post 8 and then the Breeders Crown from post 10.
  3. Lyons Sentinel comes off a bruising season but three straight races where she never was on top at any point are likely to be costly.
  4. Richard Norman has become the first trainer to ever have two million-dollar trotting fillies in one season — Venerable 11 9-01, $1.04 million and Bella Bellini at 19 11-6-1, $1,111,390.
  5. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Early-season heroics can be quickly dismissed (See Fear The Dragon 2017). But, sometimes, a slow start is no issue — Cam Fella in 1983 began 2-for-8 then won his final 28 that year to post 30 wins in 36 starts, both all-time highs for any HOY. Abercrombie was 3-for-8 in 1978 before finishing 22-for-33 and easily capturing the year-end title.
  6. Niki Hill had a giant season any which way you slice it. Chris Ryder, is it possible he can have the HOY runner-up again? That was the case in both 2019 with Bettors Wish and 2020 with Party Girl Hill. Ray Schnittker’s Deweycheatumnhowe was back-to-back HOY runner-up in 2007 and 2008.
  7. Live streaming to New Zealand? Australia? Sure hope so on Feb. 20. Ryder, Norman and Pelling all have Dan Patch major contenders. Rising Star Todd McCarthy? A big night looms Down Under.
  8. Will 30 votes be enough to nail down HOY? It’s possible. In 1974, 16 different horses got a least one HOY vote from 194 writers that cast ballots. Likely half that number will cast ballots this year.

Will David Miller set a HOY record?

David Miller is, well, getting up there — at least comparatively speaking. He will turn 57 on Dec. 10. IF Test Of Faith or Venerable should be named Horse of the Year, Miller would become the oldest driver in 47 years to claim the title. Delvin Miller was 61 with Delmonica Hanover in 1974 when she parlayed the Prix D’Amerique and the Roosevelt International (John Chapman) into a HOY season. Here’s a look at the 50-something drivers since who have done it:

1975 — James Arthur, 56, Savoir

1977 — Billy Haughton, 54, Green Speed

1997 — Mal Burroughs, 57 (Ten days younger than David Miller) with Malabar Man

2006 — John Campbell, 51, Glidemaster

2007 — Ron Pierce, 51, Donato Hanover

2016 — Dave Miller, 52, Always B Miki

2018 — Brian Sears, 50, McWicked

Pelling’s amazing season

If you look at the top 24 trainers of 2021 in earnings, you will see Brett Pelling at #7. But look a little closer to the right at his .UTRS: .465. It is a beyond-belief Stanley Dancer type of number that is simply not done in today’s era.

In context, not a single trainer of the other 23 are 100 points near that. None. Pelling had 321 starts: 103 wins 56 seconds and 45 thirds. That’s nearly $13,000 per start, which is also #1 in North America. Brian Brown is at .401 in the #25 spot having a strong year of his own. In further context, the all-time thoroughbred leader in the all-important in-the-money department is Chad Brown at 59 per cent. Pelling is over 65 per cent in 2021. This is all highlighted by the more-than-spectacular Test of Faith at 16 14-2-0 $1,069,739 for the season.

Oh, brothers

Brothers Andrew and Todd McCarthy both surpassed $7.5 million in driver earnings in 2021.

Andrew had $8.5 million and Todd $7.5 million.

Andrew landed in the Top 5 for the first time and Todd in the Top 10.

Brothers Tetrick are at $18.5 million combined with Tim at $12.2 million and Trace at $6.3.

Hail to King

Jim King, Jr. has done something unprecedented: consecutive $2 million career-earning pacing mares: Shartin N followed by Lyons Sentinel.

Rod Allen retires

Horseman Rod Allen has retired at age 65. It’s been 17 years since we lost his father, Carl, the patriarch of the Allen family. Rod started driving the year after his dad won the $1.7 million Woodrow Wilson in 1983 with Carls Bird and Rod’s brother Marty was the season’s fastest on three different sized tracks with Its Fritz.

Rod has been around for most of the last three and a half decades — with a memorable 1994-1996 campaigning standout C R Kay Suzie, the 1995 HOY. Carlsbad Cam won the 1992 Meadowlands Pace in Rod’s lone appearance in the Pace, after a third in the NA Cup as the betting choice. C R Renegade won the 1999 Breeders Crown.

Three driving Allens won a trotting Triple Crown race — Mike the Kentucky Futurity with C R Track Master and Rod and Carl both in the Yonkers Trot.

If there is a classier duo in the sport that Rod and wife Dawn, I certainly have yet to meet them. All the best to a duo that may not realize it but they have set the bar even higher on how to conduct oneself in the sport of standardbred racing — on and off the track.

Hambletonian thoughts

The last two times there were four heats in the Hambletonian came in 1975 and 1976. Certainly, you can understand the taxing nature of this. In 1975, the top two finishers never again raced — Bonefish and Yankee Bambino. But, in 1976, just two weeks after the grueling Steve Lobell-won Hambletonian, 10 of the 12 participants in at least three heats made it back and competed in the Colonial on Sept. 18, 14 days later. Steve Lobell actually made breaks in two different heats on Hambletonian Day and still won it.

Four-year-old blues? It sure looks like it for the last two Hambletonian winners in 2019 and 2020 combined as they went 1-for-12 as 4-year-olds; 0-for-7 this year for Ramona Hill and just a 1-for-5 slate for Forbidden Trade in 2020.

Who remembers Hambletonian medallions? in 1975, the medallions, along with $5 admission tickets for the race, were sold for $5 each to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the race. The goal was 25,000 sold, but it was topped to 28,535 Golden Hambletonian Medallions.

Where, oh where, have these days gone?

Hold onto your hats. On Feb. 20 1964 at Roosevelt Raceway — Opening Day — 35,191 people showed up (and 22,421 came the next night). For the opener, in 24 degree weather, just two days after a snowstorm, $2,340,342 was jammed through the windows. One hundred and forty-six infra-red heaters were set up for those not lucky enough to make it inside or to the Cloud Casino. My favorite remembrance? Doc Robbins sold all 32,000 programs.