By JAY BERGMAN, for Breeders Crown — It was a brand new concept in 1984 when the first Breeders Crowns events were raced throughout North America. What would the year-end championship races produce in each division, and would these additions to an already crowded stakes calendar be compelling enough to start a tradition?
Now in its 40th season with titles on the line in 12 championship races, it’s clear the Breeders Crown was then and remains a must win for breeders, owners, trainers, drivers, and racing fans.
At the core of the first-year success story was one race that immediately captured the imagination of all racing fans: The upset victory of Dragon’s Lair in the 2-year-old pacing colt and gelding division over the seemingly unbeatable Nihilator.
Prior to that race, there really wasn’t a signature championship caliber event in that division, and following Dragons Lair’s victory the match-up in this division would embark on a storied future with some of the earliest contestants having a say in future success stories as trainers, owners, and breeders of future champions.
Trainer Joe Holloway didn’t arrive on his own in a Breeders Crown until 1990, the year the race was contested at Pompano Park. Though there had been five Crowns contested in this division after Dragons Lair’s, none of those came close to matching the drama before 1990 when Artsplace and his rival Die Laughing were set to do battle in the biggest match-up of the year for those two.
When Artsplace and driver John Campbell parked Die Laughing through intense fractions it appeared as if the two would both fade and set the table for a longshot to capture the title. Artsplace went on to romp in a then inconceivable clocking of 1:51.1 over the five-eighths surface. The world record performance was more than two seconds faster than the stakes record set two years earlier by Kentucky Spur.
“I had Tooter Scooter that year,” said Holloway. “He finished third behind Stormin Jesse and that was pretty big.”
Four years later, Holloway found the winner’s circle in this division for the first time with Jenna’s Beach Boy, the son of Beach Towel who would do the incredible by winning his first Crown as a 2-year-old in 1994 and go on to capture two more in 1995 and 1996, a feat that has not been repeated by a pacer since.
“My biggest Breeders Crown night had to be in 1996,” said Holloway. “I had Jenna in, and he won but we also had She’s A Great Lady in the Open Mares along with Armbro Nest. Coming into the week, She’s A Great Lady had been sick and had it not been one of her last races, I probably would have scratched her. I just told John (Campbell) to take her to the back and see what you could do in the stretch.”
The uncertainty for Holloway about his star pacing mare lasted for three-quarters of the contest.
“I saw Armbro Nest on the line and John was way back,” said Holloway in recalling the event. “Then She’s A Great Lady just took off and flew by everyone.”
With Armbro Nest finishing second the night couldn’t be better for the then up-and-coming trainer who would become a Hall of Famer.
Badlands Hanover would give Holloway his second juvenile Crown championship in 1998 and it would take him another 22 years before the undefeated Perfect Sting completed his title season with a Breeders Crown triumph at Hoosier Park in 2020. Last year, it was Ammo surprising everyone and giving Holloway his fourth win in this division.
“I’m just hoping for a different kind of trip this week,” said Holloway in speaking about his hopeful fifth Breeders Crown 2-year-old male pacing title with Newsroom, an Always B Miki-sired colt who drew the pole for Friday’s $700,000 contest. “He was used pretty hard early to get the lead and set some quick fractions. I think if he’s chasing horses in the stretch, it could make the difference.”
Holloway recognizes just how difficult it is to win any Breeders Crown championship.
“It’s not an easy thing,” said Holloway. “It’s just one night and everything has to go right. It doesn’t matter about the payments or the planning only that the horse puts in his best race on that one particular night.”
For Seth Rosenfeld, the 40 years of Breeders Crowns started quite differently with him as a co-owner of a favorite in a 2-year-old filly pacing event. Halcyon went on to capture the 1986 Breeders Crown for 2-year-old pacing fillies held at Rosecroft Raceway but Rosenfeld, a college student at the time, wasn’t close to Maryland.
“I was studying abroad that semester,” said Rosenfeld. “I was in London and had to make the decision whether to come back to watch her. I thought about it and said I better go because I didn’t know if I’d ever have the chance to win a Breeders Crown again.”
For Rosenfeld, the wait wouldn’t be that long as the $22,000 yearling colt he purchased in 1988 named Beach Towel would capture the sophomore pacing Breeders Crown in 1990 at Pompano Park.
Rosenfeld’s family bred Halcyon but his arrival with Beach Towel required a different approach as the French Chef-sired colt would in just two years earn in excess of $2.5 million. While others with bigger bankrolls and experienced eyes could have missed the impressive looking Beach Towel at auction, it is worth noting because Rosenfeld was looking for something that others were passing on.
“I just loved Sunburn,” said Rosenfeld of the dam of Beach Towel. “I saw her as a 2-year-old win the Debutante at The Meadowlands and thought she was special.”
Sunburn raced just one year and then went on to a broodmare career that was not nearly as successful but that didn’t deter Rosenfeld’s enthusiasm towards her progeny.
“She’d been bred a few times to French Chef without success, but I just thought she had to produce something,” said Rosenfeld. “He was a very good-looking colt and I thought French Chef had already proven himself with Amity Chef and Frugal Gourmet on the racetrack.”
It was Rosenfeld’s eye for talent on the racetrack that provided the bloodlines for his biggest Breeders Crown success story, with Sweet Dahrlin, a Nero filly from the exceptionally talented New York Sires Stakes filly Fly Fly Dahrlin, being the cornerstone to his success as a breeder over the last two years. Sweet Dahrlin, ironically, didn’t have much luck when bred with Beach Towel but came up with a winner when matched with Falcons Future. The result was the 1998 foal Sweet Future.
“I would say my biggest moment in the Breeders Crown had to come as a breeder the night Sweet Lou set the world record in the 2-year-old colt pace and Bettor Sweet won the Open,” said Rosenfeld about the incredible sweep by his prized broodmare Sweet Future in the 2011 edition.
Rosenfeld didn’t get a breeding credit when Captain Crunch captured the juvenile division in 2018 but Sweet Paprika, Captain Crunch’s dam, was the first foal out of Sweet Future.
Youaremycandygirl gave Rosenfeld and Sweet Future’s family another title in 2017 when she captured the Breeders Crown for freshman pacing fillies at Hoosier Park.
Rosenfeld keeps roughly 10 broodmares in a small band and will sell three yearlings this year at Harrisburg, but at the same time holds limited interest in some racing stock. On Friday night, he’s a partner with trainer Tony Alagna and a few others in Better Is Nice in the juvenile colt pace and he’s happy to be a partner of the Bettor’s Wish-sired colt who has already won over $500,000 this year.
“I just loved the dam,” Rosenfeld said of Thatsoveryverynice, a daughter of Vintage Master that raced in Ontario Sires Stakes company in 2015-16.
“She came home in :26 to capture her first Ontario Sire Stakes,” Rosenfeld recalled. “I was interested in the colt being the first crop of Bettor’s Wish, and when I saw that Tony bought him back for $30,000, I asked him if there was anything wrong with the colt. When he said nothing but only that he didn’t bring enough, I asked if I could buy a piece.”
The Breeders Crown has brought out the best the sport has to offer and Holloway, who has just a 15-horse stable these days and four entered in Breeders Crowns, and Rosenfeld with a broodmare band rich in Crown success stories, are just two of hundreds that have made the races the place where championships made.