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Ramona Hill Back On Track For 2021

Published: January 25, 2021 2:05 pm ET

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One of Canada’s most prominent owners in the sport, Brad Grant enjoyed success that transcended the 49th parallel in 2020 with his talented trotting filly Ramona Hill among the standouts honoured at the annual Dan Patch Awards.

Co-owned by the resident of Milton, Ont., Ramona Hill was voted Three-Year-Old Trotting Filly of the Year in the U.S. earlier this month after winning six stakes in a row on the Grand Circuit last summer and earning $968,282 from 10 sophomore starts.

Trained by Tony Alagna, the Muscle Hill filly took her mark of 1:50.1 while defeating the boys in the $1 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands for Grant and partners Crawford Farms Racing, Robert LeBlanc and In The Gym Partners.

Her stakes streak also included victories in the $350,000 Elegantimage and $88,894 Simcoe at Grant’s home track, Woodbine Mohawk Park, along with the $253,500 Del Miller Memorial and $160,140 Harry M. Zweig Memorial stateside.

“She had a little bit of an issue at the end of the year that we found out afterwards, but I still think she was the deserving winner,” said Grant of his filly’s U.S. divisional honours. “Good for her.”

While she missed the Breeders Crown and closed out the year with a couple of uncharacteristic starts, Grant said the trotting miss has had time to recover from the unbeknownst injury and will return to the races this year.

“Once we shut her down, Tony had them go over her from top to bottom and it took a nuclear scan to find the problem,” Grant told Trot Insider. “We found that there was a tear in the muscle over her back so we worked at that and everything is good, with a green light to go ahead. She’s back in training and she looks absolutely outstanding. She was out at Crawford Farms for a rest and Michelle and Heather [Reese] and their team looked after her very, very well.

“It was something hard to find and luckily we’ve been able to find it and move forward,” said Grant, noting that the connections hadn’t discussed shutting her down at four. “We really believe there’s more to her and, if she’s sound, maybe we haven’t seen the bottom of her tank yet. If she comes back well and races well then we’ll put another year under her belt and revisit from there.”

Connections of Ramona Hill celebrate her 2019 Breeders Crown win at Woodbine Mohawk Park

Ramona Hill will join Atlanta in what has developed into a deep division of older trotting mares in recent years, meaning Grant will find himself in the unprecedented position of having two Hambletonian champion fillies on track in 2021.

While their paths might cross at some point, Grant’s not getting ahead of himself.

“We’re going to look at their schedules and I’m not sure how often they’ll race against each other. There are some four-year-old races for ‘Ramona.’ I guess if you’ve got to have a problem, that’s not a bad one to have,” said Grant. “We’ll talk with Tony and there’s other partners on her and we’ll sort it out from there, but she’ll tell us what she wants to do.

“At this point, I’m just kind of thinking of next week, never mind three or four months down the road. For her to have to step up and race against Manchego and Atlanta and a number of the other great older trotting horses and mares, that’s a big, big ask, and again, I think she will tell us how good she’s going to be. We’re not looking to over-race her by any means.”

Developing into one of harness racing’s all-time greatest rivalries, six-year-old trotting mares Atlanta and Manchego have been knocking heads throughout most of their careers with their latest match-up being a battle for year-end honours in the U.S. at the Dan Patch Awards. The closest vote was among the older female trotters, with Black Horse Racing’s Manchego taking top honours over Atlanta (72-58).

“I’m disappointed, I thought Atlanta should have got the nod, but at the same time I can’t take anything away from Manchego,” said Grant, who co-owns Atlanta with Crawford Farms and Howard Taylor. “It is what it is, we move on. I was disappointed to hear they’re bringing her back because it just makes it that much tougher again this year. She’s a hell of a mare and no doubt she’ll come out guns-ablazing, but it makes for a great rivalry between the two of them.”

The pair met in seven races last year, with each mare winning three times. Among those match-ups, Atlanta ruled in the Arthur J. Cutler Memorial, Maple Leaf Trot and Dayton Trotting Derby. Manchego was victorious in a leg of the Miss Versatility Series, the Spirit of Massachusetts and year-end TVG Open, which followed up her Breeders Crown triumph.

“I really thought Atlanta should have got the nod, but at the end of the year Manchego was racing really, really well and Nancy [Takter] was having a year to die for.

“It was probably the toughest division to decide...and the last two times around, Manchego stepped up and handed us our lunch, and maybe that was the difference.”

But Grant recalls Atlanta’s 1:50.4 late-summer score in the $560,000 Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk as a knockout performance.

“Atlanta came off the turn for home like I’ve never seen a trotter come with that kind of speed. You watch her and you go ‘how did she not go off stride?’ She was just trotting up a storm and closed it out and drove away. Manchego was tired at the end, but the way we won it and how resounding we won it, that’s the race I remember. We put her away, we put Gimpanzee away, we put [Crystal] Fashion away, there was a bunch of them that day. But you know what? Next year I’ve gotta do it again, that’s all.”

Trained by Ron Burke, the double millionaire daughter of Chapter Seven is now back in training after a break at Crawford Farms.

“He put her away in great shape and is just as confident about next year. I watched an interview not too long ago, I think it was on COSA, and Ron was talking about her and she’s just a smart, smart animal that just wants to please you and she loves what she does. Hopefully she’ll come back again and it will be a great rivalry again this year.

“And you know, there are the ones coming back that we know should come back, but there’s going to be somebody else that will step up,” he added. “It’s just the nature of our beast. There should be somebody else out there that will kick it into another gear or mature to the point that they’ll be another contender in the group so it will be great racing. It will be great racing for the fans – hopefully they’ll get to see it this year.”

Grant is looking forward to the resumption of racing post-pandemic shutdowns although his stable will be operating on a smaller scale. One of his recent standouts, 2020 O'Brien Award finalist Warrawee Vicky, was among those Grant sold in the 2020 Tattersalls Winter Mixed Sale last Monday (Jan. 18).

“I just decided it’s getting too expensive to win Owner of the Year,” quipped Grant, “so I decided to put a bunch of my overnighters in the sale this year. I think I’ve got eight or nine Ontario-sired two-year-olds, so I’m concentrating on that a bit more this year. I’ll have eight or nine overnighters racing, but I’m not going to have as many. I really want to concentrate on trying to get more quality and less quantity, I guess.

“It is a great program up here and I think the last couple of years I kind of really concentrated more on the Grand Circuit, but this is where my roots are and there’s great money to be made and so I’ve just decided that this year we’ll maybe just pay a little more attention to what’s going on at home and hopefully have some luck. I’ve got some partners on some of them and hopefully we can have some fun.”

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