By Ken Weingartner, USTA — After celebrating a season of unprecedented performances, Bulldog Hanover was at the center of one final historic moment Sunday night as the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Dan Patch Awards banquet came to an end.
Bulldog Hanover became the first unanimous selection to receive the Horse of the Year Award, which began in 1947.
“The Bulldog,” who also was the unanimous Pacer of the Year pick, was named on all 136 ballots returned in the voting conducted by USHWA and revealed at the banquet, which was presented by Caesars Entertainment and held at Rosen Shingle Creek resort to honor harness racing’s stars of 2022.
“That’s tremendous,” co-owner and trainer Jack Darling said about Bulldog Hanover’s unanimous selection. “He went out a winner in every way he could. That’s really nice.”
Trotter of the Year, also announced at the banquet, went to 4-year-old mare Bella Bellini. Nine trotters received at least one vote, with Bella Bellini getting 96, followed by Joviality S (13), Ecurie D DK and Jiggy Jog S (8 each), Atlanta (3), King Of The North and Special Way (2 each), and Cool Papa Bell and Volume Eight (1 each).
Bulldog Hanover, a 4-year-old stallion, became harness racing’s fastest all-time performer this past July with his 1:45.4 victory in the William R. Haughton Memorial at The Meadowlands. He paced four of the nine fastest race miles in history among a record six victories in under 1:47 last season.
In addition to setting the world record with his 1:45.4 score, Bulldog Hanover won a division of the Roll With Joe Stakes in 1:46 and the Graduate Series final in 1:46.1 at The Meadowlands. He captured the Harrah’s Hoosier Park Pacing Derby in 1:46.3, bettering the previous track record by nearly a second.
Completing his six sub-1:47 miles were two Canadian-record-equaling 1:46.4 victories at Woodbine Mohawk Park, the first in the Canadian Pacing Derby and the second in the Breeders Crown.
Other triumphs for Bulldog Hanover included the Dayton Pacing Derby and a stakes-record performance in the TVG Series final for male pacers to cap his career.
Bulldog Hanover, who also on Sunday was honored as only the third horse to be named the recipient of USHWA’s Stan Bergstein Proximity Award for outstanding contributions to harness racing, won 14 of 16 races last year on his way to leading the sport in purses with $1.64 million.
“A horse like him is just the horse of a lifetime,” Darling said. “We just enjoyed every minute of it.
“He was enough to make a grown man cry. There were times when I was jogging him, especially when we were alone toward the end, and the tears would just run down my face. I can’t explain it. That’s just the effect he had on me.”
Darling, who put the horse in the care of conditioner Noel Daley when he raced at The Meadowlands during the summer, owned Bulldog Hanover with Brad Grant. Dexter Dunn drove Bulldog Hanover in his final 12 starts, with Jody Jamieson also notching a Grand Circuit win with the stallion earlier in the campaign in Canada.
“I’m not surprised by (his unanimous selection),” Grant said. “I don’t remember the last horse to do what he has done, and that’s not to take anything away from a lot of great champions. I think he cemented himself right up there with the best of the best.”
Grant received the 2022 Owner of the Year Award from USHWA and Darling received the Good Guy Award for the second time in his career.
Bulldog Hanover, a son of Shadow Play-BJ’s Squall, was bred by Hanover Shoe Farms, which was recognized as 2022 Breeder of the Year.
Bella Bellini, who also was a Dan Patch Award winner in 2021, became the fourth female trotter this century to receive honors at ages 3 and 4.
She hit the board in 18 of 19 races last year, winning nine, and earned $936,702 to lead all older trotters in purses. Her mark of 1:49.4 was the fastest among all female trotters in 2022 and one of only three sub-1:50 miles for the year.
Her victories included the Breeders Crown Mare Trot as well as victories over male rivals in the Hambletonian Maturity and Caesars Trotting Classic. She also won the Dr. John R. Steele Memorial, TVG Series final for female trotters, and Six Pack Mares Open.
Bella Bellini, a daughter of Bar Hopping-Bella Dolce, was bred by owner David McDuffee. She was trained by Richard “Nifty” Norman and driven by Dexter Dunn, who was recognized as the 2022 Driver of the Year — his fourth consecutive trophy.
“Trotter of the Year, that’s pretty special,” McDuffee said. “It’s wonderful. I’m so proud of her, and I bred her, which makes it even more special.”
Previously announced Dan Patch Award divisional champions also were honored Sunday at the banquet.
Division-winning pacers were 2-year-old colt Stockade Seelster, 2-year-old filly Sylvia Hanover, 3-year-old colt Pebble Beach, 3-year-old filly Treacherous Dragon, 4-year-old mare Test Of Faith, and Bulldog Hanover.
Division-winning trotters were 2-year-old colt Volume Eight, 2-year-old filly Special Way, 3-year-old gelding Cool Papa Bell, 3-year-old filly Joviality S, 6-year-old stallion Ecurie D DK, and Bella Bellini.
Other honorees included Trainer of the Year Jim Campbell and Rising Star Lucas Wallin.
Also recognized Sunday at the banquet were the members of the 2023 Hall of Fame class, which will be inducted in July in Goshen, N.Y.: Frank Antonacci, Per Eriksson, and Lucien Fontaine, as well as communicators Bob Roberts and Ken Warkentin.
A complete list of winners can be found here on the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s website