East Rutherford, NJ — Bella Bellini captured Saturday’s (Nov. 26) $140,000 TVG Series Mares Trot championship with a stakes record-equaling 1:51.4 performance, besting Refined by 2-1/4 lengths on a night the sport also bid farewell to the multiple award-winning and record-setting Atlanta at the Meadowlands.
Bella Bellini was fourth during the first half of the TVG final, with Refined leading the field to the opening quarter in :27 before surrendering the top spot to When Dovescry, who reached the half in :56.2. At that point, Dunn put Bella Bellini in gear with a first-over march that had his mare alongside When Dovescry as they hit three-quarters in 1:25.2.
Turning for home, Bella Bellini powered through the stretch with a :26.1 final panel. Refined edged When Dovescry in a photo for second; Atlanta finished fourth.
“She’s such an amazing mare,” Dunn said. “She felt great. Moving into the last turn, she was full of trot. I was kind of taking a hold of her and saying, ‘Wait a bit, girl, wait a bit.’ But she just felt amazing tonight.
“She loves chasing a horse down. The races sort of set up that way for her, and I can get away with it with the turn of foot she’s got when you ask her (to go). It’s never easy. You’re racing against top-class mares. But she was so good tonight.”
Bella Bellini, a 4-year-old daughter of Bar Hopping-Bella Dolce, is owned by breeder David McDuffee and trained by Richard “Nifty” Norman. She has won nine of 19 races this season and earned $935,630. For her career, she has won 20 of 45 starts and banked $2.05 million. She has hit the board in 36 of her last 38 races.
“She loves the racing; she really thrives off it,” Dunn said. “Last year and this year, the best she’s probably been has been at the end of the year.”
Added McDuffee, “She’s a special horse, that’s for sure. Nifty has done an incredible job with her and Dexter has been flawless. It’s pretty neat.”
Bella Bellini, sent off as the 1-2 favorite, paid $3.00 to win.
Following the celebration for Bella Bellini, it was time to celebrate the career of 7-year-old Atlanta. The mare returned to the winner’s circle with driver Yannick Gingras and was met by owners Michelle Crawford of Crawford Farms Racing, Howard Taylor and Brad Grant. She was presented with a special blanket for her retirement.
Atlanta won 37 of 78 career races and earned more than $3.5 million, making her the fourth richest female trotter in harness racing history. The daughter of Chapter Seven-Hemi Blue Chip is the co-fastest female trotter in history, with a time of 1:49, and co-holder of the Meadowlands track record, with a time of 1:49.1.
In 2018, she became the first filly in 22 years to beat the boys in the Hambletonian and was named the Dan Patch Award Trotter of the Year. She added a Dan Patch Award and an O’Brien Award in 2019 as the top trotting mare in the U.S. and Canada.
Other top victories included the Maple Leaf Trot, Allerage Open Trot, Dayton Derby and Cutler Memorial, plus the Graduate Series final and Charlie Hill Memorial — all over male rivals. She also won two editions of the Armbro Flight (2019 and 2022) and the Allerage Mare Trot (2021 and 2022).
“She’s just a great race mare,” Gingras said. “She ranks right up there with the best of them. She’s had a tremendous career. It (stinks) to retire them, but it’s time for the next chapter.
“You could always count on her to be part of the mix every time there was a big race. It’s going to be a big void to fill.”
Atlanta will become a full-time broodmare for Crawford Farms. She already has one foal, a filly by Muscle Hill born in April through embryo transfer.
“There is nothing that is more important than the race career she’s had, other than maybe the legacy she will leave being a broodmare,” Michelle Crawford said. “I think that she’s totally earned all of that.
“I think seeing her carry her own (foal) next year will be the most amazing thing ever.”
Crawford said there would be a contest to name Atlanta’s next foal.
“We want all of her fans to participate in that,” Crawford said.