Trenton, NJ — After another multiple-award-winning season with Sylvia Hanover, Ontario-based trainer Shawn Steacy and his family are looking forward to seeing what’s next for the standout female pacer while hoping to continue their evolution as a stable.
A star in two countries — Sylvia Hanover was recently named Horse of the Year in Canada, where she is a two-time O’Brien Award winner — Sylvia Hanover will add a second Dan Patch Award trophy to her connections’ trophy case later this month.
The daughter of Always B Miki-Shyaway is just the fifth female pacer to be voted a Dan Patch division champ at ages 2 and 3 since 1991, joining Warrawee Ubeaut, Pure Country, See You At Peelers, and Worldly Beauty. Sylvia Hanover, owned by Hudson Standardbred Stable, will be honored at the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Dan Patch Awards banquet, presented by Caesars Entertainment, Feb. 25 at Rosen Centre in Orlando.
Her C$839,375 in purses in 2023 helped the Steacys’ training stable total nearly $3 million in Canadian earnings for the second consecutive year. Shawn was listed as trainer in Canada and won 81 races last season while his dad, Mark, was listed as the U.S. trainer and won 10 times.
“We had a really good year all around and Sylvia made it that much more special on top of everything,” Shawn said. “It was a real solid, career-year type of thing.”
The way it is set up, Mark oversees the entire operation, his son Clarke does the early development and Shawn and wife Natasha get the horses in training shape.
“My dad is the king on the chessboard,” Shawn said. “We all play our roles after that to make it happen. We’ve been very lucky over the last couple of years to develop some very crucial owners from top to bottom. Landmark Stables, Hudson Standardbred, Diane Bertrand, the list goes on and on. Without developing those owners, we’d have next to nothing.”
And by living up to the owners’ faith, the Steacys are given a bigger pocketbook when it comes to purchases.
“Our owners who are able to spend the money have put more trust in us to spend at a higher level,” Shawn said. “Landmark Stables has grown quite a bit; it creates more capital now than it ever has. You have Tony and Betty Infilise at Hudson, we wouldn’t be able to buy big-level horses without them. They’re our biggest player owners that allow us to go out and buy high-ticket horses. In years past we were able to get one or two, this year we’re able to start with a handful of quality bred yearlings.”
As is usually the case, success breeds success. It’s certainly not overnight success, as Mark has been involved in the sport his entire life. He started with a few $500 claimers and just grinded hard from there.
“He found a little luck along the way and just kept working,” Shawn said. “It has evolved our stable to where we are today. It’s a complete family aspect. We work together so much, and I think it’s made the stable grow because we can do that.
“We’ve been very fortunate. As we’ve grown in success, the phone rings more. People are a little more willing to send us one to race that they’re not able to, or they’re looking for a place for the odd horse and they’re willing to give us a shot. That’s how our stable has grown to have such a large number of horses. We have about 60 and between the family we probably own parts of about 15 of them.”
Asked if it’s more special to succeed as a family, Steacy quickly noted that he doesn’t know of any other way, so it might be tough to quantify if it’s any better than working with non-family members. He did add, however, that, “I think it makes it extra special to know that we sink or swim together. We succeed or fail as one.”
Having a two-time Dan Patch Award winner certainly helps with the succeeding end of it. After winning eight of nine starts with one second in 2022, Sylvia Hanover won 10 times and placed twice in 13 starts this past season. A $135,000 yearling purchase at the 2021 Standardbred Horse Sale, she had top wins in the Breeders Crown, Fan Hanover, and Mistletoe Shalee in 2023.
“What she did was incredible,” Steacy said. “You never know how a horse is gonna come back from 2 to 3 and transition into that older stage. She has a good size, good frame, good demeanor. So, I knew she had the tools, but she had to step up one more level, and when she did come back at 3, just like at 2, every start got better. She got a little racier all the time, she got stronger.”
As a 2-year-old, Sylvia Hanover raced exclusively at the Steacys’ home track of Woodbine Mohawk Park in Canada, which is where she won the first of her two Breeders Crowns. Shawn admitted the family was curious as to how she would handle foreign tracks, and he got his answer with Sylvia’s first race at the Meadowlands last year, the Mistletoe Shalee.
“I thought she’d handle the travel well,” Steacy said. “You never know what to expect the first time away from home. She trucked in really good, she felt really good. When she got into that first race, she got halfway around the first turn; she got caught first over in no man’s land and I said to myself, ‘That’s it, she couldn’t do it. She’s either tied up, she’s sick, or she’s not in her comfort zone.’
“And then those horses went three wide around her at the quarter pole, and she did her Sylvia Hanover thing again and just took off and away she went. She keeps you guessing right down to the wire, but she finds a way to get it done. She’s a winner at heart.”
After her rookie season, the Steacys were not looking to work on any specific area with the prized horse. They just wanted to keep everything running smooth.
“Once we knew after her 2-year-old season that she was extremely talented and a quite highly ranked special horse, my dad and I always worked to keep her mentally sharp. Whether he was driving her or myself, we’d play cat and mouse games on the track to make her always enjoy her work.
“Even Bob McClure, when he was qualifying her and driving her, never got crazy outside of the race. Everybody tried to make sure she was mentally sharp and happy with her work. She’s so hard on herself at times during the race, we wanted her to enjoy doing what she did.”
And while the Steacys enjoy the fact Sylvia Hanover is a big-time prize winner, they don’t take much time to bask in that euphoria. There is too much more to be done.
“She’s still going,” Shawn said. “We gotta be ready for the next one. It’s hard to say, ‘Oh we enjoyed everything we did, everything is good, everything is easy.’ There’s always your next at-bat. You always gotta play again until this story is finished being written.”
Tickets for the Dan Patch Awards banquet are $200. There is also a reduced-priced menu option for children 12 and under. Dinner tickets can be ordered until Feb. 19 by contacting Judy Davis-Wilson at email@example.com or 302.359.3630 or Liz Cheesman at Elizabeth.Cheesman@winbakfarm.com. For a dinner ticket form click here.