American Winner, credit Mark Hall/USTA
On Monday, February 6, 2005, Hoof Beats editor Dean Hoffman previewed an upcoming article on harness racing’s elite broodmares. To make the list, each mare had to produce at least four foals that made $250,000 or more. On the pacing side 18 mares had achieved this status, while only three of their trotting colleagues could boast of the same accomplishment. Among those three was BJ’s Pleasure, who was inducted into the Living Hall of Fame three years prior.
Her owner, Bob Key of Leechburg, PA, stated in 2009, his mare “definitely made her contribution to her breed.” Shortly after her death, however, at age 33 on September 6, 2016, Key added another accolade to his description of his prized animal.
“She changed the breed,” he said. “Prior to us purchasing her, people always looked for the heavier type of European trotter. She was light framed and her first trainer did not like her because he thought she was too small. I wanted to buy her (half) brother Mack Lobell at the same sale the next year, but was told the same thing, that he was too small. I think he sold for something like $17,000 and made more than $3 million. Right then I decided if I was going to mistakes and lose money, I would take my advice rather than listen to anybody else’s, then I would only have myself to blame.”
A daughter of Speedy Somolli and the Speedy Count mare Matina Hanover, BJ’s Pleasure established her lifetime mark of 1:59.4 at age 3, banked $244,023 and was a stakes winner. Although she was an excellent performer on the racetrack, it was in the breeding shed where she excelled.
The mare produced an unbelievable 20 foals, only four of which failed to race. Her very first foal, Super Pleasure, earned $827,238. Then there was BJ’s Mac ($376,210) winner of the 1991 Peter Haughton Memorial. But her most famous and influential offspring is undoubtedly American Winner, who collected more than $1,302,451 and captured the 1993 Hambletonian.
Following in his dam’s footsteps, American Winner, who also won the Yonkers Trot, was outstanding in his second career. His son Credit Winner is a top stallion in his own right and his offspring have earned more than $24 million.
As the years pass, however he has proven to a very strong broodmare sire. Current super stallion Muscle Hill is out of an American Winner mare. He is also the dam sire for champion and elite broodmare Solveig and quality European sire Viking Kronos.
BJ’s Pleasure also gave birth to the stakes winning filly Jonlin ($252,836), the filly Andoversure ($192,702) and the stallion Pleasure And Power ($142,233). The mare was responsible for seven daughters of which Pleasure’s Song is the dam of the stakes winning filly Flowers N Songs ($297,628). All told she foaled six winners that broke the $100,000 barrier and 12 winners overall.
“Remember BJ’s Pleasure had that slab fracture in a knee and after the University of Pennsylvania put screws in they said she would never race,” Key said. “I asked my legal secretary, who raised Arabians, to take care of her. Within months she was telling me she was the fastest thing in the field, so I took her to a trainer (Bill Altmeyer). He called me one day in February to tell me I needed to come see her because we had something here. I remember that day. It was cold, dark and snowy and it was one of those farm tracks. She just went right around there and that’s when I knew we did have something.
“She never allowed that knee to bother her because she had great heart and a desire to win,” he continued. “She passed on that to all of her foals and that is why they have been so successful. You cannot train that into a horse. Bill Haughton used to say you can look a horse up and down on the outside, but you can never tell what they have on the inside. That is so true. I’ve always been of the mindset the mare is largely responsible for what is passed on to the foal. That was the case with her. We were thrilled every time she came into heat and were amazed she produced 20 foals. Super Bowl was the perfect mate for her, but I will always believe she is the one that changed the breed and is the main reason her foals turned out the way they did.”
To date, Key has bred 1,403 horses since 1988, staking his future success squarely upon the back of BJ’s Pleasure. That gamble yielded fantastic dividends as Key now owns four farms and rarely sells his foals. He kept all of BJ’s Pleasure’s progeny to race himself.
“I tell you what it is something to see when you watch the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes and half of the horses in the field are descendants of BJ’s Pleasure,” he said. “I don’t sell many of my horses because some people seem to be under the impression that when I do sell a horse, it is not as good as what I’m keeping. Gosh, I wish that were true. I’ve sold a yearling that was the dam of another Hambletonian winner and there have been occasions I have been offered large sums of money for some of horses, but I keep them. My wife and I had the time of our lives when we won the Hambletonian and we have been trying to win another one ever since. We keep looking and hoping for that one horse that can do it for us again.”
It's quite possible that horse will hail from the line of BJ’s Pleasure. However, one of the better horses he currently has in training, Waitlifter K, is from a different family tree.
Waitlifter K ($227,569) is by Muscles Yankee and out of the Lindy Lane mare Treasure Forever, another homebred that earned $100,000 for him on the racetrack. The colt recently finished fourth in this year’s Hambletonian and has been competitive in all the top stakes contests in his two-year career.
On the other hand, 2-year-old filly Winter Sweet Frost is most certainly a blood relative. The daughter of Kadabra and the American Winner mare, American Frost, has already banked $114,885 from seven starts with two wins, two seconds and a third. She most recently was fourth in the $275,880 Peaceful Way Stakes at Mohawk Raceway and was second in the $84,030 Champlain Stakes at the same facility.
Key purchased her dam, Frosty Power, in 1988 and mated her with Super Pleasure, BJ’s Mac and American Winner. American Frost was her second most successful horse, earning $61,496. She also foaled the gelding Frost Bites K by Broadway Hall that collected more than $400,000 for Key before he was sold last year.
“It is really something to see the impact BJ’s Pleasure had on the breed,” Key said. “She really did change it. Trotters are no longer big and heavy. People may have thought they were stronger, but doesn’t it make sense, like it does with human athletes, to have a horse with a smaller frame? They carry less weight and when a big, heavy trotter places its foot on the ground, it makes a larger impact because of their weight. It’s difficult enough keeping our horses sound with how often they race, and a lighter framed horse hits the ground much more lightly. American Winner was like that too and he was perfectly gaited. Trotters just don’t look like they used to before she came along. She really was one-of-a kind.”