July 9, 2021 – One might have seen some troubling signs while reading the tea leaves heading into Bulldog Hanover’s 2021 Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) debut last weekend at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Not only had trainer Jack Darling’s star 3-year-old pacer had his early-season schedule completely scrambled by the COVID-19 lockdown, Bulldog Hanover also landed the 10-hole for Saturday’s (July 3) $158,800 event.
Leave it to a great horse to overcome. Bulldog Hanover and regular pilot Jody Jamieson dominated to the tune of a one-length victory in a career best 1:49.1.
“I didn’t really expect that he’d be that good. I thought he’d race well, but I didn’t expect anything like that. But he’s just that kind of horse. He just comes through for you,” Darling said this week. “He was impressive. No doubt about it.”
Originally primed for a May debut in the OSS that hopefully led to appearances in both the Somebeachsomewhere and $1 million Pepsi North America Cup in June, a nearly two-month lockdown forced Darling to change plans and take his foot off the gas when prepping Bulldog Hanover.
“Everything was kind of geared around being ready for the NA Cup (which has been moved to Sept. 11). It sure changed things and dragged things out,” said Darling, who won the 1997 NA Cup with Gothic Dream. “It was kind of a new thing in my career to have to back off like that with a horse. You have to keep them ready to a certain extent, but you don’t want to burn them out. You’ve got to keep them fresh and happy and sound and ready. It was something new to figure out, but it mostly was just common sense.”
Darling purchased the son of Shadow Play—BJ’s Squall for $28,000 at the 2019 Standardbred Horse Sales Company’s yearling sale in Harrisburg, PA and owned him solo through the pacer’s 2-year-old season in which Bulldog Hanover posted a record of 4-1-0 in six starts and earnings of $248,850, winning two OSS Gold events and the $250,000 Super Final to be a finalist for Canada’s 2-year-old pacing colt of the year (the O’Brien Award was won by Lawless Shadow). Over the winter, Darling sold half of Bulldog Hanover to noted owner Brad Grant.
Darling said it was a relief that Bulldog Hanover performed splendidly on Saturday with his new partner on board.
“I wanted (Bulldog Hanover) to perform well for (Grant) and that was a nice relief to get that kind of a mile,” Darling said of the colt bred by the famed Hanover Shoe Farms.
Though Bulldog Hanover will race mostly in Ontario this year, Darling said he thinks the pacer could “go with” some of the best U.S. sophomore colts.
“There’s some great colts out there. There’s four or five that are really good. Whether he could beat them, I don’t know, but I don’t believe he’d be disgraced,” the trainer said.
Still, it might not be until the best American horses come up for the NA Cup that Darling finds out for sure. He said he has no plans to race Bulldog Hanover in the U.S. until after the OSS Super Final in mid-October.
“He’s not staked to anything in the U.S. until after the Super Finals,” Darling said. “There was just nothing in the States that really fit into his schedule well. The way it is, he’s got six OSS races and if there’s just one division they’re going for at least $150,000 a crack. It’s hard to go down to the States and miss one of those. It just worked out pretty well. I might be leaving a little bit of money on the table. I would have liked to get him down to Lexington for a race, but that didn’t quite fit in, but you never know down the road.”
In the meantime, Darling is trying to enjoy every second of campaigning Bulldog Hanover.
“He’s just a cocky kind of horse, always feeling good,” Darling said. “He’s also a classy horse. My best horses just had class about them the way they handled themselves on the track and around the barn. They’ve got that look about them. When you see them there’s just something special. To see him you know it’s Bulldog Hanover.”