A Season To Top All Seasons

Brad Grant with Atlanta and Bulldog Hanover

Brad Grant already knows he'll be making an on-stage appearance at the 2022 O'Brien Awards. Just how many times he'll be making that round-trip trek from his seat to the stage remains to be seen.

In fact, Grant might need to build an addition onto his Milton, Ont. residence to accommodate all the potential hardware heading his way this month.

Here's what we know.

Grant was already named as the 2022 Norman Woolworth Owner of the Year as voted by the U.S. Harness Writers Association. His horses include the world's fastest Standardbred, Bulldog Hanover.

Bulldog Hanover has already been named as the 2022 winner of the Stan Bergstein-Proximity Award and the Dan Patch Award for older male pacer. He's a leading contender, and many would concur he's the 1-9 favourite, to win U.S. Pacer of the Year and U.S. Horse of the Year. 

The 2022 Dan Patch Awards ceremony is slated for Sunday, Feb. 19 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando, Florida.

This Saturday (Feb. 4), the aforementioned Bulldog Hanover will receive the Cam Fella Award at the 2022 O'Brien Awards, presented by Standardbred Canada. Bulldog Hanover is also the leading contender for older male pacer honours and has those same odds to win the 2022 Somebeachsomewhere Horse of the Year Award.

Grant also was a co-owner of older trotting mare Atlanta, who is also a 2022 O'Brien Award finalist.

A sweep of those categories would land Grant nine awards in total. Quite the haul for the transport magnate.

Grant told Trot Insider that "it was quite a surprise and an honour" to be named Owner of the Year stateside for 2022, a year full of emotions that culminated with a bittersweet night at The Meadowlands on Saturday, Nov. 26. It was a night that marked the final career starts for both Atlanta and Bulldog Hanover.

Atlanta is looking to win her second O’Brien Award in this division, the first coming in 2019. The daughter of Chapter Seven - Hemi Blue Chip won six races in 15 starts and amassed $493,721 in 2022, with stakes wins that included the Armbro Flight and the Miss Versatility Final. 

With a mark of 1:49, Atlanta is the co-fastest female trotter and the fourth-richest female trotter of all time with earnings of $3.8 million. In 2018, she became the first filly in 22 years to beat the boys in the Hambletonian and was named the Dan Patch Award Trotter of the Year. She added a Dan Patch Award plus an O’Brien Award the following year as the top trotting mare in the U.S. and Canada. In discussing that career with Grant, he notes that her resume could easily have a few more awards tacked on.

"She’s had some hard luck in the last few years and, you know, I really felt she should have won a Dan Patch a couple of years ago, they picked Manchego...it is what it is. And then, unfortunately, she would have won an O’Brien up here as a three-year-old, and due to unfortunate circumstances, she got penalized. She's just been a hard-luck horse that way."

On the racetrack, Atlanta made her own luck. And she did it competing against arguably one of the deepest groups of trotting mares in recent memory while also facing and defeating the open trotting stars.

"As a four-year-old, five-year-old, six-year-old, I mean, she was a constant champion each year and put a lot of money on the card and gave a lot of thrills to a lot of people," said Grant, who owned the daughter of Chapter Seven - Hemi Blue Chip during her older career with Howard Taylor and Crawford Farms. 

"Obviously, winning the Armbro Flight again up here was great. Winning her start [the Allerage] down at Lexington. You know, just showed her class again. I thought there were a couple races where she raced really good but just got beat...one night, When Dovescry beat her and another, Bella Bellini beat her. There’s no slouches in that group."

Managing a career like Atlanta's, with the expectations foisted upon a Hambletonian winner returning for an older campaign, is not for the faint of heart. To the connections' credit, they were able to place Atlanta in the hands of a Hall of Fame trainer and secure a Hall of Fame driver — the tandem of Ron Burke and Yannick Gingras.

"I think Ronnie did a great job. There’s a lot of pressure when you take a mare that just won the Hambletonian the year before, she’s going into a new barn...I mean, he kept her on the top of her game and probably improved it. Yannick did a great job driving her. Taught her to race from behind. I can’t say enough about the job they did. I mean, I’m sure Ron doesn’t worry about the pressure, but I think deep down you’re knowing, hey, you’re taking one of the top mares coming into her four-year-old year you've got to step up and he did.

"There was a couple of bumps along the way and Ron recognized them, regrouped, fixed it, and went back at it again. So I give him a ton of credit for what he and his team did."

The O'Briens will mark the end of the line for Grant with Atlanta, as the trotter will start her second career without his name on the ownership. Crawford Farms now owns the triple millionaire.

