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No Longer 'Strangers' To Success

Published: January 30, 2020 3:45 pm ET

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Attending their first O’Brien Awards last year, Judy and Buck Chaffee of Caviart Farms will return on the heels of a 2019 campaign with three in contention for year-end honours.

Caviart Farms, based out of Virginia, heads into the O’Brien Awards with Captain Crunch (nominated for three-year-old pacing colt of the year), Tall Dark Stranger (nominated for two-year-old pacing colt of the year) and Caviart Ally (nominated for older pacing mare of the year).

“Caviart Farms’ success last year of course goes to the horses, and to each and every person who contributed in working with them,” Judy Chaffee said. “I believe that success at the highest level requires the best possible team, every individual focused on bringing out the best God-given talent in each horse.

“With respect to the O’Brien finalists, Nancy Takter, who trains both Tall Dark Stranger and Captain Crunch, and Brett Pelling, who trains Caviart Ally, earned their impressive and stellar reputations through good decisions, innate talent, love of the horses and working long and hard themselves while also themselves with the best drivers, caretakers and others. Beyond those working with our race horses, we also have an equally tremendous farm team that is headed primarily by our farm manager and son Terry Chaffee, foreman Gustavo Hernandez and Terry’s wife Laurie who handles the administrative functions.”

The Chaffees have dreamed of experiencing such success as they did in 2019 since they first entered the Standardbred business back in the 1980s. Nearly 40 years later, they now have several of harness racing’s most cherished trophies in their collection.

“We hoped for a ‘big’ horse, meaning a horse that was competitive at the highest stakes level,” admitted Chaffee. “In fact, I cannot tell you how many times I spoke about wanting a Breeders Crown trophy. That was the big dream: a Breeders Crown trophy! And here we are today with not just one Breeders Crown trophy, but three of them -- two won in this past racing year!”

Caviart Ally and Tall Dark Stranger gave Caviart Farms its first two Breeders Crown victories. Caviart Ally’s win served as a momentous point in her career for the Chaffees since the now six-year-old daughter of Bettors Delight had many close calls in previous tries, finishing second in the 2017 Three-Year-Old Filly Pace and in the 2018 Aged Mare Pace, losing the latter to division-leader Shartin N. However in the 2019 Aged Mares Pace, Caviart Ally blew away from Shartin N to win in 1:49.3.

“We have had [Caviart] Ally since she was a yearling, and over four seasons she has not only raced and outlasted so many of the top fillies and mares, but she has been the gutsiest filly I have ever known,” said Judy. “Of all of the Caviart horses I feel closest to Ally, which made her win so especially sweet.

“We are fortunate that Ally has had two exceptional trainers, Noel Daley who trained her until he returned to Australia for a brief time, and then her current trainer Brett Pelling. Driver Andy McCarthy and Ally have been together since the get-go, through the thick and the thin, so it warmed my heart to see them sharing the spotlight in the Breeders Crown winner’s circle.”

Tall Dark Stranger also added a Breeders Crown victory to his resume in one of the most unorthodox finishes of the event’s history, receiving the trophy via disqualification of Papi Rob Hanover. Yet for Chaffee, Tall Dark Stranger’s victory in Woodbine Mohawk Park’s flagship freshman pace -- the Metro Stakes -- sits high on her memories of the season.

“I can still visualize that race,” recalled Judy. “Nancy [Takter] and Yannick [Gingras] each got their first Metro win and Buck and I were thrilled to the fact that ‘Stranger’ remained undefeated! It was Tall Dark Stranger being everything I felt he could be. When I saw the colt for the very first time at the yearling sale in Lexington, I had turned to Buck and asked, ‘Is there such a thing as a horse being too perfect?’ That night at the Metro he was so perfect, and he ended the season with a nearly-perfect record of winning eight in nine races.”

But Captain Crunch began Caviart Farms’ sensational stakes season when winning Canada’s richest harness racing event -- the Pepsi North America Cup -- in a track, stakes and Canadian-record time of 1:47.2.

“It was an incredible race,” Judy Chaffee said. “It was a thrill to see Crunch’s trainer Nancy Takter win the Cup on her very first try, and also to hear driver Scott Zeron say that the win completed his bucket list. As for Buck and me, standing there in the winner’s circle of the North America Cup final, it simply felt surreal. It was already a dream just to have a colt in that race, and we could hardly believe that we were standing in the winner’s circle with that gorgeous North America Cup trophy!”

Judy and Buck learned of their stable’s finalists for the O’Brien Awards while watching the live stream announcement in December. The Chaffees now get to return to the O’Brien Awards and potentially collect their first trophy.

“All along Buck and I understood that just owning a finalist was in itself a huge honour, and having three finalists definitely felt like triple the honour,” noted Judy. “We are very grateful. In fact, we had such a wonderful time last year that we planned to attend the gala again this year regardless of whether a Caviart Farms-owned horse was among the finalists. But, of course, now having three finalists guarantees that this will be a very special, fun and memorable O’Brien Awards celebration.”

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