Bella Bellini Retired From Racing

Bella Bellini
Published: July 13, 2023 09:48 am EDT

David McDuffee has played the long game with Bella Bellini since she first stepped foot on the racetrack. His patience paid off handsomely, but all good things must come to an end.

Although plans for Bella Bellini had previously positioned her to race through to 2024, Trot Insider has learned that the older trotting titan has been retired.

The news of the retirement was confirmed by trainer Richard 'Nifty' Norman and breeder-owner McDuffee on Wednesday, July 12.

"She's very special," said McDuffee. "She's probably the most popular horse I've ever owned. No matter where I went, everybody wanted to know when she's racing again and what's going on. So that's pretty neat."

The 2022 U.S. Trotter of the Year, Bella Bellini (Bar Hopping - Bella Dolce) started her career with a winless seven-start season as a rookie in 2020 but she blossomed at ages three and four. In those two Dan Patch Award-winning seasons, Bella Bellini hit the board in 36 of 38 races, winning 20, and earned more than $2.1 million.

"Sometimes you have to believe," noted McDuffee in his patient approach with Bella Bellini. "We ask a lot of two-year-olds awful early, and they all need to develop and mature and so forth. We race them too hard to begin with, I know that, and then we give up on them too quickly.

"It's a good lesson, and it will be a little harder for me to sell a two-year-old now!" added McDuffee with a laugh.

Among Bella Bellini’s major wins were the Breeders Crown for three-year-old filly trotters, Hambletonian Oaks, Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final and Matron Stakes at three, and the Breeders Crown Mare Trot, Hambletonian Maturity and Caesars Trotting Classic against male rivals, and the Dr. John R. Steele Memorial, TVG Series final for female trotters and Six Pack Mares Open.

She is one of six mares overall to be voted U.S. Trotter of the Year, joining Fresh Yankee (1970), Delmonica Hanover (1974), Classical Way (1980), Moni Maker (1998-2000) and Hannelore Hanover (2017). Classical Way is the only other mare to receive the honour at age four.

As a five-year-old in 2023, she picked up a win in her Armbro Flight elimination and posted a 1-3-1 record in six starts. Her most recent effort came on July 1 in a runner-up finish to Jiggy Jog S in the 2023 Six Pack Mares Open Trot at The Meadowlands. But Norman and McDuffee saw something abnormal from their mare in that valiant effort.

"We've been fighting some knee issues, and we've been able to treat them for the last six or eight months to a year. I probably made a mistake in trying to get another year out of her. I'm a real sportsman and I want to try the best of the best and I really, really wanted to go to the Prix d'Amerique. My goal was to race her easy this year and try to have her good at the end of the year but her knees were starting to give her some trouble.

"I could still race her. She raced a great race two weeks ago, finished second, but when she went across the wire you could see that it wasn't the same as she used to finish. Nifty came up to me and said, 'Dave, I'm not sure we should keep going,' and I said, 'Nifty, 'I would never do anything to her. If there's a chance she doesn't look 100 per cent, let's shut her down.'"

Bella Bellini steps off the racetrack with a lifetime summary of 21-14-7 from 51 starts with $2,255,123 in earnings and a mark of 1:49.4 taken at The Meadowlands in 2022. She is one of seven female trotters to sport a mark faster than 1:50.

With the decision made to retire the mare, the next phase of her career is set to begin — the broodmare phase. 

"Ideally, I'd like to keep her, but the offers are coming in," added McDuffee. "I'm a racing guy even though I am in the breeding business with Papi Rob Hanover, I'm not a big breeder. I've had great success with the ones I have bred, but it's not what I enjoy the most. 

"She's like part of the family. It's the third generation for me as I had her grandmother and her mother. We'll see where we go with it; I'm not ready to make any decisions just yet."

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