By Ken Weingartner, Media Relations Manager
Test Of Faith has taken Mel Segal on a memorable journey the past two years, but what Segal has most enjoyed is bringing others along for the trip.
This past Sunday in Orlando, Test Of Faith was named 2021 Horse of the Year by the U.S. Harness Writers Association. Last season, she won 14 of 16 starts, finished second in her two remaining races, and earned $1.06 million on her way to becoming only the fourth 3-year-old female pacer ever to receive the Horse of the Year award.
For her career, the Frederick Hertrich III-bred daughter of Art Major-Cannae Cammie has won 22 of 25 starts and $1.56 million.
Segal purchased Test Of Faith for $92,000 at the 2019 Standardbred Horse Sale. Then he got his friends involved, with Bob Brady and Ken Jackson of Kentuckiana Farms joining Segal in partnership on the filly. Just prior to Test Of Faith’s first start at age 2, they brought aboard University of Kentucky football coach Eddie Gran, who is now special assistant to head coach Mark Stoopes.
“What a time we’ve had the last two years,” Segal said. “It’s been really great for our families to all enjoy this, enjoy watching her. It might sound strange, but I enjoy it more having partners than I would owning her by myself. I’m not a greedy person. Maybe somebody would regret selling half of her, but I don’t. I’m glad to have them as partners.
“I’ve never had the thrill of something like this. I’ve had some nice horses, but nothing like this. My brother and my sister and nieces, nephews, they just go crazy watching her race. The one thing I regret is that my mother and father are not here to watch her race and enjoy her. They loved horse racing. Hopefully, they’re watching down.”
Test Of Faith’s victories last year for trainer Brett Pelling and driver David Miller included the Breeders Crown, Empire Breeders Classic, Glen Garnsey Memorial, New York Sire Stakes final, Park MGM Pace, Bluegrass, Matron, and Courageous Lady.
In the Breeders Crown, Test Of Faith started from post eight and was a parked-out sixth through the first half of the contest. She closed with a :26.1 final quarter-mile to rally from fourth and win by a length in 1:49.4.
“I thought she went a monster mile at the Breeders Crown,” Segal said. “What she did being parked out the whole mile and then having punch at the end was outstanding. I don’t think too many horses could have done that. I was shocked when she still had gas left.”
It reminded Segal of Test Of Faith’s first career start, when she was parked out to get the lead in a :26 opening quarter on her way to a win in a division of the New York Sire Stakes at Vernon Downs.
“Not too many 2-year-olds do that their first race,” Segal said. “We thought she was a nice filly, but not that nice. I don’t think you ever do at the beginning.
“That opened my eyes, and then she kept getting better and better.”
Following is a compilation of comments from many of Test Of Faith’s connections — Becky Brady, Gran, and Jackson as well as trainer Pelling, his son Jack, who often worked with the filly at Hot Lead Stables in central New Jersey, and caretaker Agata Hejnik — as they reflected upon their involvement with the horse and her career to date. Test Of Faith is preparing for her return as a 4-year-old this spring.
Ken Jackson: The last two years have been such a fun run for the farm and our friendships. We’re in a unique part of the world (in Lexington) where horses are everything, and all of a sudden, you’ve got this harness horse that all the Thoroughbred buddies are following. It’s also brought a bunch of new people to the game. Eddie has done a great job. He’s our lucky charm. He’s had five harness horses now, and they’ve all been incredible. It’s been a ton of fun. As hard as we work, and the job that Bob does at the farm with breeding, all the stuff you do to make one, just to own one is incredible.
Becky Brady: If names matter, hers is perfect. In this business, we are tested every day. If we didn’t have faith, we wouldn’t keep doing it. Following Test Of Faith the last two years has brought incredible joy to our family, our partners, and friends. We wish everyone could experience this opportunity and this thrill.
Eddie Gran: It’s pretty awesome that an old football coach of 38 years comes to Kentucky, and I meet Ken Jackson and Bob Brady, and they get me involved in harness racing. I’ve been in every SEC school there is in the country, two national championships, but when you’re there and you’re watching your horse win, it’s the greatest feeling ever. I’m really excited to be a part of the harness industry. (Test Of Faith) is a rock star.
Mel Segal: When I bought her, I was happy just to have a New York Sire Stakes filly. I had no idea she would turn out like she did. She just has an attitude that she wants to win. She has a terrific gait, and she takes care of herself, too.
Jack Pelling: I think she’s very smart, and I think that’s what has helped her the most in her career. She’s never hard on herself. She never pulls on the bit or wastes her energy. She knows when to stop and go. If they were all smart like her, it would be a pretty easy game. Give it all to her. It was all her. I’m just thrilled this early on in my career to be around a horse of that caliber. It’s more than I could have ever hoped for.
Agata Hejnik: She’s very nice, a calm horse. I’ve been with her since day one and she is friendly and very smart. Whatever you ask, she does. You don’t have to fight with her. She has a good personality. I love her.
Brett Pelling: Another thing, she likes to be out in the paddock with another filly, but she’s not the alpha filly. The other filly is usually the alpha. I find that quite interesting. You’d think she would be one to push them around, but she’s not. She is a companion. I always hear about great mares, and people talk about this alpha thing that they have. Well, that’s definitely not her. She’s a sweetheart.
Becky Brady: It’s a great honor and very humbling to receive (Horse of the Year). We greatly appreciate our partner and dear friend Mel Segal for giving us the opportunity to share in Test Of Faith, and to Eddie Gran for joining us. Brett Pelling and his team have done a fantastic job campaigning her, and driver David Miller has given her many memorable drives. We would also like to thank our girl, Test Of Faith. I love you sweetheart and I’m so looking forward to this year.
Ken Jackson: Brett has done an incredible job with her. He knew early on that he had a special one, and he shared it with us. It’s been fun to see it fulfilled. She shows up every time. It doesn’t matter the trip, what the conditions are, what the track is. It seems like every single race she tries, and when she comes out of the race, she’s incredibly healthy. She just has an attitude that she loves to win. For us, it’s been really special to know that every week you’re in the game.
Agata Hejnik: It’s hard to say which (of her races was best). I think every race she raced was amazing. It’s nice when you go to the races, everybody is asking about her, everybody knows you take care of her. Everyone knows you have this No. 1 horse. I’m looking forward to her racing again this year. She is good. She is sharp.
Brett Pelling: She thoroughly deserves (Horse of the Year). I can’t name a race in her life that she lost on her merits. She’s just been phenomenal from day one. She’s a pretty cool horse. For what she’s done, it shows a huge amount of character. We’re all getting older now. We have to be thankful for these moments.