Ontario-sired pacing colt Tall Dark Stranger was named the 2020 U.S. Horse of the Year as part of the Dan Patch Annual Awards Banquet held virtually on Saturday (Jan. 16).
The United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA), the leading media organization in North American harness racing, has announced the winners of its Dan Patch Awards balloting for excellence exhibited among both equines and humans. The “best of the best” are normally honoured at the writers’ Dan Patch Annual Awards Banquet, but that event was cancelled this year due to the ongoing health crisis, so a special Virtual Awards show was broadcast Saturday.
Tall Dark Stranger, a three-year-old male pacer who was harness racing’s lone millionaire last season, cashed in on his winning ways Saturday when he was named 2020 Horse of the Year by the U.S. Harness Writers Association.
Trained by Nancy Takter and driven by Yannick Gingras, Tall Dark Stranger won 11 of 13 races and $1.4 million last year. He also was named Pacer of the Year and the sport’s top three-year-old male pacer during USHWA’s virtual Dan Patch Awards show Saturday.
Four-year-old Gimpanzee was named Trotter of the Year and best older male trotter. Trained by Marcus Melander and driven by Brian Sears, Gimpanzee won eight of 11 races and $980,964 last season. His earnings were second to Tall Dark Stranger.
Trotters winning divisional Dan Patch Award honors in addition to Gimpanzee were two-year-old male Venerate, two-year-old female Anoka Hanover, three-year-old male Amigo Volo, three-year-old female Ramona Hill, and older female Manchego.
Pacers garnering divisional awards in addition to Tall Dark Stranger were two-year-old male Perfect Sting, two-year-old female Fire Start Hanover, three-year-old female Party Girl Hill, older male Bettors Wish, and older female Kissin In The Sand.
Tall Dark Stranger, Bettors Wish, Kissin In The Sand, Gimpanzee, Ramona Hill, and Manchego all were Dan Patch Award winners in previous years.
Takter, the 2020 Trainer of the Year, had three division champions: Kissin In The Sand, Manchego, and Tall Dark Stranger. Nifty Norman and Chris Ryder trained two each; Norman had Amigo Volo and Fire Start Hanover while Ryder had Bettor’s Wish and Party Girl Hill.
Dexter Dunn, the 2020 Driver of the Year, was the regular driver of six champs: Amigo Volo, Bettors Wish, Fire Start Hanover, Kissin In The Sand, Manchego, and Party Girl Hill.
In voting for Horse of the Year, Tall Dark Stranger received 89 votes, followed by Party Girl Hill with 29 and Gimpanzee with six. Receiving two votes each were Bettors Wish, Perfect Sting, and Ramona Hill. Anoka Hanover rounded out the balloting with one vote.
Pacer of the Year voting saw Tall Dark Stranger outdistance runner-up Party Girl Hill, 93-31, among five horses receiving at least one vote. Trotter of the Year balloting saw Gimpanzee with 80 votes, followed by Ramona Hill with 29 and Amigo Volo with 11. Three other trotters also received at least one vote.
Tall Dark Stranger, by Bettors Delight out of Precocious Beauty, is the 19th three-year-old male pacer to be named U.S. Horse of the Year since the award began in 1947. He is only the second male pacer in 35 years to receive a Dan Patch Award at age two and return to be Horse of the Year at three. The other was Somebeachsomewhere in 2008.
Among Tall Dark Stranger’s wins last year were the North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace, Cane Pace, and Kentucky Sire Stakes championship. He finished second by a neck in the Breeders Crown.
“He’s just the toughest horse ever,” Takter said. “I’m going to have to add smart to that, too, because he figured out what this is all about. He knew that he was supposed to be first, and he made sure that he was first.
“Where ‘heart of a champion’ is in the dictionary, Tall Dark Stranger’s name and picture are right next to it.”
Tall Dark Stranger is owned by Crawford Farms Racing, Marvin Katz, Caviart Farms, and Howard Taylor. He was bred by Jim Avritt Sr.
The colt is Takter’s second Horse of the Year winner, joining JK Shesalady in 2014. She is the 13th trainer in history with at least two different Horse of the Year honourees. Gingras has driven three U.S. Horse of the Year winners.
