Sylvia Hanover is built differently

Though the star sophomore pacing filly lost for just the third time this year, her connections believe she’s primed for next week’s Breeders Crown final.

by Melissa Keith

In one of the biggest surprises in Friday night’s (Oct. 20) Breeders Crown eliminations at Harrah’s Hoosier Park, a Woodbine Mohawk Park track record-holder ended up second as the beaten favorite. Although racing analyst Emily Gaskin remarked that “Woodbine Mohawk Park translates well to Hoosier Park” for visiting horses, Sylvia Hanover (p, 3, 1:48.1m; $1,143,524) could not catch Strong Poison in race 9, the second of two eliminations for 3-year-old pacing fillies. The 1:51.2 winner, driven by Yannick Gingras, stayed over two lengths ahead of Sylvia Hanover and regular driver Bob McClure throughout the stretch drive.

Did the 2022 Dan Patch and O’Brien 2-year-old pacing filly of the year outfox herself, or have divisional rivals matured to the point where her antics are no longer compatible with winning races?

Sylvia Hanover has only missed the board once in 21 lifetime starts, when she hit herself and broke stride in the James M. Lynch Memorial Aug. 19 at Pocono.

“What happened is, she got leaning in a little bit on the last turn,” said Mark Steacy, who handles training duties when the Steacy Stable horses compete in the U.S.

Steacy said that he and son Shawn share training for the star filly, with the latter responsible when she is in Canada.

“We were both there [at Hoosier Park for the elimination],” Mark said. “She was expected to win, so it was a disappointment, but in actual fact, she did race well.”

Fractions, rather than on-track antics, cost Sylvia Hanover the win: Strong Poison cleared Sweet Amira to land on the lead near the :27 opening quarter, and got a :30.3 second-quarter breather en route to the half. Sylvia Hanover would sit fourth along the pylons no longer, tipping to chase Strong Poison first-over to three-quarters, reached in 1:25.3. The pace picked up dramatically in the stretch, with McClure’s filly running out of racetrack behind the winner. Both paced :25.4 final quarters.

Sylvia Hanover’s enigmatic racing style has been a factor throughout her two years on the track.

“It’s not so much that she plays around; it’s actually that she races when she wants to race,” said Mark. “She’s been the favorite in most of her races this year… She just won’t press forward and keep the lead when you want her to sometimes.”

Shawn noted that she has to be able to see horses to perform at her best, and last night’s short field was also not to her advantage. For Sylvia Hanover, racing is psychological.

“That’s her game,” Shawn said. “She loves the game.”

After spending her entire 2-year-old season competing at Mohawk, the 2022 Breeders Crown champ went on to race at five different tracks in this year. The 2023 Breeders Crown elimination was Sylvia Hanover’s debut at Hoosier Park.

“She actually travels really well,” Mark said. “It’s funny that she and her stable partner, Front Page Story, are usually in the same race.”

Shawn won his second Johnston Cup as top Ontario Sires Stakes trainer this year. He also won the title in 2020. He said it was an award that was special to his family. The Steacy Stable has two home bases: The original “homestead” in Lansdowne, ON, and First Line Training Centre in Milton, ON.

Sylvia Hanover ended 2022 on a high note by capturing her Breeders Crown elimination and final at her home track, Woodbine Mohawk Park, before starting her 3-year-old season there in May.

“She’s been quite a thrill,” Shawn said. “Her loss [Friday] night was her first real, true loss… It happens in horse racing.”

He told HRU on Saturday (Oct. 21) that he thought Sylvia Hanover’s demeanor reflected the rare defeat: “I think so, because she was a little saucy around the barn here this morning. She came out of it good, [but] she’s not used to knowing what it’s like not to win. She likes to be the center of attention.”

Famously relaxed in training and before she races, Sylvia’s laid-back ways mean there’s no wasted energy when it’s time to get serious.

“You almost have to carry a training whip when she’s jogging,” Mark said. “She’s quite different actually, she’s so laid back, in the stall… She knows when she has to do things and when she doesn’t.”

Shawn agreed that the reigning divisional champ knows when to bring her “A” game.

“She’s a very mentally unique and cool, individual kind of horse,” Shawn said. “She’s at a point right now where she knows she’s good.”

Currently staying at the farm of trainer Joey Putnam, 10 minutes from Hoosier Park, Sylvia Hanover and stablemate Front Page Story are able to be turned out, an advantage they did not have when racing at Red Mile in September. Caretaker Natasha Steacy looks after both fillies; Shawn, Natasha’s husband, called the fillies and their groom “inseparable.”

“Front Page Story [p, 3, 1:49.4s; $160,095] is like an unsung hero,” Shawn said. “She’s there all the time. They both travel together.”
Front Page Story finished fifth behind winner Zanatta in race 8 on Friday night (Oct. 20), the first Breeders Crown 3-year-old filly pace elimination, so the Steacy stablemates will both be headed towards the Oct. 28 final.

Mark said that a 4-year-old campaign for Sylvia Hanover is very likely, although not yet guaranteed.

“Right now, I have to talk to Tony Infilise, the owner, after the Breeders Crown,” Mark said. “She’s probably going back to my farm in Lansdowne. That’s where she wintered last year… Some horses handle their 4-year-old year different than others.”

Sylvia Hanover has already handled herself differently than most, every step of the way in what could be another Dan Patch/O’Brien Award season.