TVG finals to be career finales for Atlanta, Bulldog Hanover

Gordon Waterstone

Lexington, KY — The 2022 Grand Circuit stakes season comes to a close on Saturday night (Nov. 26) when The Meadowlands hosts the Fall Final Four for 2-year-olds and the four TVG finals for older horses. For a pair of older horses — 7-year-old trotting mare Atlanta and 4-year-old pacing stallion Bulldog Hanover — their respective TVG finals will mark their final career start.

Ontario-based owner Brad Grant shares ownership of both Atlanta and Bulldog Hanover, and he said the night will be bittersweet.

“It’s definitely going to be sentimental for me,” said Grant. “Yes, it’s going to be a tough night.”

Atlanta comes into the $140,000 TVG Mares Trot final with six wins in 14 starts this year and a career record of 37 wins in 77 starts with $3,522,117 in career earnings. Conrad photo.

Atlanta comes into the $140,000 TVG Mares Trot final (race six) with six wins in 14 starts this year and a career record of 37 wins in 77 starts with $3,522,117 in career earnings.

Atlanta was purchased as a yearling for $60,000 from breeder Order By Stable by Grant, Howard Taylor, Holland Racing Stable and Rick Zeron Stables. Originally named Django Unchained, the name was changed to Atlanta.

“The name had to be changed and Rick (Zeron) said he went to visit his daughter’s in-laws in Atlanta and he was looking for a name, so he said, ‘How about Atlanta?'” remembered Taylor.

Atlanta changed hands in early 2019 and the daughter of Chapter Seven-Hemi Blue Chip is now owned by Grant, Taylor and Crawford Farms Racing. Like Grant, Taylor said Saturday night will be melancholy for him as he watches Atlanta race for the last time.

“The night is going to be a lot sentimental,” said Taylor. “I don’t ever remember being disappointed in a race that she was in. There are no bad memories and a lot of great memories. It’s going to be a tough hole to fill. The only thing good is that we have her sister and yearling brother to look forward to.”

Atlanta’s biggest career victory came as a 3-year-old in 2018 when she won the $1 million Hambletonian at The Meadowlands, a race that cemented her honors as the year’s Trotter of the Year. She is also tied as the fastest female trotter ever when she captured the Allerage final in 2021 at The Red Mile in 1:49.

Atlanta is now headed to a full-time career in the breeding shed at Crawford Farms. She already has one foal on the ground — delivered by embryo transfer — a filly owned by Crawford Farms.

“Atlanta has had such a distinguished career but the timing is right and she’s ready for retirement,” said Grant. “She’s going to Crawford Farms so I’ll still get to see her.”

Atlanta will start from post two in the TVG final with Yannick Gingras driving. Gingras has directed Atlanta to 24 of her career victories and he says he will be emotional when he’s behind the trotting mare for the last time on Saturday night.

“It sucks. A great mare like that, they don’t come around often,” said Gingras. “It’s definitely not fun and I wish she’d go on longer. But this is just the reality.

“She is right up there with the great ones I’ve driven. She’s given me a lot of great thrills. She’s been a pleasure to be around. There’s been a great rivalry with a lot of different mares over the years so she’s raced a long time and unfortunately we’re getting close to the end now.”

Bulldog Hanover became the fastest pacer in harness racing history with a scintillating 1:45.4 performance in the $500,000 William R. Haughton Memorial at The Meadowlands. Lisa photo.

As for Bulldog Hanover, the world’s fastest pacer by virtue of his 1:45.4 effort in this year’s William Haughton Memorial at The Meadowlands, Grant says he is almost speechless.

“What can I say? He’s been the talk of the sport,” said Grant. “He’s an amazing animal and it’s great to have a horse like that. But more important, it’s great to have a horse that generated such interest for our sport. It’s just been a great, great, great ride.”

Grant owns Bulldog Hanover in partnership with trainer Jack Darling. A $28,000 yearling purchase from breeder Hanover Shoe Farms, Bulldog Hanover has won 13 of 15 starts this year — including an 11-race win streak — and $1,482,581. Arguably the odds-on favorite to be voted Horse of the Year, Bulldog Hanover‘s career ledger shows 27 wins in 36 starts and $2,251,675 in earnings.

“I’ve had some really good horses and loved them all, but this horse is just so special,” said Darling, whose Canadian Hall of Fame resume includes conditioning standout pacers Gothic Dream and Northern Luck. “I am so fortunate to have him at this stage of the game. It’s very rare to see a horse with his mind and class.”

Darling said while he felt some pressure through the year with Bulldog Hanover as he first set the 1:45.4 world record and then tried to better that effort, he will enjoy the moment on Saturday night when his star pacer is on the track for the last time.

“I’m going to try and enjoy it,” said Darling. “It will be emotional but I’d love to still go out on a winning note.”

Bulldog Hanover will start from post four in the $345,000 TVG final for older male pacers. Three-time defending Driver of the Year Dexter Dunn will again be in the sulky.

“It’s been an unbelievable season with him,” said Dunn. “It’s been a lot of fun and pretty cool and I’ve really enjoyed sitting behind him. It’s been a pretty easy, crazy fun ride.

“He’s just an unbelievable horse. It’s an amazing feeling to sit behind him. His stride is crazy.”

Although Bulldog Hanover combined a breeding career in the spring with his racing career this year, that won’t be the same scenario in 2023 as the son of Shadow Play-BJ’s Squall will stand stud full time at Seelster Farms in Ontario. Grant said breeding and racing next year was never really in the cards.

“No. He’s going to be 5 years old and he’s done everything he’s needed to do,” said Grant. “Part of me would love to say yes and let’s race him again, but he’s going to be retired to the breeding shed and it will be a full-time job going forward. It’s the right time and the right move I think.”

Grant said while all the victories — including the 1:45.4 world record — were memorable, he also remembers the Allerage final at The Red Mile in early October when Bulldog Hanover finished second to Allywag Hanover.

“When he was going back to the paddock after the race and came in front of the grandstand and they were clapping and cheering for him, that said it all,” said Grant. “For eight hours as I was driving back to Canada all I thought about wasn’t that he lost the race but the way the people cheered for him after the race. Jack (Darling) and Johnny (caretaker Johnny Mallia) did a great job allowing everyone who wanted to be a part of him for five minutes to have those five minutes.”

Racing begins at 6:20 p.m. (EST). For free TrackMaster programs for all Meadowlands cards, visit the track’s website here.

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