by Brett Sturman
In one of the most anticipated races ever from the historic Red Mile oval, it was Allywag Hanover who played the role of spoiler when he parlayed a dreamy, trouble-free trip into a one-and-a-half length win in 1:46 over Bulldog Hanover in last week’s Allerage Farms open pace. For Bulldog Hanover, the loss put an end to what should come to be simply known in harness racing circles as “the streak,” in which he strung together the best 11-race win streak ever seen in the history of the sport. Now, likely with just two races left in his 4-year-old season and his career, how should Bulldog Hanover be evaluated?
Looking first at last week’s Allerage Farms pace, driver Dexter Dunn was quoted post-race that Bulldog Hanover “raced great,” but that “he maybe wasn’t quite as sharp.” It may not seem like it on the surface, but timewise, Bulldog Hanover’s defeat could be considered just as good as almost any other race he’s had this year.
In a race where Dunn may have taken a different approach if the emphasis was solely on beating his equine opponents rather than racing against the clock, Bulldog Hanover was timed in 1:46.1. That clocking was accomplished on the final day of the Grand Circuit meet at the Red Mile, where the track had been playing relatively meek over the two weeks by speed standards, and that was no exception on Sunday.
But still, the race time of 1:46 tied the all-time track record and was superior to any other race on that day. The next fastest race that day on the trot-heavy card was the Tattersalls Pace, and that time of 1:48.3 by Pebble Beach was over two and a half seconds slower than the Allerage Farms open. Similarly, Niki Hill was the only other sub-1:50 win on the card when she won the Glen Garnsey Memorial in 1:48.4.
Perhaps the best point of reference was Test Of Faith’s win that day in the Allerage Farms fillies and mares open in 1:50.1. Bulldog Hanover was 20 lengths better than her on Sunday, comparing the times to each other. But when Bulldog Hanover set his 1:45.4 world record on July 16 at the Meadowlands, Test Of Faith went in 1:47 the very race prior; just six lengths slower than Bulldog Hanover. The point being, it’s not like Allywag Hanover and Bulldog Hanover paced in tandem to another near-record mile on a day when records were being set all over such as almost any race card from the Meadowlands this summer; they far exceeded relative to other performances that same day.
With all that said, Sunday’s race likely didn’t change how you feel about Bulldog Hanover. If you thought he was the best horse ever going into that race, you probably still feel the same. If you were skeptical of taking his greatness to that level, you probably feel somewhat validated. What’s for near certainty though, is that no matter how Bulldog Hanover’s final two races go, we’ve seen the greatest season by a 4-year-old, ever.
The closest winning streak I can think of by an older horse that mirror’s what Bulldog Hanover has accomplished is what Sweet Lou did back in 2014, though he did it as a 5-year-old. That year, Sweet Lou put together a 10-race win streak that at one point included six consecutive winning times of 1:47.4, 1:47, 1:47.1, 1:47.3, 1:47.2, 1:47.2.
Similarly, Always B Miki compiled a record-setting string of performances including separate smaller winning streaks en route to a Hall of Fame resume in 2016, but he too did it as a 5-year-old. In winning 12 of 18 races that year, he not only set the then all-time world record of 1:46, but he also paced multiple 1:47 miles over five-eighths mile tracks in winning the Ben Franklin at Pocono and the Jim Ewart Memorial at Scioto. It seems like a race that doesn’t get as much attention as it should, but that win in the Ewart when he battled first-over against Wiggle It Jiggleit should be considered one of the best races of all-time.
You could continue through the lists and find plenty of noteworthy seasons by the FFA pacing stars through the years, but what Bulldog Hanover has done as a 4-year-old against predominantly older horses is unprecedented, and it’s not even close. Where the debate will continue on is how Bulldog Hanover will eventually be viewed as an all-time great, or perhaps even the all-time great.
In part, how Bulldog Hanover closes out the year in the Breeders Crown and in the TVG Pace will be part of that determination. In a way, losing to Allywag Hanover in the Allerage Farms still may work out towards Bulldog Hanover’s benefit if he can avenge that defeat. If there is any knock to Bulldog Hanover – and this isn’t any fault of his own – it’s that he hasn’t been up against the strongest group of FFA pacers ever seen this year. A solid group for sure, but the defending Dan Patch winner of this division, Allywag Hanover hadn’t been eligible for stakes throughout much of the year and perhaps things could have turned out a bit different had he been. Those two appear slated to meet up again in the Breeders Crown at Woodbine Mohawk Park, home turf for Bulldog Hanover. It’s possible they could meet once more to close out the year in the TVG open pace at the Meadowlands if Allywag Hanover were to win the Breeders Crown.
It’s fun to speculate where this year will put Bulldog Hanover in the harness racing annals, but nothing can take away the fact that he’s unquestionably produced one of the most memorable single seasons ever seen. Let’s see if he can finish what he’s started by closing out the year and his career with two more wins in races that will not be easy, and at that point he’ll have a completed body of work with which to assess.