By Ken Weingartner — No one needs to worry about Shartin N resting on her laurels, although she might get to relax a little more this year than her previous two seasons.
In 2018, Shartin N made at least one start in every month from January through November on her way to the first million-dollar season for a pacing mare and a Dan Patch Award for best older female pacer.
Last year, she made at least one start in every month from March through November. She won 15 of 19, finished second on three occasions, earned $982,177, set the record (1:46.4) for the fastest mile ever by a female pacer, and was named top pacing mare, Pacer of the Year, and Horse of the Year.
She became the first pacing mare in history to be named Horse of the Year, as well as the first horse bred outside North America to receive the honor.
The 7-year-old New Zealand import is already working toward her return to the races, which is expected to come next week at Dover Downs. Then it’s off to Yonkers Raceway’s Blue Chip Matchmaker Series, a six-week event that Shartin N has won each of the past two years.
Following the Matchmaker, which begins March 13 and ends April 18, trainer Jim King Jr. will look to give Shartin N some time off.
“We’ve decided to try to give her a split year instead of trying to go all the way through the year,” King said. “If that works out, when we get done with the Matchmaker hopefully we can give her a pretty good break and then get her back ready to take off from there. It won’t be a real long break, but there are some races that we’re going to try to miss.
“If she can be good early and be good late, she can still accomplish a lot. That’s a lot to ask of a horse that you just got done racing for 10 months, twice. But so far, she hasn’t minded me doing foolish things.”
Shartin N, bred in New Zealand by Grant Crabbe, was purchased in the fall of 2017 by Richard Poillucci. She is now owned by Poillucci, Jo Ann Looney-King, and Tim Tetrick LLC.
Since arriving in North America, Shartin N has won 34 of 43 races and $2.03 million.
“It’s just absolutely amazing for us to be in a position to buy a Down Under mare and become Horse of the Year,” Poillucci said.
“I was just hoping for a nice open mare. This has far exceeded all expectations. What she’s done at that level of racing is unbelievable. To keep them on their toes in those kinds of miles is a very difficult task.
“I think that’s what most impresses me, her ability to carry speed the way she does and standout in races where they’re going (fast fractions) and she’s still charging. Horses don’t do that stuff on a regular basis.”
Tetrick has driven Shartin N in all her North American starts.
“She was pretty tough (to handle) when she started,” Tetrick said during this past Sunday’s Dan Patch Awards banquet, when the Horse of the Year announcement was made.
“But she had big lungs and you couldn’t get her tired. When she was on her game she was as good as any horse I’ve ever sat behind. She has a ton of speed and grit. She had a mind of her own, but she worked with us and we got it done.”
Shartin N qualified on Feb. 19 at Dover Downs, winning in 1:51.3. Poillucci called the qualifier “absolutely perfect.”
“Here it comes again,” King said, referring to a new season. “Every indication is that she’s come back very good.”
Shartin N will attempt to become the first horse to repeat as Horse of the Year since trotting mare Moni Maker in 1998-99 and the first pacer to repeat since Cam Fella in 1982-83.
She finished second to McWicked in balloting for 2018 Horse of the Year and, according to noted harness racing historian Bob “Hollywood” Heyden, is the first since Matt’s Scooter in 1989 to be runner-up one year and come back the next season to receive Horse of the Year.
“I just want to say thank you to all the voters, and most of all thank you to Shartin,” King said Sunday at the banquet, adding later, “She’s definitely been life changing for us.”
Ken Weingartner, for the US Trotting Association, is an HRI Harness Racing contributor