Horse of the Year and other divisional honors were awarded Saturday night, January 19 at the annual Ohio Harness Horsemen's Association banquet at the Columbus Marriott Northwest.
Special Lady D dominated her division in 2012, amassing $114,128 from seven wins, one second and a trio of thirds in 16 seasonal starts for trainer Brian Brown and her quartet of Ohio owners, and was honored as the 2012 Horse of the Year and 3-year-old Pacing Filly of the Year.
Brown, who has 36 horses in training at Florida’s Spring Garden Ranch and five colts at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, says that Special Lady D is a result of a decision made some 20 years ago by owner Jim Koehler.
"Jim made a third generation investment pay off in a big way,” Brian explained. "He purchased the granddam of this filly back in 1991, and has believed in the genetics of this family since then.”
Koehler, who races under the moniker of Country Club Acres and also Findlay Hillcrest Golf, purchased the mare Retrieve Almahurst on Dec. 12, 1991 from Mount Vernon’s Hawks Nest Farm. The daughter of Laag raced modestly through ages two, three and four, competing in the filly and mare opens at Northfield and The Meadows, amassing $28,405 and taking a 4-year-old mark of 1:56f.
After her racing career was over, Koehler bred her and she produced 13 foals, the second being a non-descript mare named Grey Lady D, p, 4, 2:04h ($2,885). This mare in turn, birthed eight foals, the fifth being Special Lady D, who has full siblings in Special D p, 3, 1:52.1f ($82,586); Frosty Flake p,4, 1:59.2h ($22,810); and Always Lady D p, 2, 2:00.1h ($17,895). She is also a half-sister to the 18-race winner Triple D (by Threefold) p, 4, 1:55.4f ($100,795).
This filly was perfect from day one in terms of attitude and desire, but her only flaw was that she really didn’t stand straight,” Brian said.
Brown started Special Lady D just seven times as a 2-year-old in 2011. She won her very first start—a $4,447 Ohio Fair Stake at Ottawa, pacing wire-to-wire in 2:03.3. Two weeks later, on July 4, she devoured her competition with a 1:56.3 score at Scioto Downs in a $18,400 Ohio Sire Stake. She was beaten by a whisker in her next start, pacing in 1:58.1 in a $34,700 Ohio Sire Stake at Raceway Park, then rebounded to win a $12,500 Ohio Breeders Stake at Scioto on July 29, clocked in 1:56.2 in an impressive, near seven-length triumph.
"She cracked a bone in her left hock then, but it was in such a spot that it really didn’t bother her and she was able to race the last two legs of the sire stakes with it like that,” Brian noted. "The vet told us she wouldn’t damage it any further.”
Special Lady D finished second in a $17,600 Ohio Sire Stake on Aug. 26 at Northfield, then wrapped up her freshman campaign by finishing fourth in the $75,000 OSS Final at Scioto Downs on Sept. 10, beaten only 2 ¾ lengths. The bay filly ended 2011 with $55,526 in her coffers.
"We didn’t have to operate, in the end she just needed some rest time,” Brian said. "The break was in an inoperable position, so we gave her 60 days of stall rest, then an additional 30 days over what the vet had suggested to us. It paid off because she came back off of that perfect as a 3-year-old.”
Special Lady D qualified at Spring Garden Ranch in a winning time of 1:56 on March 31, 2012, and then again on April 14, this time at Hoosier Park, posting a 1:58 mark over a sloppy track. After a third-place finish in a Hoosier overnight, the gutsy filly finished third by half a length in a $15,000 Ohio Sire Stake at Lebanon on May 4.
"I was a little disappointed in her first stake race at Lebanon, but we found out afterward that she was really dehydrated. So we focused on that issue and it actually took us quite a while to get her electrolyte balance back on track. For instance, she would get four to five jugs every week she was racing.”
Several months later Special Lady D began to regain the form she had shown at two, and on June 9, she romped to a 5½ length, 1:53.3 triumph in a $15,000 Ohio Sire Stake at Scioto Downs. Two starts later she scored again, this time in a $18,700 Ohio Sire Stake test at Raceway Park, where she bested rival Standing Danette by a neck in 1:56.4.
"I give a lot of credit to Ryan (driver Stahl), as he always had the filly in the right place at the right time, and he’s a big reason for her success this past year,” Brian stressed.
By mid-summer, Special Lady D seemed to have really found her stride, knocking off a pair of hard-fought wins on July 28 in an Ohio Fair Stake at Northfield in 1:57.1, and on Aug. 3, when she won the $42,000 Ohio Fair Stake at Scioto Downs in 1:53.4.
"She paced right around (second place finisher) Standing Danette that night, then opened up and started waiting on horses to come to her,” Brian revealed. "That, in my opinion, was her best effort of the season.”
After finishing second in a $17,200 OSS at Northfield on Aug. 17 and third in a $17,000 Ohio Breeders Stake at Scioto on Aug. 24, Special Lady D rebounded to win a $3,408 Ohio Fair Stake at Findlay in 1:57.2 by two lengths on Aug. 30. That was the start of a three-race win streak.
"We had to change things around on her bridle a bit then,” Brian offered. "We had a hood on her and she would go by horses but then didn’t want to get away from them. She was looking for horses to come at her, and so we took the hood off and put a blind bridle back on, and that seemed to work.”
The filly responded by winning the $100,000 Ohio Sire Stake Final at Scioto in 1:55.1 on Sept. 8, then captured the $27,000 Ohio Breeders Championship at Delaware on Sept. 20 in 1:56.2, simply cruising for Stahl in her last start of the year for her connections. Special Lady D had garnered 11 wins, three seconds and three thirds in 23 starts for earnings of $169,654 as a 2- and 3-year-old under Brian’s watchful eye.
"The owners had three more yearlings to bring in and we had to make room for them,” Brian explained. "It’s tough to let go of a nice filly like her.”