Canadians had one of their greatest nights in horse racing history on Saturday. Not one, but two, standardbred horses delivered deeply impressive performances an hour apart in major stakes races at the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey. Sports betting on the entire card exceeded $4.7 million US.
Bulldog Hanover, (above) a 4-year-old Ontario-sired pacer owned and trained in the province, became the fastest horse in harness racing history when he recorded a 1:45.4 world record victory in the $500,000 William Haughton Memorial with Dexter Dunn at the reins.
Two races later, Beach Glass stormed to victory in the $600,000 Meadowlands Pace. That Beach Glass is one of the last offspring of the late and legendary Canadian superstar Somebeachsomewhere — racing for the same Nova Scotia connections — is just part of his improbable and likeable story.
Completing the circle, furthering Beach’s legacy
The Meadowlands Pace was the lone race Somebeachsomewhere failed to win in his spectacular racing career in which he was victorious in 20 of 21 races. For Beach Glass’ trainer and co-owner Brent MacGrath of Truro, NS, Saturday’s victory, orchestrated by Yannick Gingras, completed the circle. Reached Sunday as both horses were trucking back to Ontario together from New Jersey, MacGrath said:
“That was the one we wanted, for sure. It was a fun night and he delivered, and in fine fashion.”
Darling brought to tears over world record
Bulldog Hanover’s trainer and part-owner Jack Darling of Cambridge, ON said he cried a little watching his horse cross the finish line as the first to ever complete a mile in faster than one minute and 46 seconds. Asked what it feels like to forever go down in harness racing history, Darling cried again.
“When I started out, I was just so happy to be able to race,” he said, pausing to compose himself. “I just get a little choked up. Never would I have dreamed I’d get involved with a horse like this.”
Both horses fuel the dreams of many in the industry
Both horses are part of small operations. Their epic victories further fuel the dreams that sustain a sport. They prove one great horse can be the ultimate equalizer.
Darling, 69, has had a long, distinguished career. But he is currently training just six horses at Classy Lane Stables Training Centre near Canada’s premier racetrack — Woodbine Mohawk Park in Campbellville, ON.
Beach Glass’ trainer and co-owner Brent MacGrath, 63, is currently conditioning just that one horse, also at Classy Lane.
It’s the same story as 16 years ago when MacGrath went to Lexington, KY to buy one Ontario-sired horse.
Deja vu — one man, one star horse
MacGrath is a part-time horseman and full-time owner of several car and tire dealerships in the Maritimes. In 2006, he cobbled together $40,000 from five businesspeople and purchased Somebeachsomewhere for exactly $40,000.
The horse went on to be one of the greatest in the sport’s history — both on the track and as a stallion. Somebeachsomewhere has been inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, US Harness Racing Hall of Fame and the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame.
Somebeachsomewhere died of cancer in 2018 at the age of 13.
Beach Glass is one of just 28 foals produced by frozen semen after Somebeachsomewhere’s death. Rules state that horses can be produced with frozen semen only in the year in which the stallion dies.
MacGrath and the other members of the Schooner II Stable — Rhonda MacGrath, Stu Rath, Jamie Bagnell and Mary Louise Pye — pulled their promising stakes filly Im With Her off the track precisely to try to produce one final Somebeachsomewhere offspring. The resulting colt is Beach Glass.
Just as they did with Somebeachsomewhere, MacGrath and his wife, Rhonda, have hit the road to personally attend to this one-horse stable. On Saturday, while fielding congratulations from many fellow horsepeople at The Meadowlands, Brent said something one trainer said really resonated.
“He said, ‘I’ve been doing this my whole life and I’m half-retired and I really should be buying one horse that I really, really like and give it the time, like you do, and I’d probably have more fun and more luck.'”
Good news stories for a sport that needs them
For one brief moment Saturday night, Bulldog Hanover was even trending on social media. That is unheard of for harness racing.
That Bulldog Hanover set a 1:45.4 world record after four straight weeks of hard racing at The Meadowlands was incredible enough. That he threw his right front shoe doing it — and still was going full steam for another half-mile or so — was astounding.
He came into the race off three straight weeks of scintillating miles of 1:47, 1:46 and 1:46.1.
That both he and 3-year-old Beach Glass are just getting started is good news. The sport could use a couple of heroes. Said Darling:
“It’s not like it was a fluke or (Bulldog Hanover) got lucky. He just did it and you just always get the impression, ‘Jesus, maybe there’s another tick or two in the tank.’”
Harness racing has been troubled in recent years by declining attendance, fewer owners and, in many cases, lower betting handle. The sport’s image hasn’t been helped by high-profile horse doping cases — and prison sentences — that included both standardbred and thoroughbred horsepeople.
The launch of sports betting in Ontario on April 4 is further cause for concern.
Yet, on Saturday, two well-loved horses and their well-liked connections provided a much-needed respite from the sport’s troubles.
And a night sure to be long remembered in Canadian harness racing circles.