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Jeff Porchak's Blog


You Never Forget Your First

Published: October 24, 2011 4:41 pm ET

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It's true what they say and some of harness racing's more prominent participants agree.

It was 2006 and for the first time I was connected to a Breeders Crown finalist. I didn't like her chances going up against Passionate Glide and Pure Ivory but it wasn't their night. The night belonged to Susies Magic, and the mare my family bought at auction three years prior - Kash Echo - just added a Breeders Crown winner to her progeny.

I was absolutely floored, stunned, shocked, speechless. And it wasn't even really my Breeders Crown victory, so I can only imagine what it's like to actually win one.

With Saturday's Breeders Crown finals on the horizon, I polled a group of industry people for their favourite Breeders Crown moment. Much like mine, for some of them it's all about that first time. (with video added, where available)

Announcer Greg Blanchard:

"My favourite Breeders Crown moment is still the 1990 two-year-old colt pace at Pompano Park. It was billed as the ultimate showdown between Artsplace and Die Laughing. In the end, it was no contest as Artsplace stunned the racing world with his incredible world record performance in 1:51.1.



I was fortunate enough to be there in person and you had to be there to appreciate how remarkable the effort was. He parked Die Laughing through unbelievable fractions and then at the top of the stretch, when logically the colt should have been tiring, John Campbell hit the wheel disc and Artsplace drew away into the teeth of a very strong headwind which was measuring between 40 and 50 miles per hour that night.

To this day, it is the most impressive Breeders Crown performance that I have seen. Years later, after a post-race stakes interview, I said to John Campbell “there’s a race I’ve always been meaning to ask you about” and, before I could say any more, he smiled and said “do you mean Artsplace in the Breeders Crown?” It’s safe to say he was every bit as impressive by the effort as I was."

Public Relations Director Murray Brown:

"Dragons Lair defeating Nihilator. This was a true David & Goliath event. Nobody gave Dragons Lair a chance going against the mighty Nihilator, yet he did it on his own terms at his own track. My second choice would be Sugarcane Hanover at Garden State Park at 3. I thought he was the best and I let my pockets do the talking. I've never left a racetrack with so much money in my pockets."

Photographer Clive Cohen:

"My fave moment has to be Eternal Camnation battling Bunny Lake down the stretch to win her third Breeders Crown. I remember it was a bit of a back and forth grudge match between Eternal and Bunny. Bunny took the lead half way down the Woodbine stretch, but Eternal fought back to win it."

Trainer Casie Coleman:

"That's easy. Moving Pictures barely making the final then drawing Post 10 over Mohawk and had an abscesed tooth all week. We were not sure if we'd even race. She sat last the whole mile until the head of the lane and passed everyone in deep stretch for the win!!! I'm not sure if any Breeders Crown winner but her has went from last to first in the stretch. It was also the first Crown win for me and driver Mark MacDonald."



Trainer Jack Darling:

"I have never won a Breeders Crown, so my favourite moment personally would be when Gothic Dream finished second as a two-year-old to His Mattjesty at Mohawk in 1996. It was a sloppy track and Gothic Dream came from way back, went three wide around the final turn and paced home strong to finish second. His Mattjesty came from behind us, went four wide around the final turn to beat us by a length. Both horses raced great but His Mattjesty was the best that night.

Even though I would have loved to win the breeders crown, I remember being very happy with a second and with how Gothic Dream raced. I also remember feeling happy for Stew Firlotte, the trainer of His Mattjesty. Our colts had been battling all year long and this was his night."

Writer Paul Delean:

"I have two favourite Breeders Crown moments, and the reason they'll always stand out for me is because I know, and appreciate, the people connected to the winning horses.

My years as Quebec-based horseracing writer coincided with the emergence of Dustin Jones as a horseman, and nobody was more deserving of a win like Martiniontherocks' wire-to-wire effort in the two-year-old trotting filly final in 2010. I also liked the fact he told me a few days before the race she shouldn't have been 20-1 in the morning line, and it was posted for all to see on the Standardbred Canada website.



