Harness racing fans will not see San Pail again this year, but the 7-year-old trotter gave them plenty of memories upon which to reminisce until his return next season.
Last Saturday night, San Pail won the $600,000 Breeders Crown Open Trot by a neck over the French invader, Rapide Lebel, in 1:51.4 at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. For the year, San Pail won 14 of 16 races -- he was second in his two defeats -- and earned $1.28 million.
Saturday's Breeders Crown win was the cherry on the sundae for San Pail's connections and many fans.
“It’s unbelievable what he’s done for me this year,” Ontario-based trainer Rod Hughes said. Hughes owns San Pail with breeder Glenn Van Camp, also from Ontario. “I think that’s it. I thought of maybe racing him another time or two this year, but that was such a demanding race for him the other night, that will be it.
“He looks good and feels great. I’m really happy with that. Hopefully he’ll come back next year and have, I don’t know if you can say as strong a year as this year, but even half that is still a nice year for any horse.”
San Pail, driven regularly by Randy Waples, is the unanimous No. 1-ranked horse in the weekly Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown Top 10 poll. In addition to the Breeders Crown, his wins this season include the $766,500 Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk, the $300,000 Nat Ray Invitational at the Meadowlands, the $218,000 Credit Winner at Vernon Downs and the $145,000 Allerage Farms Trot at The Red Mile.
A two-time O’Brien Award winner as Canada’s champion older trotter, San Pail has won 28 of his last 32 starts and finished worse than second only once during that span -- when he went off stride because of broken equipment. Still, San Pail faced questions because the majority of his success, aside from a record-tying three triumphs in the Maple Leaf Trot, came primarily in the Opens at Mohawk and Woodbine.
Prior to August when he visited New Jersey for the Nat Ray, San Pail raced at either Woodbine or Mohawk in 82 of his 83 previous starts dating back to September 2007.
“I had a ton of critics,” Hughes said. “I had people telling me I was doing things wrong right from the word go this year. That I was out to lunch with my ideas and might have left a lot of money unraced for on my part. I think it’s paid off in the long run, the way I did it.
“I’m glad it worked out for me because if it hadn’t they might have been right. As it turns out I did things my way and everything was great.”
In the Breeders Crown, San Pail was the hometown hero. When Waples drove San Pail past the grandstand during the post parade, the crowd erupted in cheers.
“There were people coming out of the paddock not knowing what the noise was. It was unreal how loud they were,” Hughes said. “It was unbelievable to know he had that much support over there for him. I wasn’t expecting that. I knew I had some family and friends there that might do a little yelling and screaming, but that was unreal.”
To win on home turf, particularly against a field that included previous Breeders Crown champions Arch Madness and Lucky Jim, not to mention European stars Rapide Lebel and Commander Crowe, made it even more memorable.
“Being at our own track, with all my family and friends able to make it, that’s was really special,” Hughes said. “It was nice to have everybody there; the local horsemen to congratulate you. It really means a lot. It was pretty overwhelming.
“I think there might have even been a few people in that race who were cheering for us. It was that type atmosphere.”
San Pail has won 49 of 107 lifetime races and earned $2.88 million in purses. Hughes said the turning point in the horse’s career came with his first win in the Maple Leaf Trot, in 2009, when he defeated Arch Madness by a neck.
“He came up so big that night against Arch (Madness) and they battled so hard through the stretch,” Hughes said. “It just seemed like from then on that he had a ton of confidence.”
Arch Madness was a participant in another of San Pail’s memorable wins. In this year’s Nat Ray, San Pail charged from third place at the top of the stretch to catch Arch Madness and win by 1-1/4 lengths, in 1:50.4. Lucky Jim was third. The time equaled the second fastest in the race’s history.
“I thought (San Pail) was beat through the stretch and I don’t know where he found that other gear,” Hughes said. “That was pretty unbelievable to come back that day. I thought Arch Madness and Lucky Jim and a few others in there were on the top of their games that day and were ready. To beat them in their backyard was pretty special.”
Hughes says San Pail’s best quality is his strong desire to succeed.
“He just goes out there with one thing in mind, and that’s to win,” Hughes said. “The few times he’s been beaten, this horse knows it. He’s really tough to work with. He knows. He’s mad.”
Hughes expects San Pail’s schedule in 2012 to remain similar to this season’s workload. He ruled out any trip overseas.
“I can’t see walking away from the money that’s available,” Hughes said. “I think we’ll just stick to the same type schedule. He seemed to handle that fine and everything worked out.
“Hopefully it works out again.” (Harness Racing Communications)