By Kimberly French
She might not catch your eye in the paddock or the field, but 6-year-old Buck I St Pat, the 2008 Dan Patch and Nova Award winner for aged older trotting mare, certainly commands attention when she steps upon the racetrack.
The Ohio-bred daughter of Jailhouse Jesse and Name It Something, is owned by Howard Taylor of Penn Valley, Pennsylvania, Edwin Gold of Wayne, Pennsylvania, Abraham Basen of Las Vegas, Nevada, and Dr. Ron Fuller of Newark, Ohio. She has: collected 32 victories from 58 race miles, earned more than $1 million, established a world record of 1:52.2f, was Ohio's top 3-year-old trotting filly in 2006, and top aged trotting mare in 2007 and 2008, as well as top aged trotting mare nationally in 2008. She is conditioned by Ron Burke and normally piloted by top young driver Tim Tetrick.
"Buck I is probably the greatest-gaited trotter ever, but she is not an impressive-looking horse," explained Taylor, a personal injury attorney, who also been involved with the sport in various capacities, including training, driving and breeding, for nearly four decades. "She's scrawny and narrow and doesn't look like much of a racehorse at all, but she's the best I've ever had."
Back in 2005, Taylor, who currently owns 70 head, received a tip about a talented 2-year-old filly that was for sale while conversing with a client.
"Robert Harper, who is a pretty good horseman, drove her for her first three starts," he remembered. "He told me that if I was looking to buy a horse, he was driving one that could trot a hole in the wind and could be the best he had ever driven, so I made some inquiries, got a price, put together a partnership and bought her at the end of her 2-year-old season."
At that time, Buck I was owned by Fuller, who also bred her, and his nephew, Eric, but Fuller was rather reluctant to sell. In fact, he called Taylor, who was and still remains the managing owner, several days after the transaction to see if he could buy back into the filly.
"He seemed so remorseful and like a very nice guy," Taylor said. "So I told him I would talk to my partners –we all owned a third - to see if they would be willing to split ownership with him into quarters. They agreed and he became one of her owners again."
Roughly four years before Buck I St Pat was born, Fuller, a semi-retired veterinarian who has been involved with Standardbreds for nearly fifty years, discovered a new technique for training foals. He had tinkered with it for several years and even worked with a company in California, before deciding to seriously commit to the method.
"Dr. Robert Miller, a veterinarian from Thousand Oaks, CA, developed a new system called foal imprinting," Fuller told Tom White late last summer. "I read his book and then attended one of his lectures."
The central theory behind imprinting is all young animals have a "critical learning period," when they learn the basics of how to survive, and this window can be used to teach a foal how to respond to pressure as well as various other forms of environmental stimuli.
"Years ago, I had a client that was line-driving a young Standardbred when he reared up and flipped over," Fuller relayed to The Horse last September. "He had fractured his skull, and we had to put him down. That was when I started thinking that there had to be a better way."
When Buck I St Pat was two days old, Fuller and his two daughters hitched the filly to a goat cart.
"We walked behind her and held the lines and she followed her dam everywhere," Fuller told White. "We usually worked with her five minutes. At first, we did this every three days, then once a week and then every month. She was no longer scared and she always tried to please."
There is some evidence imprint training could create behavioral issues instead of eradicating them, but Burke acknowledges this form of conditioning could have merit.
"She is the only horse I've ever had that has gone through imprint training and she's the only one that acts the way that she does," he said. "She has a very nice personality, although she is a bit high strung, and is a classy filly. Maybe there is something there. I usually dislike giving human characteristics to horses because I think it is wrong, but I do think she has more personality than most horses. She is in-tune to what is going on around her and is very inquisitive."
Tendon Sheath Injury
Last year, Buck I won 10 of 14 starts, including the Maxie Lee Memorial at Chester Downs and the Mack Lobell at Pompano Park, both against males, before being scratched from the Classic Series at the Meadowlands on July 19 after a problem with a tendon sheath surfaced.
"It [tendon sheath injury] is probably from trauma or over exertion in a race," Burke explained. Early in her career, we noticed a little bit of filling in that area so we scanned it, but there was no damage and there never really has been. We managed it with cold water therapy, draining it and hyalauronic acid injections, although last year she came out of one of her races a bit sore. With most any other horse, you probably could have raced them because the damage was minute, but there is only one of her and she cannot be replaced. We talked about it and decided to give her the time off to heal."
Buck I St Pat finished third when she returned to the races on March 26 at Dover Downs. In her second start on April 17, she captured the Invitational Trot at the Meadowlands.
If the mare can recapture her previous form in short order, her connections are hoping for an invitation to the Elitlopp in Stockholm, Sweden, on May 31.
"We were invited last year and I wanted to go, but my other partners didn't," Taylor explained. "They thought the trip might be too rough on a mare and they wanted her to be aged trotting mare of the year and compete in the Breeders Crown. She came up lame and was never made the Breeders Crown, but the she raced in the Maxie Lee on the same day as the Elitlopp, beat the boys and set a new world record. If she's invited this year, we are definitely going."
Burke does not feel the tendon sheath will affect Buck I St Pat's future performances.
"We've scanned it twice since we put her back in training and it has been perfect," he said. "She's a 12 to 14 start horse and I think she is capable of that this year.
"I've always said she is the best horse we have ever had," Burke continued. "When she is good, she is almost unbeatable; she can win from anywhere with any kind of trip. Now I know there are a couple horses out there that are younger and on the upswing and that she is probably at best, at the apex of her career, maybe even a little bit on the down side, but I still think she is as good as any trotting mare in the country."