"It was the right thing to do. When they bought in, the intent was that she was going to be a star in their broodmare band and Howard and I firmly were comfortable and agreed that that’s where she should go and we worked something out and that’s where she will spend the best days of her life as I know she will be looked after by Michelle."

Saying goodbye is never easy, but saying goodbye to both a rare filly Hambletonian winner AND the fastest horse to ever set foot on a racetrack. On the same night? That's just cruel. But in order to have such a situation, it stands to reason that the 2022 season had to provide Grant with something very special. That something was an historic run courtesy of the one and only Bulldog Hanover.

Co-owned with Grant by trainer Jack Darling, Bulldog Hanover captivated the hearts of harness racing fans across North America in 2022. He became the fastest Standardbred the sport has ever seen when he stopped the clock in 1:45.4 in the William R. Haughton Memorial at The Meadowlands on July 16. It was a memorable season that saw him win 14 races in 16 starts for $1,858,210 in earnings. Some of Bulldog Hanover’s other notable victories came in the Dan Patch Stakes and the Hoosier Pacing Derby at Hoosier Park, the Dayton Pacing Derby, the Canadian Pacing Derby, the Breeders Crown and the TVG Open. 

His victories didn't stop there, as Standardbred Canada announced that Bulldog Hanover was voted the 2022 recipient of the Cam Fella Award on Jan. 19.

"Bulldog Hanover no doubt fits the criteria of what it takes to win such a prestigious award," stated Grant. "What he did not only on the track but also for our industry in general was nothing short of amazing.

"I'm thrilled to see him get recognized for all he did, I'm happy for Jack and John [Mallia, the pacer's devoted caretaker] and thankful to be part of such an amazing athlete."

As thankful as Grant is to be a part of Bulldog Hanover's career, the harness racing industry made it abundantly clear that they — we — were just as thankful to have the son of Shadow Play - BJs Squall back on the track as a four-year-old. There would be no story if Bulldog Hanover's connections said 'thanks, but no thanks' to an older campaign. And the industry is better off for having Bulldog Hanover make the Standardbred world his own personal showcase this past season.

To be clear, Brad Grant doesn't buy horses to send them to the breeding shed. He buys racehorses to race horses. And after Bulldog Hanover's three-year-old year, the plan in Grant's mind was always to race at four. 

"The nice part was, we never had a conversation about shutting him down as a four-year-old. I think we both believed he was going to come back and be a contender. I mean, to step up as a four-year-old against the group that he had to beat, not too many four-year-olds can step right into the aged pacing ranks and not only compete at the top end but almost dominate it on a weekly basis.

"You know, the perfect scenario that Jack mapped out for him was those races down at Hoosier Park [as a three-year-old in 2021], put him away, we bred him to some mares, I think that helped him....I describe it as, he put him away as a child and brought him back as a man. And, you know, this whole year, Jack had really mapped it out, thought it out. There was never any sort of discussion about what I wanted versus what he wanted. We’re always on the same page and, you know, I wasn’t going to argue with success, that’s for sure."

Grant was asked to pin down a highlight from Bulldog Hanover's four-year-old season. He couldn't pick just one. We were in no position to argue.

"I was asked this before and I said, I don’t think it was one race. It was a package. And the package was the four races at The Meadowlands in 26 days. And if I had to compare anything else to it, I think it was his race at Hollywood Dayton over a very, very deep track where he was parked the whole mile, three-wide off the top turn and he drove away from the field and I think everybody that night kind of went, 'wow, he is for real.'"

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That mile and that drive wouldn't have been possible without 2022 U.S. Driver of the Year Dexter Dunn, who took over the driving duties on Bulldog Hanover once the horse was headed for stateside stakes engagements. Grant gave full marks to Dunn and Jody Jamieson — Bulldog Hanover's primary driver for his two- and three-year-old seasons.

"It was the right move when we shipped him down there to get Dexter on him. And he stayed with him all year...well, I think after his first race he figured it out. But as tough as the horse raced, I don’t think Dexter ever drove him tough. You know what I mean? He always had something left, he always had the horse's best interest. As many tough miles as he went, I don’t ever think that Dexter drove him hard.

"He did a great job and Jody did a good job on him as a two- and three-year-old, but it was definitely the right move when we went down there to get the best driver."

Grant will hope for the best time at the 2022 O'Brien Awards Black Tie Gala on Saturday, Feb. 4 — the first in-person O'Brien Awards Gala after two years of virtual celebrations.

"I’m looking forward to it except for the fact that I have to get dressed up," said Grant with a smirk. "It’s great to see a lot of people. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me to have a great horse. There’s a lot of new names and new faces that are going to be there and it’s just a great experience and it’s nice to share it together. Mind you they did a great job on the virtuals, but there’s still nothing like doing it live."

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