A look at Dan Patch honorees past and present

Adding this year’s award-winners to some of the notable champions from previous years.

by Bob Heyden

With the 2023 Dan Patch Awards in the rearview mirror it’s time for one last look back at some of those honorees and ones from the past.

Confederate joins Artsplace (1992), and Niatross (1980) as homebred pacers that were named Horse of the Year. Artsplace was 4, while the other two were 3. Homebreds were the norm in 2023 for Owners of the Year Diamond Creek. On the trotting side, CR Kay Suzie (1995) and San Pail (2011) were also homebred HOY winners.


Brian Brown trained Confederate first, then the pacer went to Brett Pelling at 3. It is not at all unusual to see a HOY who started his racing career elsewhere. Albatross is among the most famous going from 2YOCP of the Year in 1970 with Harry Harvey to back-to-back HOY with Stanley Dancer in 1971-72. Moni Maker with Bill Andrews (1995 into early 1997) before Team Takter took over. Bye Bye Byrd went from Don Taylor in 1958 to Clint Hodgins in his 1959 HOY season. Doug Arthur sure took care of a freshman named Cam Fella in 1981 and then he wound up with Pat Crowe for consecutive HOY campaigns in 1982-83. Team Stafford had Precious Bunny in 1990 and then he went to Bill Robinson for his magical 1991 season. Gene Riegle had Artsplace for his two biggest money-earning seasons and then Bob McIntosh in 1992 for his unblemished HOY run.


In 2023, Trainer of the Year for the 11th time went to a Swede — Ake Svanstedt. In the 39 years of the award, six different Swedish natives — Svanstedt, Nancy Takter (2020), Marcus Melander (2019), Per Eriksson (1991), Soren Nordin (1986) and six-time winner Jimmy Takter (1996, 2000, 2010, 2014-16) — have won.

Meanwhile, the Trainer of the Year and Driver of the Year award have both eluded U.S.-born horsemen/horsewomen since 2018. Trainer Ron Burke and driver Aaron Merriman were the last to do it. This year driver Aussie Dexter Dunn’s four-year reign ended with Canadian-born Scott Zeron’s first victory. Svanstedt’s win was also his first.


Twice, the Rising Star Award has gone to a youngster, male and female, who had the HOY that same season. Montrell Teague did it in 2015 with Wiggle It Jiggleit a year after Nancy Takter did the same with JK She’salady.


Trotter of the Year has gone to a female exactly one-third of the time, 33.3 per cent (18/54). By contrast, the Pacer of the Year just five times has gone to a lady since the award began in 1970, or just nine per cent.


Hanover Shoe Farms, a year after Bulldog Hanover won unanimously, has been the Breeder of the Year 12 times, the all-time most.


The Proximity Award has gone to a female just three different times, including mother/daughter Margot Taylor (1994) and Ellen Taylor (2008). Gail Cunard was the last to do so in 2009.


• The 1991 HOY and the 2023 HOY were both 3-year-old pacing colts.

• Both won by a wide margin: Precious Bunny 270-10 over Giant Victory and Confederate 112-7 over Tactical Approach. Both runners up were the Hambletonian winner.

• Both lost on their last day of racing. Precious Bunny was third and fifth in his two tries in the Provincial Cup (1991) on Nov. 24. He wound up his season 21-for-25 and set a new money record of $2.2 million.

Confederate lost his last try, also the last week of November 2023, in the FanDuel versus older. He set the new 3YOCP world record of 1:46.1 at Lexington’s Red Mile.

• Both were sired by a Pacer of the Year (POY). Cam Fella was a two-time HOY/POY and Sweet Lou was the 2014 Pacer of the Year.

The real question is did their final day on the racetrack prevent them from being unanimous? While we’ll never know, surely Confederate would not have had six others — Tactical Approach (7), Sylvia Hanover (3), Bythemissal (2), Jiggy Jog S (2), It’s Academic (1) and Karl (1) — getting votes had he continued his winning streak.


It happens. Over half of the HOY winners had a day or a race they would love to forget during their award-winning season. Here are just some of them:

• In 1999, Moni Maker was far, far back at The Meadowlands in the Titan Cup on June 18, finishing eighth. She had little trouble returning to claim her second straight HOY which has not been done since.

• In 1994, in the Cane Pace, Cams Card Shark was off the board for his only time at 3, when he would go on to set the new single-season money mark of $2.264 million.

• Gallo Blue Chip was last twice in a row very early in 2000 — getting hit in the face by a whip didn’t help — but he too bounded back swimmingly and set the earnings mark that stood for eight years.

• In 1995, CR Kay Suzie had a Hambletonian Day to forget as the huge favorite but did recover to claim a HOY title.

• In 2007, Donato Hanover did not lose a race until his final two, a second and third in the Breeders Crown. He had long since wrapped up the title by then.

• In 2016, Always B Miki missed the board in the U.S. Pacing Championship (now the McKee) finishing fourth to a strong group of free-for-allers in a thrilling finish. Miki laughed that off and went on to a world record 1:46, a Breeders Crown and was an easy HOY choice.

• Beach Towel in the 1990 North America Cup, well, let’s just turn the page. The first to $2 million in any season (1990) was last in the Cup, but it had no effect as he quickly resumed his dominance, probably being better at seasons end in the Pompano Breeders Crown romp than at any point of his career.

• Niatross falling over the hub rail at Saratoga is part of history, and it was during his 1980 second HOY season.