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Bulldog Hanover 'A Pleasant Surprise'

Published: January 13, 2021 5:45 pm ET

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While 'glamour boy' Beaumond Hanover was the source of most of trainer Jack Darling's headlines last year, it turns out a two-year-old colt that was initially a bit of an afterthought ended up being the one to give the veteran conditioner a finalist for the 2020 O'Brien Awards.

"He's a pleasant surprise," Darling said of Bulldog Hanover, whom his Jack Darling Stables Ltd. purchased for $28,000 at the 2019 Harrisburg Yearling Sale. "He was a great-looking individual with some pedigree, and he came through.

"When I went to Harrisburg, I wasn't looking for any colts, because I had all the pacing colts I needed, but I needed a couple fillies. So I was basically looking almost all at fillies and I wasn't planning on buying any colts. Anyway, I couldn't find any fillies that I really wanted, and if I did find one, I didn't click on it. But, anyway, I did happen to look at a few colts, and I looked at this colt. I didn't get any fillies, but I ended up buying this colt. There's a little bit of luck involved in getting the right yearling in the fall, getting the ones you want, and the price being right and everything."

Despite making only six starts in his rookie campaign, the son of Shadow Play and BJs Squall steadily developed into one of Darling's top contenders while racing exclusively on the Ontario Sires Stakes circuit. Following a runner-up finish and a win in Grassroots competition in his first two starts, Bulldog Hanover rose to the Gold ranks and capped his four-win season with a resounding nine-length win in the $250,000 Ontario Super Final at Woodbine Mohawk Park on Oct. 17.

By all counts, Bulldog Hanover — who ended the season with $248,850 in the bank – far exceeded Darling's expectations:

The way the schedule was, it just suited us to start him in the Grassroots," Darling told Trot Insider. "You never know they're going to be as good as he turned out. He was just a very nice colt. He trained down and always did what I asked him to do, and steadily got better the closer he got to racing. And then, once he got racing, he just seemed to get a little better every start too."

Bulldog Hanover only suffered one minor hiccup all season — an early break in stride over off going at Flamboro Downs in an Oct. 4 OSS Gold event. Thankfully, for Darling, the colt came out of it none the worse for wear.

"That was just a bad night," he admitted. "It was a muddy night; the track was a little bit funny, and for some reason it didn't suit him. I had taken him to Flamboro and trained him there, and he trained great. He gets around the turns. Actually, I expected him to do really well, but it was just one of those nights — the rain and the bad track — that threw him off and he made the break."

Considering how well Bulldog Hanover rebounded — capping his season with a 1:50.2 statement mile over Canada's premier circuit — an effort Darling felt stamped his colt as one of the best rookies in training regardless of country:

"It was at the Super Final that he really made a statement. To win the way he did and to beat those horses that easily was pretty impressive. He's a very professional type of colt.

"If he would have been in the Breeders Crown — I generally don't pay into the Breeders Crown if it's in the States for a two-year-old — I would have loved to put him in a big race like that right at that time, because he was just as good as he can be."

Provided international travel restrictions are eased as 2021 progresses, Darling plans on a slightly more ambitious schedule for the three-year-old, who enjoyed two months of respite at Classy Lane Farm before resuming jogging and light work this week.

"I'm always fairly conservative in staking, but I'll put him in the North America Cup and things like that," he said. "And then anything in the States, everything will work around the Sires Stakes — I'll pick a few spots for him. We've got some options."

Needless to say, just about everything surrounding the 2020 harness racing season has been different, and the O'Brien Awards — moving to a virtual presentation at the end of the month — are not exempt. Still, Darling states that it's "always an honour just to be nominated," and he is grateful that the show will go on, albeit in a virtual format.

"It's quite a thing that we can do it virtually like this — we're making the best out of a bad situation," Darling said. "I think it'll be kind of fun ... Everybody will get to see what it's like to be at the O'Brien Awards, because it is a special event, the way they do it."

Nonetheless, the social element of past O'Briens — one that can't so well be replicated on a computer screen — is one that Darling will definitely miss.

"In our business, it's very few times that you get to be with everyone in one spot," he continued. "You see them at the races, yeah, but at the O'Briens, everybody's there and you finally get to talk to everybody. We're going to miss that."

The 2020 Virtual O’Brien Awards Gala takes place on Sunday, January 31, 2021 and will be available for viewing on from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. (EST).

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