Another week, another improbable, electrifying, jaw-dropping mile for Bulldog Hanover, who practically runs an assembly line for capturing lightning in a jar.
by Dave Briggs
Not long after Saturday’s celestial electrical show and its accompanying grumbling seemed to deftly divert around Woodbine Mohawk Park at the last second as if divinely directed, trainer Jack Darling stood near the teletimer displaying its own light show.
Darling, dressed in a black shirt like a harness racing Johnny Cash, paused for a second to reflect on the ring of fire his Bulldog Hanover left behind him while dispatching nine top older pacers to win the $650,000 Canadian Pacing Derby. The seemingly effortless 1:46.4 clocking orchestrated by Dexter Dunn tied the fastest mile in both track and Canadian harness racing history.
Where just seven weeks prior, the horse’s 1:45.4 world record — the fastest mile by any standardbred in history —brought tears to the eyes of a man not prone to big shows of emotion, now Darling seemed to be processing the latest in a string of incredible feats of speed with a whole lot of admiration, a touch of slightly-raised-eyebrow surprise and ample amounts of expectation.
No one knows better than Darling that Bulldog Hanover is capable of making the improbable possible.
“I didn’t there would be a track record tonight,” Darling said. “The track just wasn’t lightning fast. It was a nice night, but the track wasn’t lightning fast, so I didn’t think they would go that much.”
It was the fifth time in Bulldog Hanover’s last seven pari-mutuel starts that the son of Shadow Play—BJ’s Squall has posted a mile of 1:47 or faster.
Just let that sink in for a second. Five times in eight hard weeks of battling heavyweights, Bulldog Hanover has produced epic miles — including a string of four straight jaw-droppers at The Meadowlands that will go down in history as the most prolific period by a pacer in many moons. And remember, these aren’t glass-jawed palookas Bulldog is slugging senseless.
Darling said his brute of a horse is simply blessed with the greatest set of lungs the trainer has ever seen. That, and a rippling bod and better-than-average smarts and a wickedly nice personality.
“If a horse can have a perfect personality, that’s him. For a stud, he’s very calm. Around the barn, he’s perfect. Take him out to jog him and you couldn’t ask for a nicer horse to jog. He just goes about his business, ears up. Training? He trains perfect and does exactly what you want. If you speak to him, he’s gone. The big trouble is that once he gets going, he wants to stay going and it’s a little hard to get him pulled down,” Darling said.
It all makes Bulldog Hanover seem more like machine than beast.
Yeah, I know, there will never be another Pacing Machine like Cam Fella. But there’s something decidedly un-equine about Bulldog Hanover; how he rarely tires and makes it all look so shockingly, perfectly easy.
Even giving away 1,000 t-shirts with Bulldog Hanover’s face on them — a kiss of death before the race was paced if there ever was one — couldn’t hex this hometown hero.
Bulldog Hanover is on a roll so prolific Darling never even considered the perils of testing the Racing Gods.
“I never thought about the superstition,” he said. Instead, he spent part of the week fielding requests to put aside a shirt of two.
“People called me and texted me from all different places in the States, wanting me to send them a few t-shirts,” Darling said.
“The fans really do get into a horse like this. When anybody comes up to me, strangers, their eyes light up. You can see it. They really feel that this is something special.”
And yet, I sense people are becoming so used to Bulldog Hanover’s otherworldly abilities, they’re expecting the magic to last forever.
Instead, Darling figures the unanimous #1 standardbred in North America has about eight more weeks of racing before returning full-time to the stallion barn at Seelster Farms in Lucan, ON that he visited part-time this past breeding season.
In the meantime, the man that picked the horse out for a mere $28,000 from Hanover Shoe Farms’ exquisite consignment at the 2019 Standardbred Horse Sales Company yearling auction in Harrisburg, PA, is going to try to cement as many memories as possible in his 69th year.
Though Darling isn’t even hinting at retirement, he knows he’s much closer to the end of his career than the beginning. When that day comes, what a sweet gold watch Bulldog Hanover will provide him. With each incredible performance, the 4-year-old stallion’s stock — and his stud fee — trend ever skyward.
But neither Jack Darling nor his partner on Bulldog Hanover, Brad Grant, have the time to really think about all that breeding stuff now. They’re too busy enjoying their profound good fortune and one hell of a horse.
“This is the ride of a lifetime. I’ve been around a long time and this is kind of a nice way to go out. I know I’m not going to top this, so I’m just going to try to enjoy it,” Darling said.
But before The Bulldog is done, his trainer is itching to find out just how fast the horse can go.
“The most important thing is winning, but I’m still excited about Lexington and catching a nice day down there,” Darling said, stopping, just for a moment, to allow himself the deepest of red clay dreams and thoughts of bottling lightning one more time before it’s over.