“It feels amazing,” Takter said. “To have the opportunity just to be involved with these great horses is a humbling experience. A lot of people put faith in me to make champions when we buy horses as yearlings and to be able to execute on that is a very rewarding feeling.”
Trotter of the Year Gimpanzee counted the Breeders Crown Open Trot, Hambletonian Maturity, John Cashman Memorial, Graduate Series championship, and Caesars Trotting Classic among his wins last season. He became only the third trotter in history to capture a Breeders Crown at ages two, three, and four.
Gimpanzee, who was a Dan Patch Award winner at two in 2018, is owned by Courant Inc. and S R F Stable. The stallion is a son of Chapter Seven out of Steamy Windows and was bred by Order By Stable. He is Melander’s second Trotter of the Year, joining Greenshoe in 2019.
There were no unanimous divisional champions. Tall Dark Stranger, Gimpanzee, Party Girl Hill, Bettors Wish, Ramona Hill, and Amigo Volo each received at least 97 percent of the votes in their respective divisions. The closest race was among older female trotters, where Manchego won 72-58 over Atlanta.
A number of Canadian owners garnered hardware at the 2020 Dan Patch Awards. Marvin Katz of Toronto, Ont. picked up awards as the co-owner of Horse of the Year Tall Dark Stranger as well as co-owner of Older Female Pacer Kissin In The Sand. Brad Grant of Milton, Ont. shares ownership of Three-Year-Old Female Trotter of the Year Ramona Hill.
Following is a look at the 2020 Dan Patch Award division winners. Listed drivers were either the horse’s regular driver or won at least one Grand Circuit final with the horse.
TWO-YEAR-OLD MALE PACER
PERFECT STING, colt
Always B Miki – Shebestingin – Bettors Delight
Breeders: Brittany Farms, Val D’Or Farms
Owners: Brittany Farms, Val D’Or Farms
Trainer: Joe Holloway -- Driver: David Miller
Races: 10-10-0-0 -- Purses: $534,300 -- Mark: 1:49.2 at Red Mile
Top wins: $600,000 Breeders Crown; $250,000 Kentucky Sire Stakes final
TWO-YEAR-OLD FEMALE PACER
FIRE START HANOVER
Somebeachsomewhere – Fit To Frame – Art Major
Breeder: Hanover Shoe Farms
Owners: Pinske Stables, David Hoese, Lawrence Means
Trainer: R. Nifty Norman -- Driver: Dexter Dunn
Races: 13-8-2-0 -- Purses: $592,562 -- Mark: 1:50.3 at Red Mile
Top wins: $600,000 Breeders Crown; $151,030 Kindergarten Classic Series final
HORSE OF YEAR, PACER OF YEAR, THREE-YEAR-OLD MALE PACER
TALL DARK STRANGER, colt
Bettors Delight – Precocious Beauty – Art Major
Breeder: James Avritt Sr.
