Team Steacy Stacked For O'Briens Night

Shawn Steacy and his O'Brien Award finalists
Published: January 25, 2023 11:02 pm EST

There's a general consensus that Shawn Steacy and his team will be heading home with some hardware from the 2022 O'Brien Awards. Whether he'll need to enlist help to carry home said hardware remains to be seen.

Steacy earned his first nomination in the Trainer category following what has been a career season. In 2022 he set career highs in wins (98) and earnings (more than $2.8 million). He also trains three O’Brien finalists — Breeders Crown champion Sylvia Hanover, Ace Of Aces and Warrawee Xenia. Steacy is also a finalist for the O’Brien Award of Horsemanship.

"I wasn't sure about the Trainer of the Year," Steacy said when asked about seeing his name on the list of finalists. "I thought, deep down, it kind of made sense that it could happen. And, you know, modestly and humbly, I thought, well, maybe not, too. There were other guys with good years. John Bax had a good year. Gregg McNair always has a good year. There are always other guys, too.

"I think what made [being a finalist] attainable was our mid-level horses were so strong this year as opposed to maybe a couple other years when we had Harper Blue Chip or Majestic Son and we'd have one horse that was very strong, and then maybe a lower class individual to go along with it. This year we had a lot of horses that raced as Gold Level horses, high level Grassrooters, and horses that maybe didn't win many Grand Circuit races, but were players in it like like Warrawee Yes."

Seeing the name of Sylvia Hanover on the list of finalists didn't surprise the Millgrove, Ont.-based conditioner, and it wouldn't have surprised anyone that followed Canadian harness racing in 2022. Having the other horses and his name listed not once, but twice? That was a dream come true.

"Deep down we kind of expected and really hoped that, you know, Sylvia Hanover especially would be a big part of it," Steacy told Trot Insider. "After her, the other four nominations we weren't really in the dark about...but before it all came out we said, 'well, in a dream world, maybe we could get five nominations, but realistically, hopefully we could get two or three maybe.' And then when the actual five did come out, you know, it was a happy fulfillment and pleasant surprise."

Sylvia Hanover finished off the year with a record of 8-1-0 from nine starts, with her lone blemish coming in a start that saw her begin from the second tier. Her list of accomplishments include victories in the Champlain Stakes, Shes A Great Lady Final and the Breeders Crown Final, which were all held at Woodbine Mohawk Park. The daughter of Always B Miki finished the year earning $903,300 for Hudson Standrdbrd Stb Inc. of Hudson, Que. and she was also named the 2022 Dan Patch Award winner as the top two-year-old pacing filly as voted by the U.S. Harness Writers Association.

In a year full of jubilant moments, Sylvia Hanover provided Steacy with his highlight of 2022 at the end of October.

"It's probably just like everybody thinks." said Steacy. "Sylvia Hanover, I thought kind of put the nail in the coffin at the end of the year in the Breeders Crown. She was the elite individual; that was fulfilling and exciting to have a horse that could go, basically, almost with a perfect record the whole year being as strong and dominant as she was. I never had a horse that was that good before that made you sweat as much as she did.

"The longer her streak kept going, the more her high-level expectation kept up. It was a small, growing pressure, good pressure as it went along."

Looking back at some of Sylvia Hanover's miles, Steacy's assertion can be understood. There were a number of performances where the filly looked lackluster midway through the mile only to see her flip a switch and decide it was go time. In Steacy's mind, that will to compete is what helps make her a champion.

"She didn't love the work, but what she liked was the game. It was like a game to her, everything. When it was by herself working one-on-one, warm-up, anything like that. It was uninteresting. It was boring. But when you made it exciting like, you know, in a race, make moves, action happens, different situations, she thrived off the  competitiveness of that. When she heard horses coming to her, then she wanted to fight them off. She wanted to be a winner even though at moments in the middle part of the mile you'd think all she wants to do is pack up and go home."

Steacy acknowledged the excellent job from driver Bob McClure, who not only handled the filly masterfully during her on-track appearances but assisted with her conditioning outside of her race-day outings.

"Bob did an excellent job throughout the whole year of campaigning her. The work he did in the races with her to put her in good positions, forwardly-placed, was a key part of her being successful," willingly admitted the conditioner. "Things that people forget about and don't know: it's not just the two minutes that he put in during the race, it's the midweek showing up to help school or to keep her fit in between with us and to keep her mentally sharp for the big races."

Sylvia Hanover definitely delivered in those big races. Steacy and his team would have most certainly liked to see some of that consistency from stablemate Warrawee Xenia. The talented daughter of Walner make some miscues at inopportune times, but still accrued $222,978 in earnings through a 17-start sophomore season that ended with a 9-1-2 summary and a win in the Matron Stakes at Bally's Dover for owners Mark Steacy, David McDonald, Dale Larson and Diane Bertrand.

"She still had a heck of a good year. Other than (fellow finalist) Adare Castle, there probably wasn't anybody more deserving of the spot than her. Arguably, you can make a case for a couple others but realistically she was as viable as anybody," said Steacy. "There was a little bit of a small letdown in the Hambletonian Oaks for her but other than that she was pretty much up to par for a majority of stuff... a couple of times when the money was down she kind of was a little light."

Ace Of Aces only had his picture taken once in 2022, but the son of Bettors Delight showed his share of consistency through a nine-start rookie season that ended with seven top-three finishes and $261,203 in earnings for Kathy Steacy, A K Malik Stable and Landmark 15 Racing Stable.

"He's an exceptional horse in his own regard," asserted Steacy. "He battled a lot of his own adversity through the year; he had colt soreness issues that he dealt with all along. He was able to do what good horses can do and put aside his little things and show up and compete in the moment, so that's what made him. He's like a meat-and-potatoes kind of horse. He just shows up with his lunch pail and he does his work. There's something to be said for that. He shows up to play every single week, and he’s tougher than nails."

Shawn Steacy can join his father Mark (2007) as a winner of the O'Brien Award of Horsemanship. Those lessons learned from the elder Steacy paid of handsomely this past season, but make no mistake: Shawn doesn't view these accolades as a result of just his efforts, and his dad is still a major part of the team's success.

"We have so many good caretakers, family members, blacksmiths, vets that are involved. They're all that important for the overall situation," noted Steacy. "We're a big family operation on top of everything. My dad, my mother, they've been doing this for 40-plus years. My dad started at the very bottom with $800 claimers, I think back in the Kingston Park Raceway days. And, you know, he kept his head down, kept his nose clean, and he just worked harder and harder all the time. Caught a few good breaks along the way, but hard work led to his breaks. That's what established the floor level for my brother and I to get involved..and able to get us a leg up in this business, to be able to compete at the level that the stable is able to compete at now."

There's a palpable sense of pride that Steacy projects when discussing his team's tremendous season, and he's looking forward to attending the 2022 O'Brien Awards to celebrate that success achieved through hard work and dedication.

"Even if we don't win any, just to be thought of, to be recognized throughout the whole's a pleasure or a dream in that aspect, too. I think, you know, the O’Brien stands for all-around good horses, good horsemanship, and clean racing, and a clean way of doing business and that's why it's even more special to me. It's the thought that we were able to operate a stable with no black marks on our resume. And I think that's what the whole business is about."

There was only one drawback to the news.

"I'm very excited to be able to go and be a part of it like we have in the past," said Steacy with a smile. "The only downfall I can say of going it is I'm not a real big fan of going dress shopping with my wife. I would say, outside of that, I was pretty excited."

Standardbred Canada will present the 34th edition of the O'Brien Awards on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023 at the Hilton Mississauga / Meadowvale Hotel. 

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