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Hills’ Crown Win Would Be Bittersweet

Published: October 22, 2015 3:35 pm ET

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Tom Hill and his family hope that this is the year they finally win a Breeders Crown race after having come close in previous editions. If they are fortunate enough to experience a Crown victory, it will come with bittersweet feelings.

This year’s $6+ million finals at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack take place on October 24, the anniversary of a Hill family tragedy. It was a day that changed their lives and their commitment to the sport.

The Hills, who are from England, have solid contenders with Caprice Hill in the Two-Year-Old Filly Trot, as well as homebreds Racing Hill and Pretty Boy Hill in the Two-Year-Old Colt Pace.

“To win the Breeders Crown would be like winning the lottery,” Tom Jr. says. “It is something everybody in the business wants. I’d like to win the North America Cup. I’d like to win the Meadowlands Pace. I’d like to win the Little Brown Jug and, obviously, a Breeders Crown (race). That’s what we all say.

“It all comes down to the Breeders Crown. I believe that is the goal of every person in the horse business. If we were fortunate enough to win a Breeders Crown, especially with a homebred, it would be absolutely fantastic. You couldn’t really put it into words.

“To me it would mean a lot not just to win the Breeders Crown, but in honor of my late brother, Bobby.”

Bobby Hill died in a car accident. He was only 24. The accident happened while Tom Hill Sr., the 65-year-old patriarch of the family, was in London, Ontario buying a yearling at the Forest City sale. It was his first major purchase outside of England, where he had established himself as a premier Standardbred owner. Bobby, the third of Hill’s five children, had been happy for his father and told him he hoped to come to Canada the following year to buy a horse. The car accident that claimed his life happened the next day.

“When my dad lost his son, he lost interest in everything,” Tom Jr. says. “My brother Bobby would not have wanted my father to get out of horse racing. That was my dad’s hobby. He loves horses. He’s been in it all his life. That was like his get-up-and-go. My dad took it really, really hard. A year later I said to my dad, ’Come on, let’s go back to Canada’ and he said ‘I have no interest in the horses.’ I convinced him to come back. That’s what really gave us a push to really step up again and to go for the most expensive and better quality yearlings and try to become a big hitter in the business.”

The year after Bobby’s passing, the Hills bought two yearlings, and the following year, Tom Jr. said “let’s up the game” and they travelled to Kentucky for the Lexington Selected Yearling sale. There they purchased Lucky Man, a son of Camluck, and Beyonce Blue Chip, a daughter of Art Major. Lucky Man did well on the Ontario Sires Stakes circuit, while Beyonce Blue Chip had marginal success and was retired to become a broodmare. They named her first foal Bobby Hill.

In 2007, the Hills paid $157,000 for Art Colony, who became their first major Grand Circuit horse. He only raced 13 times due to injury but won five and placed second in the $700,000 Breeders Crown Two-Year-Old Colt Pace in 2008, from Post 10. The following year Art Colony finished second in the $1.5 million North America Cup. He had top-end speed – Casie Coleman said he was the fastest horse she had ever trained to that point – but was consistently unlucky when it came to drawing outside posts in major races. Still, Art Colony won more than $850,000 and was later retired to stud.

In 2008, the Hills paid $50,000 for Western Silk, a daughter of Western Terror. She went on to earn more than $1.7 million in her career. Her career highlight was winning the Jugette in 2010. Western Silk was third in the Breeders Crown Three-Year-Old Filly Pace almost three weeks later, and Tom Hill Sr. claimed the filly was drained from two heats in the Jugette. It led to some interesting public dialogues between Hill and Richard Young, the owner of Put On A Show, who won the Breeders Crown race. They posed together at the Canadian O’Brien Awards when both their fillies were finalists in the same division.

“Richard Young and my dad get along great,” Tom Jr. says. “They don’t speak all the time because he’s in America and my dad is in (Canada and the U.K.), but if my dad sees him at Lexington or Harrisburg or at the races they always have a quick conversation. They get along quite well now. It’s just a bit of what we call banter, boost the industry up, create a bit of interest.”

While the Hills have enjoyed success in the business, they have also had their share of misfortune, buying horses which didn’t develop or, in some cases, died before they had a chance to prove their worth. Never A Fool, a $160,000 yearling purchase that was a half-brother to champion Always A Virgin, raced only five times. World In Motion, purchased for $182,000, also raced only a handful of times. They have also had yearlings die before they even made it to the races.

