2022: The year of record-breaking Bulldog

January 5th, 2023

North American horse racing fans were extremely lucky in 2022. We watched a historically-good four-year-old deliver record-breaking performances and invoke comparisons with the greatest-ever performers.

What’s more, we got to see him 16 times.

Harness racing star Bulldog Hanover put up a season that was well and truly comparable to that of Thoroughbred hero Flightline. The Canadian became the fastest pacer in racing history, and now owns four of the nine fastest miles in harness racing history. And he did it after a period at stud at the beginning of the year.

In a season with 14 victories from 16 starts in a 6 1/2-month span, Bulldog Hanover scored his victories either by taking the lead mid-race, or sometimes overpowering his opponents in the stretch. He exuded power throughout.

Bought for $28,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sales Company yearling sale in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 2019 by trainer Jack Darling of Cambridge, Ontario, Bulldog Hanover earned nearly $250,000 after winning four of his six juvenile races, most notably the Ontario Sires’ Stakes Two-Year-Old Final. A half-share was later sold early in his three-year-old season to Brad Grant, who had raced a number of horses with Darling previously.

Bulldog Hanover had a very good three-year-old season, winning 10 of his 15 starts. But he’d been beaten in two major Canadian finals at three — the North America Cup and the Ontario Sires’ Stakes Gold Series Super Final. Even though he won his final four starts of 2021 — all stakes races at Hoosier Park in his first venture outside Canada — and he was regarded as an exciting prospect as a four-year-old, there weren’t the same expectations as for Flightline, who ended 2021 with a stunning demolition of top-level opponents in the Malibu (G1).

After his stop-off at Seelster Farms in Ontario, Bulldog Hanover returned to racing in May for the Charles Juravinski Memorial at Flamboro Downs, southwest of Toronto. He won his elimination easily enough, but a fourth-place finish in the final wouldn’t have convinced anyone he was a budding superstar.

Two victories in June at Woodbine Mohawk Park, on the western outskirts of Toronto, put him into the ranks of million-dollar earners, prompting Darling to send him to Noel Daley in New Jersey for a campaign at the Meadowlands, arguably the premier harness racing track in the United States. It was here that the Bulldog legend came to full fruition.

In four starts over four consecutive weeks — something it’s hard to imagine any topline Thoroughbreds being asked to do these days — Bulldog Hanover put on a show of sustained brilliance. First it was the Graduate Series Leg 3 on June 25, where he eased home ahead of Linedrive Hanover in 1:47 flat, his fastest time yet; a week later, it was the Roll With Joe Pace in 1:46 flat, equaling the world record of Always B Miki and Lather Up. On July 9 came the Graduate Series Final, this time in 1:46 1/5.

The best, however, was yet to come. A week later, on July 16, Bulldog Hanover lined up for the William R Haughton Memorial. At 1-9 odds, he again found his way to the lead in the second quarter. Reaching the three-quarter mark in 1:20 3/5, he dashed his last quarter-mile in 25 1/5 seconds — a fraction seldom seen and almost never in the final quarter — to stop the clock at 1:45 4/5 seconds, making him the first pacer under the 1:46 mark.

Track caller Ken Warkentin put it succinctly at the end of the race: “There it is! The fastest mile in harness racing history. It doesn’t get any better than that. Wow.”

The rest of the season was going to be hard to top, but Bulldog Hanover came very close. In eight further starts, he won twice at Hoosier Park (the Dan Patch and the Hoosier Park Derby), three times at Mohawk Park, including the Canadian Pacing Derby and the Breeders’ Crown (both in 1:46 4/5, equaling the track record), once at Dayton, Ohio in the Dayton Pacing Derby, and once more at the Meadowlands.

Perhaps ironically for a record-breaking pacer, his sole defeat in his last 14 starts came when it appears he was driven with record-breaking in mind. In the Allerage Pace at the fast Red Mile circuit in Lexington, Kentucky, he unexpectedly went straight for the front and got to the three-quarter mark in a track-record 1:19 1/5; perhaps not surprisingly, he couldn’t for once hold off Allywag Hanover, who he’d beaten several times. Even so, Allywag Hanover had to pace 1:46, which would have equaled the world record but for Bulldog Hanover’s efforts this year.

Maybe the best thing about Bulldog Hanover’s outstanding season was the fact he started 16 times for 14 wins and one second.

It’s unrealistic to pine for days gone by in Thoroughbred racing, when topliners started more often. It was taken to unusual extremes this year with Flightline, who only raced three times. Neither Flightline nor his connections should be scoffed at for this; his performances were so outstanding that his ability can’t be doubted, and owners and trainers understandably do what they think is best for the welfare and future stud earning potential of their horses.

However, there’s still a joy in getting repeated opportunities to watch a top-class racehorse as often as we did with Bulldog Hanover. Unfortunately we won’t see him again — he’s now in full-time retirement — but it was a year for the ages.