For the second year in a row, a 3-year-old filly pacer is the No. 1-ranked harness racing horse in North America on the Fourth of July. For the second year in a row, the filly hails from the stable of trainer Jimmy Takter.
In 2011, the top spot belonged to See You At Peelers, who won the first 22 races of her career and achieved national prominence before being hampered by a heart ailment that eventually led to her retirement earlier this year. This season, No. 1 is occupied by American Jewel, who has won four of five starts this year and won her last three by either setting or equaling a world record.
Even Takter, who was inducted into the sport's Hall of Fame last Sunday and has trained two winners of Horse of the Year honors, marvels at the situation.
"How can I be so lucky to run into two fillies back-to-back like that? It's just amazing," Takter said. "Both of those fillies belong in the top 10 fillies ever in the history of harness racing. That's been the story of my life."
Last year, American Jewel won eight of nine starts and $677,116 for breeder/owner Brittany Farms. Her victories included the $645,660 She's A Great Lady Stakes, in a world record 1:50.2; the $281,000 Kentuckiana Stallion Management Stakes, in a track-record 1:52.3 at Indiana Downs; and divisions of the Bluegrass and Eternal Camnation Stakes.
American Jewel suffered a fractured sesamoid bone in her loss, by a head, to Big McDeal in the International Stallion Stakes on Oct. 7 at Lexington's Red Mile. Big McDeal won in 1:50.2, equaling American Jewel's world record for a 2-year-old filly pacer.
This year, American Jewel and driver Tim Tetrick opened their campaign with a second-place finish to Major Look in a track-record performance at Vernon Downs before ripping off four victories in a row, including the finals of the She's A Great Lady Stakes in a world-record 1:48.2 for a mile track and the Lynch Memorial in a world-record-equaling 1:49.2 for a five-eighths-mile oval.
American Jewel was named the U.S. Trotting Association's Horse of the Month for June. Next weekend, American Jewel is expected to compete in the Mistletoe Shalee at the Meadowlands. Eliminations were scheduled for Saturday, but were unnecessary.
"We're very excited," said Myron Bell, the racing manager for George Segal's Brittany Farms. "She was born great. It's her pedigree as an individual -- and the trainer and driver don't hurt."
American Jewel is a daughter of world championout of the mare Trim Hanover. She is related to two-time divisional champion Three Diamonds on both sides of her family; Three Diamonds is the second dam of and third dam of Trim Hanover.
"It was a Brittany plan, and when it works out like this it makes it look easy," Bell said. "We bought the dam, Trim Hanover, in 2005 whenbroke the world record at The Red Mile and we planned to race her a few years and then breed her to . And this is the resulting foal, so it worked out great."
The last 3-year-old filly pacer to be voted Horse of the Year was in 2004 when Rainbow Blue, another Hall of Fame inductee last Sunday, accomplished the feat. The only other 3-year-old filly pacers to do it were Bunny Lake in 2001 and Fan Hanover in 1981.
Whether American Jewel can join that group remains to be seen, and is little concern to her connections at the moment.
"Let her be whatever she can be," Bell said. "She's going to race, hopefully, this year and if she's healthy maybe next year. We'll see. We'll take it a week at a time. We can't make long distance plans in this business.
"All I can say is she's a pleasure."
As for Takter, when asked if he could compare American Jewel with See You At Peelers in any way, he declined.
"No, you can't -- and why should I? It's not fair to either one of them," Takter said.
"But I can say this: American Jewel is just a fantastic horse."
American Jewel - Ties World Record - Lynch Memorial
by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications