It’s been a long road to breeding success for John O’Connor, but he seems to have found the right path with his 3-year-old trotting gelding Brookroad Knight. The son of CR Excalibur is a winner of more than a quarter-million dollars already this year and will be competing in the $225,000 New York Sire Stakes final on the $1.8 million Night of Champions at Yonkers Raceway on Saturday night (Sept. 22).
“This year the number of really good trotters from New York has grown,” said O’Connor, a retired postal worker from Port Chester, N.Y., not far from Yonkers. “I’m really pleased to have this one and be in there with the likes of Archangel and these others. There’s just a really good group.”
Brookroad Knight has won four Sire Stakes legs this year, including track records for geldings at both Vernon Downs (1:53.4) and Saratoga (1:55.2), and a State Fair division. He has drawn post two with pilot Jeff Gregory in the eighth race final Saturday.
O’Connor’s journey to breeding his young star began back in 1983 when he purchased the Nevele Diamond filly Pop The Question. Although she didn’t earn any money on the track, it became a marriage made in heaven as she became his foundation broodmare and produced three Sir Taurus fillies that he retired to his broodmare band after racing. Their foals got to the races, but none were quite as successful as his standout this year. Among the three sisters was Questionable Lady, the dam of Brookroad Knight.
“Pop The Question traces back to one of the Hanover foundation sisters, Miss Bertha Hanover (foal of 1926, out of Miss Bertha Dillon),” explained O’Connor. “She is only four generations away, which is amazing with the years between.”
Questionable Lady, who raced at two but was sidelined after surgery for an intestinal blockage and never came back well at three, is a large mare at 16 hands, according to the owner. Her first two foals earned marks, but her distinctive pedigree finally shined through when mated with CR Excalibur for her third foal, Brookroad Knight.
“She’s such a big mare and long barreled, which I think is always good on a trotter, but CR Excalibur isn’t a very big horse so I thought the combination would work. It all came together and Knight seems to have it all. Ever since he was a young horse, when he trained down, there is a hill coming back from the track at Kristie Leigh (training center) and all the other horses come back blowing over that hill, but not him. He’s got a strong heart.
“When you look at his gait, he’s not like the old Speedy Crowns that stomp on the ground, there’s not a lot of knee action with him,” continued the owner. “He just reaches out and doesn’t waste any energy and I think that helps him, too.”
Even though she has produced an outstanding son, O’Connor actually gave Questionable Lady away in May of this year. “She was getting older (foal of 1996) and I wanted to retire her but she doesn’t do well on the farm where my other retired mares are,” he said. “I just wanted to find a good home for her so I gave her away.”
O’Connor has no plans to give Brookroad Knight away, who has no other stakes engagements this year. The horse will probably get a few weeks off before returning to race at Yonkers, probably in the Open due to his earnings, with usual trainer Bruce Borden.
“His nickname is actually Grumpy,” confided O’Connor, “because his ears were always pinned back in the barn. But it’s like he keeps getting friendlier the more he races. At the farm his ears will be back, but at the track, maybe because he gets a little anxious, you can pet him and he’s fine.”
Should this rambunctious youngster win, stand back. “He’s not too bad to handle, but when he gets his blood going he still thinks he’s a stallion. In the winner’s circle it’s a trip to handle him. After he’s been on the track he’s a handful,” said O’Connor.
That rowdy behavior may just be Brookroad Knight’s way of celebrating the accomplishment of his breeder.
The eight New York Sire Stakes finals are featured as races two through nine on Yonkers’ Saturday card with post time at 7:10 p.m. (Harness Horse Breeders of NYS)