Owners: Crawford Farms Racing, Marvin Katz, Caviart Farms, Howard Taylor
Trainer: Nancy Takter -- Driver: Yannick Gingras
Races: 13-11-1-0 -- Purses: $1.4 million -- Mark: 1:47.1 at Meadowlands
Top wins: $1,000,000 North America Cup; $636,650 Meadowlands Pace; $273,125 Cane Pace; $250,000 Kentucky Sire Stakes final; $239,500 Tattersalls division
THREE-YEAR-OLD FEMALE PACER
PARTY GIRL HILL
Captaintreacherous – Look Cheap – Geartogear
Breeder: Tom Hill
Owner: Tom Hill
Trainers: Chris Ryder, Chantal Mitchell -- Drivers: Dexter Dunn, Doug McNair
Races: 16-15-0-1 -- Purses: $880,345 -- Mark: 1:47.2 at Red Mile
Top wins: $350,000 Fan Hanover; $253,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final; $239,500 Tattersalls division; $237,725 Jugette; $154,450 Matron
OLDER MALE PACER
BETTORS WISH, four-year-old stallion
Bettors Delight – Lifetime Star – Western Ideal
Breeder: Brittany Farms
Owners: Chris Ryder, Bella Racing, Fair Island Farm, Bettors Wish Partners
Trainer: Chris Ryder -- Driver: Dexter Dunn
Races: 13-6-3-2 -- Purses: $685,432 -- Mark: 1:47.3 at Meadowlands
Top wins: $340,000 TVG Series Open final; $229,660 Sam McKee Memorial; $176,500 Dayton Pacing Derby; $150,000 Allerage Farms Open
OLDER FEMALE PACER
KISSIN IN THE SAND, five-year-old
Somebeachsomewhere – Kiss Me Kate – Real Artist
Breeders: Christina Takter, John Fielding, R A W Equine, Concord Stud Farm
Owners: Marvin Katz, Hatfield Stables
Trainer: Nancy Takter -- Drivers: Dexter Dunn, Jody Jamieson
Races: 12-8-1-0 -- Purses: $491,984 -- Mark: 1:47.4 at Meadowlands
Top wins: $300,000 Breeders Crown; $175,000 Dayton Distaff; $161,250 Milton; $150,000 TVG Series Mare final; $72,000 Allerage Farms Mare
TWO-YEAR-OLD MALE TROTTER
Love You – Peaceful Kemp – Muscle Hill
Breeders: Steve Stewart, Kemppi Stable
Owners: Pinske Stables, Andy Miller Stable
Trainer: Julie Miller -- Drivers: Andy Miller, Andrew McCarthy
Races: 10-5-0-3 -- Purses: $772,914 -- Mark: 1:51.4 at Red Mile
Top wins: $1 million Mohawk Million; $250,000 Kentucky Sire Stakes final
TWO-YEAR-OLD FEMALE TROTTER
Donato Hanover – Aunt Mel – Yankee Glide
Breeder: Hanover Shoe Farms
Owners: Noel Daley, L.A. Express Stable, Caviart Farms
Trainer: Noel Daley -- Driver: Todd McCarthy
Races: 14-10-1-1 -- Purses: $587,758 -- Mark: 1:52.3 at Meadowlands
Top wins: $451,800 Goldsmith Maid; $252,340 Kindergarten Classic Series final
THREE-YEAR-OLD MALE TROTTER
AMIGO VOLO, gelding
Father Patrick – Margarita Momma – Yankee Glide
Breeders: Kentuckiana Farms, Jorgen Jahre Jr.
Owners: Pinske Stables, David J. Miller
Trainer: R. Nifty Norman -- Driver: Dexter Dunn
Races: 15-9-1-2 -- Purses: $939,498 -- Mark: 1:50.2 at Dover Downs (world record)
Top wins: $500,000 Breeders Crown; $444,000 Kentucky Futurity; $252,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final; $162,350 Matron
THREE-YEAR-OLD FEMALE TROTTER
Muscle Hill – Lock Down Lindy – Lucky Chucky
Breeder: Crawford Farms
Owners: Brad Grant, Crawford Farms Racing, Robert LeBlanc, In The Gym Partners
Trainer: Tony Alagna Driver: Andrew McCarthy
Races: 10-6-1-1 Purses: $915,615 Mark: 1:50.1 at Meadowlands
Top wins: $1 million Hambletonian; $266,000 Elegantimage; $253,500 Del Miller Memorial; $160,140 Harry M. Zweig Memorial Filly
TROTTER OF YEAR, OLDER MALE TROTTER
GIMPANZEE, four-year-old stallion
Chapter Seven – Steamy Windows – Muscle Massive
Breeder: Order By Stable
Owners: Courant Inc., S R F Stable
Trainer: Marcus Melander Driver: Brian Sears
Races: 11-8-1-1 Purses: $980,964 Mark: 1:50 at Meadowlands
Top wins: $500,000 Breeders Crown; $464,900 Hambletonian Maturity; $291,350 John Cashman Memorial; $250,000 Graduate Series final; $150,000 Caesars Trotting Classic
OLDER FEMALE TROTTER
Muscle Hill – Secret Magic – Cantab Hall
Breeder: Brittany Farms
Owner: Black Horse Racing
Trainer: Nancy Takter -- Driver: Dexter Dunn
Races: 13-6-2-2 -- Purses: $599,451 -- Mark: 1:49.3 at Plainridge Park (world record)
Top wins: $320,000 TVG Series Open final; $300,000 Breeders Crown; $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts
DRIVER DEXTER DUNN, BREEDER BRITTANY FARMS REPEAT AS WINNERS
Dexter Dunn, a nine-time winner of the driving title in his native land of New Zealand before the age of 30, has now been in the United States and Canada for two years, and he has been voted Driver of the Year both years. The 2020 season was especially rich for him, in two senses of the word: he was the leading money-winning driver last year with almost $11.2 million bankrolled by his charges, many of whom were voted champions of their respective divisions.
