Oh boy: Karl gives Crawfords reason for more Hambo dreams

Rich Fisher

Trenton, NJ — Having a trotter among the favorites to win harness racing’s biggest race is nothing new for Crawford Farms. But the gender of its latest star is.

After co-owning the most recent two fillies to win the Hambletonian — Ramona Hill and Atlanta — the Crawfords now co-own Karl, the early pick to capture this year’s classic for 3-year-old trotters after going nearly undefeated last season and receiving the 2023 Dan Patch Award as best 2-year-old male trotter.

Karl, who like Ramona Hill was bred by Al and Michelle Crawford’s Crawford Farms, will be honored at the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Dan Patch Awards banquet, presented by Caesars Entertainment, Sunday (Feb. 25) at Rosen Centre in Orlando. The colt’s other owners are Christina and Nancy Takter, Black Horse Racing, and Bender Sweden.

“We finally have another homebred Hambo favorite…and it’s a colt?” Michelle Crawford said. “I need a middle to our filly Hambo-winner bookends.

“Atlanta and Ramona had accomplishments an owner could only dream about. To win the Hambo as fillies isn’t something that happens often. Backing that up with a colt we bred being the favorite going in this year is also a dream, but obviously fingers are very crossed at this point.”

Karl was the season’s fastest 2-year-old trotter, with a mark of 1:51.2, and earned $1.04 million. Amanda Stephens photo.

Karl, who is named after Crawford’s sister-in-law Kari’s nickname, is the No. 1-ranked horse in Meadowlands announcer/analyst Ken Warkentin’s Hambletonian Winter Book Top 10. The son of Tactical Landing-Avalicious gave every indication he deserved the favorite honor after a sparkling rookie campaign.

The Nancy Takter trainee was the season’s fastest 2-year-old trotter, with a mark of 1:51.2, and earned $1.04 million. He was a nose from being undefeated in 10 starts, with his wins including the Breeders Crown, Valley Victory, Kindergarten Classic Series final and a Kentucky Sire Stakes title. He won the Breeders Crown and Valley Victory with stakes-record times.

While Michelle Crawford wasn’t betting the house on that type of season, she did get promising signs.

“When Karl was training down with Nancy, the only real feedback was that he was a very nice colt,” Michelle said. “But when Nancy mentioned that her dad (Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter) loves him and he’s a nice colt, you definitely interpret that and have hope he will be a stakes or national horse.

“I don’t think anyone wants to hear in April that we are cutting back on staking and that their horse is just OK, or worse, let’s turn him out and try again next year. We knew by July that they thought he was a little bit special, but until Karl qualified it was just a wait-and-see for yourself game.”

And while waiting to see, the Crawfords never dreamt of the campaign that was about to unfold.

“I don’t think you could predict the season he had, but after he first qualified (in 1:54.4 on July 28 at The Meadowlands), I had chills and definitely knew he had something special,” Michelle said.

In comparing Ramona Hill to Karl, Crawford Farms Breeding Manager Heather Marshall said there are differences and similarities.

“As yearlings, Ramona was very quiet and unassuming, and very much laid back all the time,” Marshall said. “Karl, on the other hand, was super racy and just a feel-good type of horse, always playing in the paddock. He never had a bad day. He handled yearling prep like the champ he is and was ready to go do his work.

“The one thing they share is their class. Both were easy to get handled and sale ready. Obviously, they carried that class forward to training and the track.”

It was obvious alright, as Karl just kept getting better as the season went along. By autumn, his efforts were as beautiful as the surrounding leaves changing colors.

On Sept. 28, with regular driver Yannick Gingras in the sulky, Karl set the season standard for 2-year-olds with a 1:51.2 to win a division of the Bluegrass Stakes at Lexington’s Red Mile. His time was just a tick off the world record for a freshman male trotter.

Yannick Gingras drove Karl to victory in the Breeders Crown for 2-year-old male trotters in a track- and stakes-record 1:51.4 at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. Dean Gillette Photography.

A month later, Gingras drove Karl to victory in the Breeders Crown for 2-year-old male trotters in a track- and stakes-record 1:51.4 at Harrah’s Hoosier Park.

For Al Crawford, those are the kind of nights an owner lives for.

“It was so much fun,” he said, noting that his nervousness peaked before the Breeders Crown final. “It’s always a godsend to have a top one like Karl, but when you bred and raised him at the farm, it brings an added thrill and sense of accomplishment.”

The reason for his nerves prior to the Breeders Crown is that Karl was going up against the only horse that beat him. Three weeks earlier, T C I gave the horse his only blemish, edging him in a division of the International Stallion Stakes at Red Mile.

“I think that was the first call at the wire that I have missed in the last 60 years,” Al exclaimed. “So that was tough to swallow! But that’s horse racing and they are two great horses so that happens.”

Not surprisingly, greatness happens more often than not when the Takters and Gingras are involved.

“The teamwork between Nancy, Jimmy, and Yannick is such a blessing for a horse like Karl,” Michelle Crawford said. “I know that a few times in the stretch he looked a bit off but then with Yannick’s feedback, immediate adjustments were made. It’s just very conscientious on all levels and when everyone has an input it only helps the outcome.”

But with such success, comes other challenges.

“There are things we are superstitious about, like who warms him up,” Michelle said with a laugh. “And whether he gallops and is wild in the post parade. Those are the moments when we throw caution to the wind and carry on our ownership tradition of tequila shots.”

And now that the wild ride and clinking of shot glasses in 2023 is over, the pressure of doing it again begins. Al Crawford knows what that’s all about.

“It’s honestly really nerve-wracking to have such a great 2-year-old and then have to wait to see if he comes back as good as he was at 2,” he said. “Ramona Hill was a spectacular 2-year-old and won the Hambo at 3, but then struggled after that big race. So, you just never know what the horse gods have planned for your 3-year-old. One can only hope for good things!”

Back to Top

Share via