Breaking down the Dan Patch Trainer and Driver of the Year contenders

by Brett Sturman

Following on fromlast week’s column that detailed divisional situations for 2- and 3-year-old equines, this week focuses on the human Dan Patch awards for trainer and driver.


Beginning with the trainer award, the Dan Patch comes down to three individuals in my view. Those are: Ron Burke, Ake Svanstedt, and Nancy Takter.

Takter won this award unanimously in 2020 when backed by stars Tall Dark Stranger and Manchego, and her resume this year does every bit of standing up to that one. This year, Takter won the Hambletonian for the first time in her career with Tactical Approach, who together also won the Breeders Crown and Kentucky Futurity. Takter also campaigned star 2-year-old Karl; a winner of the Breeders Crown and the Valley Victory and became the second ever 2-year-old colt trotter to earn over $1 million in his freshman campaign. It’s likely that the award for overall Trotter of the Year will come from Takter.

Not to be overlooked either should be the work that Takter did with the 3-year-old colt, Cannibal. An accomplished 2-year-old last year, this was a horse that began his sophomore season in a couple of Stallion Series races in Pennsylvania, to spring an upset in a Meadowlands Pace elimination and then go on to win signature races such as the Adios and the Tattersalls Pace. Included in her high UTRS of 0.386 Takter also trained one of the top 2-year-old pacing fillies, Three Diamonds winner Caviart Belle.

Trainer Ake Svanstedt has been close on prior occasions to winning trainer of the year, and this year represents perhaps his most impressive one yet. It seems that if he wasn’t winning every major trot race this year, he was always a factor.

Svanstedt was second in trainer earnings this year at over $9.8 million, well clear of Tony Alagna in third at $7.3 million. Svanstedt’s gaudy UTRS of 0.420 is the best of any trainer with over 100 wins this year.

In the course of the two nights over Breeders Crown weekend, Svanstedt took home four races, three of them on the Saturday night events. He won Breeders Crowns with Warrawee Michelle, Bond, Southwind Tyrion and Jiggy Jog S. Bond and Jiggy Jog S are certain to win year-end awards for their respective divisions, and honors certainly aren’t out of the question either for Warrawee Michelle or Southwind Tyrion depending on how voters see things. Other notable accomplishments include winning the Maple Leaf Trot with Alrajah One IT, and capturing a pair of $300,000 races with Up Your Deo in the MGM Yonkers Trot and the Earl Beal Memorial.

Like Michael Jordan’s playing days, you could make an award-winning case every year for Ron Burke, a winner of the award in 2011, 2013, 2018, but this year even more so. Even by typical Burke standards, his performance this year was way out of the ordinary. Whereas $20 million in earnings has become the norm for Burke, this year he’s cleared an astonishing $27 million in purses earned as a trainer. His UTRS of 0.358 holds up amazingly well considering that, by year’s end, Burke will have posted over 5,000 starts this season.

Speaking to Burke’s ability not only as a conditioner, but someone who also expertly manages his horses, he plotted a path that led to him training the richest 2-year-old trotter (ever) with T C I, and the richest 2-year-old pacer with Breeders Crown winning filly My Girl EJ. Between those two and another Breeders Crown win with Bythemissal who is presumed to also be named older pacer of the year, along with Hellabalou who upset in the MGM Borgata Pacing Series final, Burke won four separate races over $500,000. He should also be given credit for the work with Canadian Trotting Classic winner Celebrity Bambino, top older trotter and multiple stakes winner It’s Academic, and with M-M’s Dream, who was able to get the better of rival Jiggy Jog S on a couple of different occasions.

In a race that could come down to Burke and Svanstedt, my nod would be to Burke for a truly deserving year.


Scott Zeron gave some thoughts on the topic in a column last month so no need to fully replicate all them here, but I would tend to agree with his case.

Simply put, a resume that among other major stakes races includes the Hambletonian, North America Cup and Little Brown Jug has led to him capturing most of the driver headlines throughout the year. Even more impressively, in none of those did Zeron win with the favorite. He won the North America Cup with It’s My Show in a moderate upset at the time over Confederate, won the Little Brown Jug with that same horse without the advantage of an inside post in the final, a rarity. And in the most impressive upset of all, he sleekly steered Tactical Approach to a 12-1 win in the Hambletonian.

With Tactical Approach, Zeron also won the Breeders Crown, Kentucky Futurity and the Carl Erskine. He also won the Jugette with Ucandoit Blue Chip as part of a memorable two-day span in Delaware, OH, and won multiple stakes between the Lady Liberty and the Perfect Sting with Silver Label. All told, Zeron won three of the four races offered this year with the highest purses, just recently went over the symbolic $10 million in driver earnings this year, which will only further bolster his support.

Yannick Gingras returned to the top of the driver earnings standings this year, amassing over $15 million in what was one of the strongest years in his career. Driving in stakes predominantly for the Takter and Burke stables, Gingras won two Breeders Crowns with Karl and Bythemissal, one from each of those trainers. In addition to his work throughout the year with Karl and Bythemissal, Gingras had notable stakes wins in the Canadian Trotting Classic (Celebrity Bambino), Three Diamonds (Caviart Belle), and the Adios (Cannibal).

Tim Tetrick will finish second in driver earnings with $13.7 million as of this printing and a UTRS of 0.349, right behind Gingras’ 0.356. Tetrick was excellent as a driver in keeping Confederate fresh throughout the year, and he’ll warrant some attention for his role in driving what will be the sport’s Horse of the Year. In addition to Confederate, Tetrick engineered an upset with Heaven Hanover from post 10 in the Hambletonian Oaks, and also drove Soiree Hanover who may win her 2-year-old filly trotting division.

Both David Miller and Dexter Dunn also went over $10 million in earnings on the year. Dunn’s had an incredible streak with this award and did win three Breeders Crowns to make a late-season case. Hall of Famer Miller has shown to any doubters that he’s still got it and among his wins this year, his drive with T C I in the Mohawk Million was his most memorable.