In September, October, and November alone in the shortened season, he drove the winners of 26 races worth more than $100,000, including the pacing filly champions in both the two- and three-year-old ranks, Fire Start Hanover and Party Girl Hill; the two champions among the older pacing set, stallion Bettors Wish and mare Kissin In The Sand; champion trotting mare Manchego; and champion sophomore trotting male Amigo Volo. He again won four Breeders Crown races.
During 2021 Brittany Farms has a very good chance of being only the third breeding operation to have been the first home of the winners of $200,000,000 – and that figure achieved despite producing a good many fewer horses than their nearest competitors. They have tied Hanover Shoe Farms as the #1 breeders of Breeders Crown winners at 27.
Among the farm’s divisional winners in 2020 were Manchego, Bettors Wish, and the undefeated two-year-old colt pacer Perfect Sting. They were third among breeders in 2020, with their progeny earning over $5.5 million – again, with fewer starts that others clustered at the top of the list.
PINSKE STABLES GIVEN NOD AS OWNERS OF THE YEAR; KELLY SMITH VOTED LEADING CARETAKER
Fifty years in the sport with their familiar gold and green colors, the Pinske Stables, in their current composition Marlys Pinske, her son Karl, and her grandson Carter, had a great year to win the closest vote in all of the Dan Patch categories, 55-48, over another family operation, the Chaffees’ Caviart Farms.
The Pinskes were in various tracks’ winners circles after several victories by the richest two-year-olds of both sexes, the trotting colt Venerate ($767,914) and the pacing filly Fire Start Hanover ($592,562), along with the leading three-year-old trotting colt, Amigo Volo, who won his Breeders Crown and the Kentucky Futurity. All three were voted divisional championships in the writers’ Dan Patch balloting (more detail in Racehorse release).
The winner of the 2020 Caretaker of the Year Award, sponsored by Art Zubrod and Leah Cheverie’s Fair Island Farm, is Kelly Smith, a longtime employee of Hall of Fame trainer Chuck Sylvester. Smith was nominated by Sylvester himself, who called her “my unsung hero.” Smith began working for Sylvester three decades ago, with one of her first champions being the 1993 Hambletonian Oaks winner Winkys Goal. Another of Smith’s many champions and one of her all-time favorite horses is 2013 Breeders Crown champion Spider Blue Chip
In all, 16 nominations for the Fair Island Farm Caretaker of the Year Award were submitted, with Smith chosen as a winner by a select group of seven USHWAns, all of whom were former caretakers themselves.
CHAMPION RACEHORSE JK SHESALADY NOW 2020 PACING BROODMARE OF THE YEAR;
VOTE FOR TOP TROTTING BROODMARE GOES TO STEAMY WINDOWS
Voted 2014 Horse of the Year after going undefeated in twelve freshman starts, the Art Major – Presidential Lady pacing mare JK Shesalady is also showing her quality as a broodmare by winning that Dan Patch Award against strong opposition. Bred and owned by 3 Brothers Stables, JK Shesalady from her first two foals has produced two outstanding fillies who ranked among the best of their divisions – the Western Ideal miss JK First Lady, a winner of over $700,000 and a sub-1:50 performer at both two and three, and the Always B Miki distaff JK Alwaysbalady, who won her Breeders Crown elimination then was second in the final. Both raced for 3 Brothers Stable.