The other one I'm especially fond of was Belovedangel's 2005 victory in the three-year-old pacing filly final; she was going to change hands after the race, and co-owner Irving Liverman told me the price would be bumped up $50,000 if she won the Breeders Crown. Naturally, she did, at a big price, confirming again the accuracy of hall-of-famer Liverman's nickname, Lucky."

Announcer Shannon "Sugar" Doyle:

"My favorite Breeders Crown moment would have to come from one of my favorite young horses of all time Western Shooter - two-year-old colt and gelding winner at Woodbine, in October, 2001.

Trained by one of the best, Robert McIntosh, and driven by one of the best, John Campbell, this colt was one of the finest looking colts I had ever seen. I fell in love with him after watching him lose a heart-breaker in his Metro Final. He went an incredible trip, in that, only to roll off stride at the finish and be placed fifth. It would be pay back time in the Breeders Crown.

I remember the race well. I was all over him - loved his 4/1 odds and just had that feeling. He'd just reach up to catch a very determined Mach Three, by a nose, at the finish. Three Olives would be third... He was in fantastic company.

He'd go on to win his next two - the Governor's Cup Elim and Final at the Meadowlands - in November, of the same year, take a mark of 1:50 there and then we'd never see him again. He was gone much too soon. Could he have been one of the sport's best ever? I like to think so."

Advertising Director Dan Fisher:

"Three-year-old Colt Pace in 1999. Being good friends with Chris Christoforou Jr. he had told my son Justin (just 3 at the time) to come out for his picture if he won the two-year-old colt pace with Astreos...they got beat by a nose to Tyberwood. Two races later Chris worked out a two-hole trip and upset Blissfull Hall with Grinfromeartoear. Justin ran out to Chris in the winner's circle and Chris sat him up on his shoulders...the photographers and TV cameras were all over them for about five minutes. There were two three-year-olds in the winner's circle that night - Grinfromeartoear and Justin Fisher...who was doing just that!"



Driver Yannick Gingras:

"I would have to say winning it at like 50-1 with Southwind Serena. First Breeders Crown win and beating the huge favourite [Pampered Princess] right at the wire was pretty neat!!"

Analyst Mike Hamilton:

"My favourite Breeders Crown memory is still my first Breeders Crown memory.

In the 80s I worked as Program Director at a number of tracks in Western Canada and when the Crown came to Northlands in '84, I was between meets and was sent to Edmonton to assist Ruth Hawkins with the heavy workload of compiling a Breeders Crown program in the pre-database era. And it wasn't just as simple as transcribing the info that was recorded on the horse's eligibility cards as some of the horses were entered before their cards had arrived in Edmonton and many of the USTA-issued cards had been hand-written by people with Grade 2 penmanship skills.

I worked the phones, checking dates and past performance information with race secretaries and program directors at tracks all over North America. Putting out that program was very satisfying. And the race was pretty good too. On The Road Again, the hometown hero, faced the aptly named pair of Guts and Troublemaker, with the latter winning for Bill O'Donnell in 1:56."

Analyst Bob Heyden:

"Favourite moment was Nihilator winning in 1985, mainly because it was the ONLY time I ever got to spend some time - 15 minutes or so - with Billy Haughton.

I caught up with him at the after party at Garden State Park, plus I knew this was the end of Nihilator's career. Little did I or anyone know this would be Billy's last Crown. Great, great guy. That was G arden State's first year too and I liked the trip, going there to see "Meadowlands South".

In retrospect we got to see first hand how difficult it is to win the Crown at 2 AND 3. There's a reason why NO HORSE has been named Horse Of The Year at 2 AND 3 in either sport since Niatross and Secretariat - it's simply too much to ask nowadays and the Breeders crown has proven that every point.

Nihilator avenged his biggest career disappointment (From the '84 Crown) - plus I knew Bob Boni and was happy to see that group's success with the first crop of the Niatross'.

That race also put Billy O'Donnell over $10 Million for the year, and oddly that marked the only time he would do so even though he was the very first."

Writer Dean Hoffman:

"Several weeks before the 1984 Breeders Crown freshman pace in the first year of the series, I got a call from a Pennsylvania breeder who asked, “Are you coming over to The Meadows to see Dragon’s Lair beat Nihilator in the Breeders Crown?”

