Shark Week And A Season Of Ferocity

Shark Week winning at Century Downs
Published: March 4, 2024 11:05 am EST

There is a good chance Shark Week will be honoured — and rightfully so — for his stellar campaign at this coming weekend's Alberta Standardbred Horse Association (ASHA) Awards, celebrating harness racing's best in Alberta over the past season. 

The son of Vertical Horizon - Shark Gone Bad posted one of the most dominant seasons in provincial history with a 20-0-2 record from 24 starts in 2023, and he's currently in the midst of a 16-race heater with 18 wins in his last 20 appearances for part owner and trainer Rod Hennessy and co-owner Lorne Duffield.

His lines show broken equipment for one of those starts he didn't win.

With his 20 wins, Shark Week sported the most wins for a Standardbred on Canadian soil last season and boasted the second highest total in North America. The winningest horse, Dunkin, had 21 wins but also made 40 appearances to Shark Week's 24. 

Shark Week won nearly all of his races last year, and he set track records wherever he went. He broke the track record not once, but twice at Century Downs. After taking a full second off the 1:51.1 record he co-held going into the season, Shark Week shaved off a full second on May 27 with a 1:50.1 smackdown of his rivals, winning by more than a dozen lengths.

He made harness racing history the week after, pacing the first sub-1:50 mile in the province of Alberta with a 1:49.2 scorcher for driver Mike Hennessy over the Balzac oval on June 3. In that mile, he won by nearly nine lengths.

When racing in Alberta shifted north to Century Mile outside Edmonton, the record-setting miles didn't stop. There was a 1:51.2 track record-matching mile in his Sept. 9 victory, a record-setting 1:50.3 performance on Oct. 14 and then a 1:50.2 effort on Oct. 21 that stands as the current all-age track standard.

This résumé, as the kids would say, is S-Tier. Special. Super. Without another horse boasting that kind of season in Alberta — no offense to any of the other provincial stars — divisional honours and Horse of the Year honours for Shark Week at the ASHA Awards on Saturday, March 9 are tantamount to death and taxes as sure things. 

Hennessy appreciates all of the accolades. He recognizes that a season and a horse like this don't and won't come around very often. Possibly and quite likely, never again.

"Never," said the veteran horseman when asked if he'd ever had a horse like Shark Week compile a season like that before. "Of all the good ones I've that had, I've never had a horse where you were going to the racetrack and you were basically sure that you were going to bring home top prize."

That's not bravado, that's just a fact. But it's a fact that comes with a few catches. Horse supply is an issue, and that's also a fact. So even when Hennessy planned to give Shark Week a week off over the past year, there were times that the race office would call him to see if he'd drop his surefire 1-9 shot in the box to fill the Preferred field. 

And he did. But that's not to say Shark Week raced more than Hennessy would have liked. Far from it, in fact. At his age, a 25-30 start campaign would not be out of the question, according to his conditioner.

Herein lies the previously discussed issue of horse supply. 

Shark Week is a savage. The top classes have trouble filling. And the province's sire stakes graduates don't have tremendous incentive to stay local. On Friday, March 1, Virtual Horizon and Side Piece — two of Alberta's top sophomore performers of 2023 — were both victorious at The Meadowlands. 

So, with prey in his habitat not as plentiful, does Shark Week need to consider a shift to a different body of water? Is there some travel in store for the star pacer in 2024?

"I talked to [co-owner] Lorne Duffield about it," Hennessy told Trot Insider, assessing the potential top class competition in Alberta in 2024. "It's a case where you have lower class horses having to fill [the top class] and you can't expect them to do it all the time."

To answer the question of travel for Shark Week then, there are two answers. It has been discussed, but nothing has been planned. Hennessy would, of course, rather race the horse locally. That concentration on local activity, however, likely kept the horse out of the limelight somewhat in terms of national attention. When the 2023 O'Brien Award voting was released in February, Shark Week received just three votes. Not taking anything away from the two finalists, but that total raised a few eyebrows, including Hennessy's.

The veteran horseman provided a pragmatic and confident response to a situation some could perceive as a slight.

"I was sort of disappointed for the horse. For me, it didn't really matter. There was no way anybody was going to beat Tattoo Artist, and finishing second or third to Tattoo Artist pays the same: nothing," added Hennessy with a laugh. "It would have been nice for the horse, and nice for Alberta to have a horse in that class...but I guess maybe he'll just have to do it all again this year."

(Standardbred Canada)



It has been nearly a full year since Shark Week last tasted defeat. The last time that he raced and didn't have his picture taken a few minutes later was on April 29, 2023.

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