“We’ve had our fair share of mishaps,” Tom Jr. says.

The Hills have expanded their interests in the sport by becoming breeders. They own 15 broodmares.

“If you pay a lot of money for a colt and it’s a dud, then you’ve lost your money,” Tom Jr. says. “At least with a filly, you have what we call a back door. You can breed her and hopefully you will get a nice foal. We can generate enough yearlings to support what we want to do in Canada and America, but we’ve also got the option of picking five or six and keeping them, selling five or six in the sales and buying a couple yearlings if I want to bring in fresh bloodlines. I think we have some of the best bloodlines in America.”

Caprice Hill, a winner of seven of nine races and more than $500,000, was second in her elimination race and drew Post 10 in the $600,000 Two-Year-Old Filly Trot, carded as Race 5 on Saturday. Racing Hill has won five of nine starts, including his last three and drew the rail in the $600,000 Two-Year-Old Colt Pace, while Pretty Boy Hill, who is winless in nine career starts, placed a solid second to the undefeated Control The Moment in his Crown elimination, giving the Hills two rooting interests in the prestigious event.

The Hills are also high on Tom Hill, who is a full-brother to champion Hes Watching. The two-year-old colt has won one of three lifetime races.

“The dam is related to Beyonce Blue Chip and I wanted to get a top horse and call him Tom Hill after my dad,” Tom Jr. says. “I’m not saying he’ll be as good as Hes Watching, I’m not saying he won’t. He’s got the pedigree. He’s got a full-brother that’s a record holder and he’s slightly better size-wise, so there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be. So that’s why I called him Tom Hill.

“He’s a very, very fast horse. We wanted to quit with him, turn him out and let him grow up a bit and mature. But he’s got a lot of speed.”

Tom Sr. made his fortune owning and operating holiday trailer park homes, which are run considerably different in England than trailer park homes in North America. Horses are the family’s hobby.

“If I wanted another business, I’d buy another holiday park home back in the U.K.,” Tom Jr. says. “This is just fun. My dad’s been in the business his whole life. My grandfather, Joe, was in it his whole life. I’m a third generation, and my son, Tom, he’s 19 and he has an interest in it. I really think 15 broodmares is too many, but I’m trying to support America, and I will be breeding mares in Canada next season. There’s a shortage of yearlings around. If I get rid of five or six broodmares and everybody else did the same thing, there will be even less again. In my own way, we’re trying to contribute towards helping the horse business by keeping extra mares to breed to get some more foals out there.”

They have begun naming their homebreds with the Hill name.

“Back in the U.K. when my Dad had horses, all his horses had ‘Hill’ in them,” Tom Jr. says. “He has quite a following back in England and Ireland. It’s just basically our brand. Most people know if it’s got Hill at the back of it, it’s one of ours. Every homebred and most purchases are going to be named Hill. If I buy into a horse with a partner, I don’t know what their view will be. But if it’s 100 per cent owned by myself, it will definitely have Hill on the back of it.”

For the first time in three years, Woodbine Racetrack will again host the Breeders Crown, harness racing’s most spectacular evening, when 12 championship finals, offering more than $6 million in purse money. It’s the richest day of horse racing in Canada as North America’s best two-year-olds, three-year-olds and older pacers and trotters will be in the spotlight seeking to claim divisional and possibly Harness Horse of the Year honours. TSN2 will air a special one hour telecast across Canada from 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. and will televise two of the 12 Crown finals live, the $500,000 Three-Year-Old Colt Trot at 9:19 p.m. and the $531,250 Three-Year-Old Colt Pace at 9:44 p.m. ET.

Among the marketing activities on Breeders Crown night are WEG’s First Bet On Us $2 voucher and a free toque (while supplies last), available on the 3rd Floor; $10,000 in Instant Cash Giveaways (wager through a self-serve wagering terminal at Woodbine for 100 chances to win $100) and a mandatory Jackpot Hi 5 payout on Race 13 (the carryover pool is currently at $557,000) scheduled for 11:27 p.m.

In addition, there will be two $100,000 Guaranteed Pick 4’s, Early (Races 4-7) and Late (Races 8-11).

To view the entries for the Breeders Crown card, and for past performances for the Breeders Crown entrants courtesy TrackIT, click one of the following links:

2015 Breeders Crown Finals:

(Hambletonian Society)


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