Joe Holloway got some help from several horseflies to get Ammo to the races this season, which resulted in one of the biggest upsets in Breeders Crown history this past Friday (Oct. 28) at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
Ammo saw his campaign delayed by soundness issues as Holloway attempted to locate the root of the two-year-old pacer’s woes. For weeks, the colt went through a maddening cycle of improvement and regression until one morning when Holloway was jogging Ammo and several horseflies landed on Ammo’s back.
“He began twisting and turning trying to get them off,” said Holloway. “He was sound that day, but inside of [a short] distance, he was no good again.
“We would turn him out every morning, you think you’re doing the right thing letting him go out and stretch out, but with him running and twisting and turning, he would get his back out of line. We stopped turning him out that day, and bang, he just came along. I’d like to say it was me and how smart I am, but I just got lucky.”
Ammo won two qualifiers in June before being slowed by his back issues. He finally got to the races in September, winning a conditioned race at Lexington’s Red Mile, then was second in a division of the International Stallion Stakes and third in his Breeders Crown elimination.
He won the Breeders Crown from post nine by a half-length over favourite Confederate at odds of 52-1 with David Miller in the sulky. The $106 win payout set the record for a two-year-old colt and gelding pace final, topping the $60.60 paid by Village Jiffy in 1992.
“The trip worked out great,” said Miller, who won his 30th Breeders Crown and moved into a third-place tie with Ron Pierce for the most all time. “That’s the best race he’s gone in his life so far. He’s a nice horse. He’s got a great attitude. He’s real handy, he’s nice to drive. He’s got a lot of really good qualities. He just stamped himself pretty good there in my book. We’ve had faith in him, it’s just great to see him do that.”
Ammo is a son of Sweet Lou-Beach Gal. His family includes male pacer Jennas Beach Boy, who gave Holloway his first two Breeders Crowns, in 1994 and 1995, and three of Holloway’s total of 10. Holloway is the sixth trainer to reach double digits in trophies in the event’s 39-year history.
“I liked him all along,” Holloway said about Ammo, who might continue racing through the Governor’s Cup in late November. “Sometimes, it’s better to get lucky than be good.”
When Special Way won the Breeders Crown for two-year-old female trotters in a Canadian-record 1:52 this past Friday, she broke a record held previously by the renowned speedster Mission Brief, who trotted 1:52.1 in 2014 at Mohawk. Special Way was just one-fifth of a second off the stakes record of 1:51.4, set by Mission Brief at The Meadowlands in New Jersey.
Trainer/driver Ake Svanstedt was not surprised by Special Way’s performance.
“She’s a great horse,” said Svanstedt. “She is strong and she is good gaited. You can’t feel the speed when you drive her and that’s good. When we turn into the stretch, I really feel that she wants to win. She fights to win. There are not so many horses that have that. She is only a two-year-old, but she has it. She has everything.”
Special Way, a daughter of Walner-Special Hill, was winless in her first two races, but came home with a :26.2 last quarter in her debut with Sarah Svanstedt in the sulky. Following her two setbacks, she captured her final seven starts of the season, capped by her Crown.
“She needed a couple of races and then she got better and better,” said Ake Svanstedt. “It feels very good. She is done for the year. She has raced :52 four times now. That’s enough. I’m happy with that.”
Special Way gave Svanstedt the first of his three Breeders Crowns over the weekend. He is the sixth trainer in history to take home at least three trophies in a year and upped his career total to five.
Shawn Steacy was listed in the program as the trainer of Sylvia Hanover, who won the Breeders Crown for two-year-old female pacers on Friday, but to him, the only part of the name that mattered was the last.
Steacy, the 37-year-old son of trainer Mark Steacy, took over as the leading man for Team Steacy in 2019 and won his first Breeders Crown in his name. Mark had won three Crowns previously, most recently in 2009.
“We always had [the trophies together] because we share the same last name, that’s the best part,” said Shawn. “I think he’s still the boss when it comes down to everything, especially when you need a shoulder to lean on.”
Added Mark, “When it was my name, it was both of us; when it’s his name, it’s both of us. We’re a team.”
Sylvia Hanover has won eight of nine races, with one second. Her Breeders Crown triumph with driver Bob McClure was her seventh victory in a row. It was McClure’s second Crown.
“The filly deserves it,” said Shawn. “She’s just that good. She’s had the greatest fillies look her in the eye and she’s turned them away. That was as good as it gets. There’s not much else you can say. I’m at a loss for words and that takes a lot for me.”
Sylvia Hanover’s victory continued a big season for the Steacy Stable, which is enjoying its best year in purses with $2.8 million (combined Mark and Shawn) to rank No. 2 in Canada behind perennial leading trainer Richard Moreau.
Speaking of Moreau, the nine-time O’Brien Award winner for Trainer of the Year captured his first Breeders Crown with two-year-old male trotter Gaines Hanover. Moreau, who ranks No. 3 in history for training wins with 6,428, had appeared in five previous finals. He nearly won in the 2015 Mare Pace, finishing second by a nose with Sandbetweenurtoes.
Gaines Hanover’s owner Jean Yves Blais, who also got his first Breeders Crown, enjoyed sharing the moment with Moreau.
“He is very happy,” said Blais, who has had horses with Moreau for 20 years. “He was nervous for the past week. He could not sleep, it was impossible. We knew that [Gaines Hanover] was a good horse and I thought he was the best of that group. But you don’t always win, even when you’re the best. It’s a race.”
Gaines Hanover, who also gave driver Louis-Philippe Roy his first Crown, won for the fourth time in five races after going winless in his first three.
“It’s a big thrill,” said Blais, who has been involved in racing for three decades. “You hope to have a horse in the final of the Breeders Crown, but to have the winner is another thing. It’s not the money that he won that is a thrill for me, it’s to win a race against the best horses of that category. He’s a super horse.”
(USTA; Top photos by New Image Media, clockwise from top left: Ammo, Special Way, Gaines Hanover and Sylvia Hanover)