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"The Best Two-Year-Old I've Ever Driven Was..."


TROT reached out to many of the sport’s leading reinsmen from over the past 30-40 years and asked them not only to share with us who the best two-year-old

that they had ever driven was, but also if they could remember when it became apparent to them that the horse in question was more special than most of the rest. Compiled by Dan Fisher.

Bob McClure: FORBIDDEN TRADE. I say he’s the best because not only did his ability and maturity come very quickly, he was also able to stay good for an entire season. His first start was where he showed a lot and really turned some heads. He’d gotten sick before the first [OSS] Gold so Luc could only get one qualifier into him. He was way back out of position [in that race] and kicked home in :28, in the mud, to win by a head.

Doug McNair: I try not to get high on two-year-olds too early, but I was down at my Dad’s farm in Florida training some in the spring one year. When I went out with PRECOCIOUS BEAUTY for the first time he told me to take her off and then move to the front by the half. He wanted me to be there [the half] in 1:15 but I was only at the 3/8ths in a minute - we were a bit behind. I didn’t rush her but I just pulled her out and let her pace and she was there in a flash. We were at the half in :15 - an 1/8th in 15 seconds in the jogger and she did it so easily. Her gait was perfect. We came off and my Dad asked how I liked her. I just said ‘Wow’. From that moment I couldn’t wait for summer to come. She set a World Record at Lexington that year [1:50.1], made half a million dollars, and only missed the top-two once… in the Breeders Crown final when we drew the far outside at Pocono.

Doug Brown: The best two-year-old that I ever sat behind was TOWN PRO. Stew [Firlotte] raved about her all winter and the first time I went down and trained her I knew why. But the year that HISTORIC was two I went down to Ben White in March and trained five or six of them. After each one I said, ‘God that’s a nice colt’... then I went with Historic. He had been trotting and running, and he was so small... but had a big gait. When he hit the hopples in that last quarter - wow! When I came in I told them he was the best one and they all laughed, but the rest was ‘historic’.

David Miller: I’ve been lucky to qualify a lot of good two-year-olds over the years, and you never really know how good they’ll be until you ask them in a race, but as soon as you asked this question my mind went to BROADWAY DONNA right away. The first time she baby raced it was at Harrah’s Chester, and that wasn’t known as a fast track. I got her away about third and we were just a few lengths off at the half in about 1:02. I moved her out and I swear she just flew. She opened up by a bunch right away and she was trotting so fast as we went into the last turn I didn’t think she could possibly stay flat around it. She did though and she was still really humping it right through the wire. She came her back-half in :56 and change or :57 and went on to win a bunch of stakes races in a row. Man, she was fast.

John Campbell: I’d have to say the best two-year-old pacer I drove was ARTSPLACE. I knew he was a good one before I drove him… Jeff Fout had schooled him and maybe raced him around Scioto. The night I realized that he was great though, was in the Metro final at Mohawk. It was a pretty cool night but he still won in :53 and change… he just did it so easily. As far as trotters I’d have to say MACK LOBELL. [Bill] O’Donnell picked off him in the final of the Peter Haughton and Chuckie [Sylvester] just told me to be careful with him the whole way… he had talent but his mind wandered and he could run at any moment. That’s what happened that night… I had to hold him together in the stretch and we finished second to Ditka Hanover. Then one day we raced him heats at Delaware [Ohio] and for some reason it was like a switch went off. All of the sudden he just became a true professional who put his head down and did his work. That day I realized he was the whole package and would prove to be a great one. He went on after that to set a world record at Lexington before winning the Breeders Crown.

Chris Christoforou: EASY! Not only the fastest I’ve sat behind but in my opinion the fastest two-year-old ever! HES WATCHING. I baby raced him in 1:56.4, last quarter in :26.1 and I shut his air off. He went undefeated in the NYSS that year, mostly on half-mile tracks... which weren’t his best. He won in 1:50 flat at Vernon and Tioga. If he had raced at Lexington and come off of a helmet? Maybe 1:48? Maybe faster. He was built to go very fast early and I think he was as good at two, if not better, than he was at three.

Louis Philippe Roy: ALICORN. In my opinion, when you sit behind a two-year-old you just need a good ¼ mile to tell who has the potential to be good or not, but you won’t know who might be great until you push them to their limit and see which ones keep fighting even when they’re a bit tired. Alicorn showed she was going to be good the first time I qualified her, but in her third lifetime start, in an OSS Gold where they hit the ¾’s in 1:23.1… and she won in 1:51, she showed me she was going to be great.

Randy Waples: There’s been so many… I really couldn’t separate REAL DESIRE from MACH THREE to DREAMFAIR VOGEL to CONTROL THE MOMENT… they would be the best ones. Smarts… that’s what they need. If they’re smart and have ability, those are the best ones.

Steve Condren: There’s been a few, but one that comes to mind right away, that people don’t associate with me, is PEACEFUL WAY. I qualified her when she was two and I believe that Cal Stiller was looking to buy into her at the time. She won the qualifier handily and I remember telling him to spend whatever he had to, to buy in. Another one was LIVE OR DIE… I drove him in his first start - a maiden at Woodbine I believe. We were way out of it and were over our half in about a minute… he came a back half in :55.4 and home in :26 and change, and did it easily. I never forgot that… I won the Governor’s Cup with him later that year at Garden State. One from more recently was BETTING LINE. I was driving for Casie in the mornings in Florida that winter and although with most of them you don’t really know until they get closer to racing, there was something about him that caught my attention when we were only in 2:30 or so. I just really liked him all along and he sure didn’t let me down. He was the real deal.

