By Frank Carulli – Presumably, many voters in harness racing’s Greatest Of All Time Challenge weren’t born or weren’t old enough to remember a trotting mare named Moni Maker rise to prominence at the turn of the century.
But the great ones – or in this case the greatest – find a way to transcend time. Be it by word of mouth, the written word, or the statistics that cover both, Moni Maker appeared time and world-record time again.
Word traveled fast in the month-long, 32-horse tournament sponsored by the U.S. Trotting Association and Omega Alpha horse supplements. Moni Maker trotted past champion Muscle Hill, who earned a record $155,874 per start during a near-perfect career, to win in the finals by a 127-118 vote.
“It’s so amazing that after all these years that Moni Maker’s name is still mentioned about how great she was. And, believe me, she was great,” said Hall of Fame driver Wally Hennessey.
Hennessey was in the bike for most of Moni Maker’s 105 starts, first for trainer William Andrews as a 2- and 3-year old, then for Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter when Moni Maker became an international star.
Moni Maker took care of the rest. She won the 1996 Hambletonian Oaks during an 18-race winning streak as a 3-year old, became the first American trotter to win the Prix d’Amerique and Prix de France, and she set world records in the 1998 Breeders Crown (1:52.3) at the Meadowlands, Sweden’s Elitloppet (1:53.3) and Denmark’s Copenhagen Cup (1-1/4 miles, 1:56.4). She beat the boys in the $312,000 Nat Ray Stakes to join the $5 Million Club.
“She’s one of a kind,” said Takter. “She made several trips across the ocean and she beat everything at different tracks and distances. I’m proud to be a part of her career.”
Moni Maker navigated distances up to 1-3/4 miles and eclipsed $1 million in earnings for four consecutive years until she retired at age 7 in 2001. She was named U.S. Horse of the Year in 1998 and 1999 and was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2006. She was owned by Moni Maker Stable and bred in the U.S. by David and Fredericka Caldwell.
Hennessey and Takter were most impressed by Moni Maker’s win before 40,000 fans in the Elitlopett at Solvalla Racetrack in 1998. She was parked first-over until forging to command on the final turn. She drew clear in early stretch, then held off the deep closers to prevail.
“There was lots of room to get in the 2-hole, but I figured it was best to be over aggressive than to get trapped and backed down by the pace-setter,” said Hennessey. “I couldn’t have drove her any worse that day, but I had a lot of faith in her. When she got in full stride, she could go by anyone.”
Harness fans got the message loud and clear, enabling Moni Maker to carry the popular vote through five rounds of the Greatest Of All Time bracket. Her final three challenges were against Muscle Hill, Niatross and Somebeachsomewhere, who – get this – were a combined 77-81 with nearly $9 million in earnings in their illustrious careers.
Takter, now retired, knows how to size up the competition. He is widely recognized as the best trainer ever of champion trotters. He didn’t hesitate to rank Moni Maker’s place in history.
“Moni Maker is the real champion,” he said. “She can compete in any era. Her greatness never expires.”
Frank Carulli, for xpressbet.com, is an HRI Harness contributor