Day At The Track

Tall Dark Stranger is Horse of the Year

11:54 AM 17 Jan 2021 NZDT
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Tall Dark Stranger, Harness racing
Tall Dark Stranger
Mark Hall USTA photo

Harrisburg, PA --- Tall Dark Stranger, a 3-year-old male pacer who was harness racing’s lone millionaire last season, cashed in on his winning ways Saturday when he was named 2020 Horse of the Year by the U.S. Harness Writers Association.

Trained by Nancy Takter and driven by Yannick Gingras, Tall Dark Stranger won 11 of 13 races and $1.30 million last year. He also was named Pacer of the Year and the sport’s top 3-year-old male pacer during USHWA’s virtual Dan Patch Awards show Saturday. The show replaced the organization’s traditional awards banquet, which was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four-year-old Gimpanzee was named Trotter of the Year and best older male trotter. Trained by Marcus Melander and driven by Brian Sears, Gimpanzee won eight of 11 races and $980,964 last season. His earnings were second to Tall Dark Stranger.

Trotters winning divisional Dan Patch Award honors in addition to Gimpanzee were 2-year-old male Venerate, 2-year-old female Anoka Hanover, 3-year-old male Amigo Volo, 3-year-old female Ramona Hill, and older female Manchego.

Pacers garnering divisional awards in addition to Tall Dark Stranger were 2-year-old male Perfect Sting, 2-year-old female Fire Start Hanover, 3-year-old female Party Girl Hill, older male Bettor’s Wish, and older female Kissin In The Sand.

Tall Dark Stranger, Bettor’s Wish, Kissin In The Sand, Gimpanzee, Ramona Hill, and Manchego all were Dan Patch Award winners in previous years.

Takter, the 2020 Trainer of the Year, had three division champions: Kissin In The Sand, Manchego, and Tall Dark Stranger. Nifty Norman and Chris Ryder trained two each; Norman had Amigo Volo and Fire Start Hanover while Ryder had Bettor’s Wish and Party Girl Hill.

Dexter Dunn, the 2020 Driver of the Year, was the regular driver of six champs: Amigo Volo, Bettor’s Wish, Fire Start Hanover, Kissin In The Sand, Manchego, and Party Girl Hill.

In voting for Horse of the Year, Tall Dark Stranger received 89 votes, followed by Party Girl Hill with 29 and Gimpanzee with six. Receiving two votes each were Bettor’s Wish, Perfect Sting, and Ramona Hill. Anoka Hanover rounded out the balloting with one vote.

Pacer of the Year voting saw Tall Dark Stranger outdistance runner-up Party Girl Hill, 93-31, among five horses receiving at least one vote. Trotter of the Year balloting saw Gimpanzee with 80 votes, followed by Ramona Hill with 29 and Amigo Volo with 11. Three other trotters also received at least one vote.

Tall Dark Stranger, by Bettor’s Delight out of Precocious Beauty, is the 19th 3-year-old male pacer to be named Horse of the Year since the award began in 1947. He is only the second male pacer in 35 years to receive a Dan Patch Award at age 2 and return to be Horse of the Year at 3. The other was Somebeachsomewhere in 2008.

Among Tall Dark Stranger’s wins last year were the North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace, Cane Pace, and Kentucky Sire Stakes championship. He finished second by a neck in the Breeders Crown.

“He’s just the toughest horses ever,” Takter said. “I’m going to have to add smart to that, too, because he figured out what this is all about. He knew that he was supposed to be first, and he made sure that he was first.

“Where ‘heart of a champion’ is in the dictionary, Tall Dark Stranger’s name and picture are right next to it.”

Tall Dark Stranger is owned by Crawford Farms Racing, Marvin Katz, Caviart Farms, and Howard Taylor. He was bred by Jim Avritt Sr.

The colt is Takter’s second Horse of the Year winner, joining JK She’salady in 2014. She is the 13th trainer in history with at least two different Horse of the Year honorees. Gingras has driven three Horse of the Year winners.

“It feels amazing,” Takter said. “To have the opportunity just to be involved with these great horses is a humbling experience. A lot of people put faith in me to make champions when we buy horses as yearlings and to be able to execute on that is a very rewarding feeling.”

Trotter of the Year Gimpanzee counted the Breeders Crown Open Trot, Hambletonian Maturity, John Cashman Memorial, Graduate Series championship, and Caesars Trotting Classic among his wins last season. He became only the third trotter in history to capture a Breeders Crown at ages 2, 3, and 4.

Trotter of the Year Gimpanzee           Dean Gillette Photography

Gimpanzee, who was a Dan Patch Award winner at 2 in 2018, is owned by Courant Inc. and S R F Stable. The stallion is a son of Chapter Seven out of Steamy Windows and was bred by Order By Stable. He is Melander’s second Trotter of the Year, joining Greenshoe in 2019.

There were no unanimous divisional champions. Tall Dark Stranger, Gimpanzee, Party Girl Hill, Bettor’s Wish, Ramona Hill, and Amigo Volo each received at least 97 percent of the votes in their respective divisions. The closest race was among older female trotters, where Manchego won 72-58 over Atlanta.

The Dan Patch Awards show will be archived and available on the USHWA website and USHWA Facebook page, as well as the U.S. Trotting Association’s YouTube channel, on Sunday, Jan. 17.

Following is a look at the 2020 Dan Patch Award division winners. Listed drivers were either the horse’s regular driver or won at least one Grand Circuit final with the horse.