Trevor Henry: From the time he first walked on the track at two, DESPERATE MAN was just such a professional. He is just so relaxed on the track… there’s no wasted energy at all. The first time I schooled him he came his last quarter in :26 and a piece, and I knew right then that he would be special.

Yannick Gingras: It’s really hard to pick one as a few stand out from the rest. The first time I sat behind TALL DARK STRANGER I just knew he was special. I already knew he had the pedigree and the looks, but I knew he was the full package when I just took him off the pace at The Meadowlands, in a baby race, and he circled them and won so easily… he came a back-half in :54 and change, home in :26 seconds and I never even asked him. FATHER PATRICK was another one… I never trained him before his first baby race either but he came home in :27 seconds so easily that morning, and then only got beat once [by a head] that whole year. But if I really had to pick just one that stood out the most at two it would have to be MISSION BRIEF. I first sat behind her in a baby race at Gaitway Farm and she made a break. After I got her back trotting she came a back-half like I couldn’t believe. She won her next qualifier by lots and the rest of the year it was just like a grown woman racing against little girls. The only time they ever beat her that year was when she didn’t stay flat.

Paul MacDonell: Definitely SOMEBEACHSOMEWHERE. He came to Ontario fresh off of two qualifiers at Truro and was getting ready for The Battle Of Waterloo. Brent MacGrath asked if I would go to Mohawk early one morning and go his last training trip. I can remember jogging him around and being impressed by his size and strength… he then proceeded to reel off a 1:57 training mile with a last half in :55 seconds… with absolutely no problem. At that point I knew I was dealing with a special individual. And as they say, ‘The rest is history’.

Mike Saftic: The best two-year-old I ever sat behind was the Camluck filly LUCK OF MICHELLE. I knew she was special in her first lifetime start at Flamboro Downs, in the Flamboro Breeders Stakes, when she ran away on me to the half in :55.3 because her trainer, John Pentland, put a blind bridle on her and took her hood off. We tied the World Record for a two-year-old pacing filly on a half that day [1:53.3].

Scott Zeron: Mine would be ARTSPEAK. He was very good winning his first lifetime start from off the pace in a NJSS event. The next week in the final though is when I realized that he was going to be a major player. I took him off the pace again and ended up first-over, but he came home in :26.1 and won easily.

Bill O’Donnell: In my case NIHILATOR comes to mind as the best two-year-old that I had the honour to drive. My first ride behind him came in the Woodrow Wilson, which he won. He set a world record that night but I wasn’t surprised… when Bill Haughton told me Nihilator was the best horse he had ever trained, that was enough for me. I’ve noticed that some of the best training colts aren’t always the best, and some of the worst training ones turn out as the best race horses. That’s why racing horses it’s not an exact science.

Trevor Ritchie: The best one that stayed my drive would be BANKER HALL. The first time I drove him was in a Champlain in the fall. He was about 200/1 & Harald [Lunde] was pre-racing me on how good he was (of course I was rolling my eyes). He won and lit up the board and ended the year winning the Breeders Crown. Likely the best two-year-old I drove was GLIDEMASTER. I had never driven him before but he just jogged the first time I did. Of course I lost that drive after Lexington when he ran away on me in front of the whole harness racing world - lol. He went on to win the triple crown at three, as you know, but I picked up another great one when [Mark] Stacey put me on Majestic Son... who defeated Glidemaster just about every time they met.

Phil Hudon: I picked up the drive on BIG JIM after his first start… Jim Carr said he’d be a good one to drive. I knew after the first time I drove him [second in the Dream Maker] that Jim was right. He felt like he had everything you need in a great horse… he had a lazy/green combo with a great attitude and when you asked him to go he’d just keep going. I also schooled one once that turned out to be a pretty good one, when Jimmy Hill asked me to go with one for The Godfather, Bill Robinson. [Randy] Waples was busy or something so I went with it and came in and just said ‘holy %$#@’. It was MACH THREE… ya, I didn’t keep that drive (lol) but that one time schooling him was pretty cool.

Tim Tetrick: The first time I sat behind CAPTAINTREACHEROUS was in a baby race… we didn’t go that fast [1:55.4] but I knew he was special and I was pretty excited. I stayed pretty quiet and said he was nice, but I didn’t want to say too much too early. The funny story that goes with that is that I was qualifying him again a few weeks later and he was my only one that morning… I think he was in the last qualifier. I had been pulling double-duty at a bunch of tracks and I was really tired. I stayed at a hotel right across from The Meadowlands and I overslept. I woke up in a panic… I got dressed so fast I didn’t even put my contacts in. I called the paddock judge and begged him not to let that qualifier go without me (laughing). I promised I’d be there in five minutes. I flew across, jumped into my training suit and grabbed my helmet… I didn’t even have gloves on. I ran out and hopped behind him and got out there and realized that I could barely even see. Behind the gate I think I might have had Dave [Miller] on one side of me and Brian [Sears] on the other, and I told them to just yell at me if I got too close to them because I couldn’t see. He just jogged again that morning and I guess the rest is history.

This feature originally appeared in the May issue of TROT Magazine. Subscribe to TROT today by clicking the banner below.

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