They may be a very long way from home, but New Zealand-bred pacers Shartin and Bit Of A Legend are continuing to fly their homeland flag proudly while in the United States this year.
Just last weekend, Shartin recorded the twelfth win of her season in what was her 16th start of the year. She has now banked over US$634,000 in purses thus far in 2018, which makes the five-year-old Kiwi mare the leading money earner overall in the United States to date – and her biggest targets are still yet to come.
Bit Of A Legend is not far behind Shartin, as he is currently in seventh position with $425,255 in 2018 purses.
Bred by Grant Crabbe of Christchurch, Shartin is a daughter of Tintin In America and left New Zealand as an unraced filly to perform in Australia. While there, she recorded seven wins from 13 starts, including the 2017 Queensland Oaks at the Group 2 level.
Shartin also raced against the boys in the Queensland Derby where she finished a brave second, beaten a head by More The Better, who now, too, has headed to America and has won three of seven starts this year.
Following her three-year-old season, Shartin was sold to her current American owners, Rich Poillucci and Jo Ann Looney-King, and placed with trainer Jim King Jr. in Delaware.
The King family has had a long association with Poillucci and New Zealand-bred horses, including Christen Me and Nike Franco in recent years.
“The New Zealand-bred horses we train are thanks to our owner Rich Poillucci,” explained Looney-King. “He loves watching races from New Zealand and Australia and finding horses to buy. Rich does all the homework and talking with trainers. He loves it and obviously knows what he's looking for and does a great job.
“He bought horses like Nike Franco, Christen Me and Baileys Rock, and we were training for him but hadn't owned anything together. Then, when Shartin became available, we were thankful that he gave us the opportunity to become partners with him. Rich and his wife, Donna, are great owners and super business partners.”
Shartin’s trainer has noticed an advantage during his time training Kiwi bred horses.
“A big difference I've notice with horses that are born in New Zealand is that the trainers really take their time and allow the horses to mature and develop in the early years,” said King.
“There is not as much of a rush to get them to the track or have them race in a serious manner at two, and that's a big benefit when these horses come up here because they aren't tired and they haven't been raced a lot,” furthered King.
Shartin’s best attribute is her attitude and determination, according to Looney-King.
“She is absolutely perfect to take care of and a real people-friendly horse,” said Looney-King. “And, when it comes to racing, she just does not know when the end of a mile is.
“She has incredible talent and it's matched by an eagerness to do her best.”
The joy Shartin has brought to her North American connections has been immeasurable.
“We've won races that we've never won before. She has gotten us in the winner circle for the Roses Are Red, Betsy Ross and the Matchmaker. She's a thrill and being a part of her journey is hard to put into words except to say how grateful we are,” stated Looney-King.
Shartin’s win last weekend was clocked in a slick 1.48.4 in the $30,000 Great Northeast Open at Pocono Downs, but her biggest test will come in October at that very same track.
“We would love to win the Breeders Crown with her,” said King. “The supplement is more than $30,000, but you have to be in it to win, and if she is as good in October as she is now then she'll be up to the task.”
Before a final decision is made about the Breeders Crown campaign, Shartin will compete this Saturday during the Hambletonian Day festivities at the Meadowlands Racetrack. She has drawn Post 1 for driver Tim Tetrick in the $197,400 Lady Liberty, which is a free-for-all for mares. She will also compete against her stablemate and fellow Kiwi, Nike Franco.
“Above all, we want to complete the year knowing that she is healthy and will return next year in great shape,” said King. “She seems to enjoy her life and routine here and the training schedule we have her on, so we are looking forward to a great future with her.”
Also beating the drum proudly for the New Zealand Standardbred breed, Bit Of A Legend was successful over the weekend while picking up his 45th career victory in the Open Handicap at Yonkers Raceway.
The now nine-year-old has earned over $2 million during his career. He is currently seventh on the overall earners list in the U.S. to date this year, just in behind North America Cup winner Lather Up and Meadowlands Pace victor Courtly Choice.
Trained by Peter Tritton, Bit Of A Legend has remained competitive at the highest level since heading to the United States in 2016.
The game pocket rocket has amassed major wins in the final of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series, the Battle of Lake Erie, the Gerrity Memorial, Quillen Memorial and the former Molson Pace.
Bit Of A Legend will next head to the Dan Patch at Hoosier Park on August 10, the same race in which Down Under wonder Lazarus will make his North American pari-mutuel debut.
“It will be an interesting race,” admits trainer Peter Tritton. “We keep saying we are going to retire him to stud, but he keeps earning over $500,000 a year.
“It makes it hard to retire him when he’s going so well.”
(Harness Racing New Zealand)