Always B Miki – Shebestingin – Bettor’s Delight

Breeders: Brittany Farms, Val D’Or Farms

Owners: Brittany Farms, Val D’Or Farms

Trainer: Joe Holloway Driver: David Miller

Races: 10-10-0-0 Purses: $534,300 Mark: 1:49.2 at Red Mile

Top wins: $600,000 Breeders Crown; $250,000 Kentucky Sire Stakes final




Somebeachsomewhere – Fit To Frame – Art Major

Breeder: Hanover Shoe Farms

Owners: Pinske Stables, David Hoese, Lawrence Means

Trainer: R. Nifty Norman Driver: Dexter Dunn

Races: 13-8-2-0 Purses: $592,562 Mark: 1:50.3 at Red Mile

Top wins: $600,000 Breeders Crown; $151,030 Kindergarten Classic Series final




Bettor’s Delight – Precocious Beauty – Art Major

Breeder: James Avritt Sr.

Owners: Crawford Farms Racing, Marvin Katz, Caviart Farms, Howard Taylor

Trainer: Nancy Takter Driver: Yannick Gingras

Races: 13-11-1-0 Purses: $1.30 million Mark: 1:47.1 at Meadowlands

Top wins: $760,000 North America Cup; $636,650 Meadowlands Pace; $273,125 Cane Pace; $250,000 Kentucky Sire Stakes final; $239,500 Tattersalls division




Captaintreacherous – Look Cheap – Geartogear

Breeder: Tom Hill

Owner: Tom Hill

Trainers: Chris Ryder, Chantal Mitchell Drivers: Dexter Dunn, Doug McNair

Races: 16-15-0-1 Purses: $880,345 Mark: 1:47.2 at Red Mile

Top wins: $304,000 Fan Hanover; $253,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final; $239,500 Tattersalls division; $237,725 Jugette; $154,450 Matron



BETTOR’S WISH, 4-year-old stallion

Bettor’s Delight – Lifetime Star – Western Ideal

Breeder: Brittany Farms

Owners: Chris Ryder, Bella Racing, Fair Island Farm, Bettors Wish Partners

Trainer: Chris Ryder Driver: Dexter Dunn

Races: 13-6-3-2 Purses: $685,432 Mark: 1:47.3 at Meadowlands

Top wins: $340,000 TVG Series Open final; $229,660 Sam McKee Memorial; $176,500 Dayton Pacing Derby; $150,000 Allerage Farms Open



KISSIN IN THE SAND, 5-year-old

Somebeachsomewhere – Kiss Me Kate – Real Artist

Breeders: Christina Takter, John Fielding, R A W Equine, Concord Stud Farm

Owners: Marvin Katz, Hatfield Stables

Trainer: Nancy Takter Drivers: Dexter Dunn, Jody Jamieson

Races: 12-8-1-0 Purses: $491,984 Mark: 1:47.4 at Meadowlands

Top wins: $300,000 Breeders Crown; $175,000 Dayton Distaff; $161,250 Milton; $150,000 TVG Series Mare final; $72,000 Allerage Farms Mare




Love You – Peaceful Kemp – Muscle Hill

Breeders: Steve Stewart, Kemppi Stable

Owners: Pinske Stables, Andy Miller Stable

Trainer: Julie Miller Drivers: Andy Miller, Andrew McCarthy

Races: 10-5-0-3 Purses: $772,914 Mark: 1:51.4 at Red Mile

Top wins: $1 million Mohawk Million; $250,000 Kentucky Sire Stakes final




Donato Hanover – Aunt Mel – Yankee Glide

Breeder: Hanover Shoe Farms

Owners: Noel Daley, L.A. Express Stable, Caviart Farms

Trainer: Noel Daley Driver: Todd McCarthy

Races: 14-10-1-1 Purses: $587,758 Mark: 1:52.3 at Meadowlands

Top wins: $451,800 Goldsmith Maid; $252,340 Kindergarten Classic Series final



AMIGO VOLO, gelding

Father Patrick – Margarita Momma – Yankee Glide

Breeders: Kentuckiana Farms, Jorgen Jahre Jr.

Owners: Pinske Stables, David J. Miller

Trainer: R. Nifty Norman Driver: Dexter Dunn

Races: 15-9-1-2 Purses: $939,498 Mark: 1:50.2 at Dover Downs (world record)

Top wins: $500,000 Breeders Crown; $444,000 Kentucky Futurity; $252,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final; $162,350 Matron




Muscle Hill – Lock Down Lindy – Lucky Chucky

Breeder: Crawford Farms

Owners: Brad Grant, Crawford Farms Racing, Robert LeBlanc, In The Gym Partners

Trainer: Tony Alagna Driver: Andrew McCarthy

Races: 10-6-1-1 Purses: $915,615 Mark: 1:50.1 at Meadowlands

Top wins: $1 million Hambletonian; $266,000 Elegantimage; $253,500 Del Miller Memorial; $160,140 Harry M. Zweig Memorial Filly



GIMPANZEE, 4-year-old stallion

Chapter Seven – Steamy Windows – Muscle Massive

Breeder: Order By Stable

Owners: Courant Inc., S R F Stable

Trainer: Marcus Melander Driver: Brian Sears

Races: 11-8-1-1 Purses: $980,964 Mark: 1:50 at Meadowlands

Top wins: $500,000 Breeders Crown; $464,900 Hambletonian Maturity; $291,350 John Cashman Memorial; $250,000 Graduate Series final; $150,000 Caesars Trotting Classic



MANCHEGO, 5-year-old

Muscle Hill – Secret Magic – Cantab Hall

Breeder: Brittany Farms

Owner: Black Horse Racing

Trainer: Nancy Takter Driver: Dexter Dunn

Races: 13-6-2-2 Purses: $599,451 Mark: 1:49.3 at Plainridge Park (world record)

Top wins: $320,000 TVG Series Open final; $300,000 Breeders Crown; $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts


For complete vote totals, click here.


Ken Weingartner

Media Relations Manager

U.S. Trotting Association

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