I laughed out loud. When I stopped laughing, I said, “I don’t believe in the Easter bunny, I don’t believe in the tooth fairy, and I don’t believe that.”

No one could beat Nihilator. We all knew that. He’d won 11 straight races. I knew Dragon’s Lair had paced to some impressive wins in Pennsylvania that summer, but he’d never faced Nihilator before the Breeders Crown. I figured he was no match for the big horse.

I was wrong. I wasn’t alone. Lots of people were wrong. In one of the most memorable nights of racing I can recall, Dragon’s Lair took the fight to Nihilator and took home the Breeders Crown trophy. The victory was all the more satisfying for Jeff Mallet, trainer and driver of Dragon’s Lair, because The Meadows was his home track and he was well known to fans and horsemen.



In the emotion of the moment after the race, Jeff Mallet said into the microphone, “I’d like to thank Lou Guida for bringing Nihilator to The Meadows so that Dragon’s Lair could beat him.”

It certainly wasn’t the most gracious or sportsmanlike comment, but Mallet had never wavered in his confidence that Dragon’s Lair would win. He’d talked the talk, and backed it up on the track. What an unforgettable race."

Announcer Roger Huston:

"Absolutely no question about my favorite. In 1984 'The Horse from The Meadows' Dragons Lair and Jeff Mallet upset the sports favorite Nihilator and William O'Donnell. All year long I felt that Dragons Lair was the best two-year-old and he lived up to by thoughts when he took on a powerful three-horse entry in The Breeders Crown. Tom Haughton and Pershing Square hung him to the quarter in 26.3 and then Nihilator was first up down the backside but Dragons Lair drew away for the win in a Worlds record 1:54.1."

Driver Jody Jamieson:

"2007 two-year-old colt pace. Obviously Santanna Blue Chip won it but what was so great was that I was locked in forever it seemed and just when I thought I was gonna have to start begging George Brennan for some room he stopped just enough for me to squeeze him out and barely measured Dave Miller at the wire.



I owned Santanna and it was my first and only Crown but what was really great was that my mom and dad were both there and we were on center stage at the former mecca of racing, The Meadowlands.

The because of the beauty of this game is that night's race was one of the biggest highs in my career. A few races later I got Tell All parked the route in his Breeders Crown final and my night came to a crashing halt emotionally!"

Photographer Mike Lizzi:

"For me it was Fools Goal over Victory Tilly in 2002 at The Meadowlands. Fools Goal was as tough as they come, but still was not supposed to beat Victory Tilly. I was in the crowd that day.... When Fools Goal started to open up in the stretch it got crowd got really loud... when he won, the crowd went crazy."

Announcer Ken Middleton:

"My fave moment and race are two different things. My favourite Breeders Crown race of all-time was Artsplace winning as a two-year-old on a blustery night at Pompano Park in 1990. I've never seen a performance as brilliant as the one he turned in that night. He won by a football field in a mind-boggling time of 1:51.1.

My favourite moment was Randy Waples' post race celebration after winning the Breeders Crown with Liberty Balance in 2001. He whipped out the title belt and did a few Hulk Hogan poses. I'll never forget that. It was nice to see some over-the-top emotion."

TV Host Heather Moffett:

"My favorite Breeders Crown moment happened last year when Rocknroll Heaven won. He was so breathtaking!

I was doing the TV show for the live MAV broadcast at Pocono and I had coproduced the feature about him. I was really, really anxious (more so than usual) and excited that night about watching him. And I loved Jim Beviglia's race call. I've watched the race so many times that I know the ending by heart! "Three quarters 1:19.4 -:26.2 are you kidding me here?...He's unstoppable! He's untouchable! He's unbeatable! Rocknroll Heaven! A coronation in the Breeders Crown Final!!"



Driver Bill O'Donnell:

"The one Breeders Crown win that stands out in my mind as a pleasant memory was Valley Victory's win as a two-year-old at Pompano Park.