Her trotting counterpart is Steamy Windows, a daughter of Muscle Massive – Commando Queen who was bred and is owned by Order By Stable. She produced the Trotter of the Year, the Chapter Seven stallion Gimpanzee, who won his third straight Breeders Crown and dominated the free-for-all ranks, raising his career bankroll to $2.7 million. Gimpanzee’s two-year-old full sister, Iteration, won half of her ten freshman starts and bankrolled over $300,000.
Nancy Takter, trainer of Horse of the Year, was previously announced as the Glen Garnsey Trainer of the Year after being nominated for the award by all of USHWA’s chapters.
The Dan Patch Awards show will be archived and available on the USHWA website and USHWA Facebook page, as well as the U.S. Trotting Association’s YouTube channel, on Sunday, Jan. 17.
130 out of 185 (70.3%) of eligible voters submitted ballots. Nancy Takter unanimously selected as Trainer of the Year by USHWA’s chapters. Caretaker of the Year selected by an USHWA panel.
TWO-YEAR-OLD PACING COLTS
PERFECT STING - 123
Southwind Gendry - 11
Always A Miki - 1
Charlie May - 1
TWO-YEAR-OLD PACING FILLIES
FIRE START HANOVER - 82
Test Of Faith - 51
Blue Diamond Eyes - 2
Somethingbeautiful - 1
THREE-YEAR-OLD PACING COLTS
TALL DARK STRANGER - 135
Papi Rob Hanover - 1
THREE-YEAR-OLD PACING FILLIES
PARTY GIRL HILL - 135
Peaky Sneaky - 1
OLDER PACING HORSES
BETTORS WISH - 133
Century Farroh - 2
Hurrikane Emperor - 1
OLDER PACING MARES
KISSIN IN THE SAND - 125
Shartin N - 11
PACER OF THE YEAR
TALL DARK STRANGER - 93
Party Girl Hill - 31
Bettors Wish - 5
Perfect Sting - 2
Southwind Gendry - 1
HORSE OF THE YEAR
TALL DARK STRANGER - 89
Party Girl Hill - 29
Gimpanzee - 6
Bettors Wish - 2
Perfect Sting - 2
Ramona Hill - 2
Anoka Hanover - 1
PACING BROODMARE OF THE YEAR
JK SHESALADY - 48
Great Memories - 39
Beachy Girl - 31
Swinging Beauty - 8
abstain - 1
DRIVER OF THE YEAR
DEXTER DUNN - 114
David Miller - 13
abstain - 3
TWO-YEAR-OLD TROTTING COLTS
VENERATE - 94
On A Streak - 24
Captain Corey - 8
Macho Martini - 4
In Range - 3
Dancinginthedark M - 2
Southwind Tyrion - 1
TWO-YEAR-OLD TROTTING FILLIES
ANOKA HANOVER - 107
Lady Chaos - 17
Donna Soprano - 7
Flawless Country - 2
Insta Glam - 2
Darlene Hanover - 1
THREE-YEAR-OLD TROTTING COLTS
AMIGO VOLO - 135
Action Uncle - 1
THREE-YEAR-OLD TROTTING FILLIES
RAMONA HILL - 132
Next Level Stuff - 2
Sorella - 2
OLDER TROTTING HORSES
GIMPANZEE - 135
Guardian Angel As - 1
OLDER TROTTING MARES
MANCHEGO - 72
Atlanta - 58
Plunge Blue Chip - 6
TROTTER OF THE YEAR
GIMPANZEE - 80
Ramona Hill - 29
Amigo Volo - 11
Manchego - 7
Atlanta - 5
Anoka Hanover - 1
TROTTING BROODMARE OF THE YEAR
STEAMY WINDOWS - 79
Margarita Momma - 31
Dunk The Donato - 8
Nantab - 7
abstain - 2
OWNER OF THE YEAR
PINSKE STABLES - 55
Caviart Farms - 48
Crawford Farms - 25
abstain - 2
BREEDER OF THE YEAR
BRITTANY FARMS - 88
Order By Stable - 30
Runthetable Stables - 7
abstain - 5