Valley Victory had a gravel festering in his foot in the days leading up to the race. Steve Elliott (his trainer) wasn't sure if we were going to be able to race him. After warming him up Steve decided that we would go ahead and score him down and see how he felt. He sure wasn't at 100% in the parade but the closer to post time it got the better he was feeling so I thought it was worth a try to race him.

As the gate picked up speed he sounded up and won by open lengths. A testimonial to the heart that he possessed. It makes you proud to have been affiliated with a horse of that grit and talent."

Driver Ron Pierce:

"There's been so many, I could talk to you about this all morning. One that stick out for me is Giant Victory at Pompano. It took every bit of skill I had to get him around those turns."

Driver Trevor Ritchie:

"I would say the whole night of October 27, 2000. I know a whole night may be more then just a moment but it was such a special night for me. Winning three Crowns and adding a third with another was the kind of night that even in my loftiest dreams I could not have imagined. I thought going into the night with the line-up of horses I was listed to drive it could be special but winning three is not something that I could or would have thought was anything more than a dream...but the dream came true."

Announcer Frank Salive:

"Because of the magnitude of what it meant to everyone involved, I'd have to say the Mares Trot win by Lifetime Dream in 1993, although almost in a dead-heat with that on the very same night was the amazing stretch battle when Swing Back edged out Shady lucky to have been the reporter on duty for those unforgettable moments and race etched indelibly in memory."

Race Secretary Nick Salvi:

"I was at The Meadows (home for me) when Dragon's Lair won the first two-year-old colt pace and defeated the mighty Nihilator in the process. Huge crowd, local "David" overcoming the "Goliath" under seemingly impossible odds and then Jeff Mallet was enough of a wise ass to thank Lou Guida for bringing Nihilator to The Meadows for him to humble. Lou paid him back by virtually stealing his horse the next year.

Then, Artsplace's win in the 2CP at Pompano in 1990...those events were magical, Breeders Crown balls, celebrity guests, big clubhouse filled to the max. That night was cool and very windy and Artsplace went an amazing 1:51.1 in destroying the competition, primarily Die Laughing, his main opponents for the 2YO title."

Driver Brian Sears:

"Fall of 2004, I won three Crowns that night which was kind of a surprise with Rocknroll Hanover being scratched. It was my biggest night at that point in my career, and it was very exciting. I have many fond memories at Woodbine."

Track manager Jason Settlemoir:

"Lis Mara winning the $500,000 Breeders Crown Open Pace in 2006, equaling the track and world record 1:47.3. I love fast horses and he was definitely fast."

Marketing Director Kelly Spencer:

"My favourite Breeders Crown moment was Gallo Blue Chip’s sophomore win in 2000 at Mohawk. He decimated the field, winning by nearly eight lengths. Announcer Frank Salive called him the ‘Horse Of The Millennium’ as he neared the wire and he was, of course, destined to retire as the richest pacer of all time ($4.2 million).

Nail-biters with an enthralling finish are typically my most cherished races. But the great Gallo Blue Chip is one of my all-time favourites. The contrast of this massive domination in the sport’s ultimate championship — coupled with the back-story of Mark Ford’s star on the rise, and Gallo’s big ‘ol Roman nose — make the glamour boy division of the new century my most memorable Breeders Crown moment."

Driver Montrell Teague:

"My favorite Breeders Crown moment had to be winning it at 16 years old with Artcotic in 2007, since I picked her out of the sale and owned part of her."

Driver Randy Waples:

"Watching Dragons Lair as a two-year-old beating Nihilator sticks out in my mind the most. What a race!"

Announcer Ken Warkentin:

"Varenne in the 2001 Breeders Crown. He more than lived up to the great hype with a world record performance, followed by a mob scene celebration on the world's greatest stage."



Announcer James Witherite:

"I'd have to say Buck I St. Pat's resounding win in the Distaff Trot last year at Pocono. Buck I St. Pat is to me what I'd imagine Zenyatta was to Vic Stauffer, and I always get a huge natural high calling her. I just love that mare."

Analyst Darin Zocalli:

"2001 Breeders Crown Open Trot - Varenne blows them all away. This was the first time an International Star put his stamp on the crown."

With a long and storied history that we've just scratched the surface of here, I invite readers to share their favourite Breeders Crown moment as well.

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