Drachan Hanover made a name for himself racing in Ontario and Florida. His 2021 comeback came to a sudden halt when Rideau Carleton was forced to stop racing April 3, due to heightened COVID-19 restrictions hitting provincial tracks. Owner Kenneth Rankin of Port Morien, NS is one of many Maritime owners with horses in Ontario, ready to race, but not knowing when.
Rankin is familiar with surprises. Drachan Hanover (p, 4, 1:50.1f; $450,112 US) has brought him many surprises, mostly the good kind, since 2013. That’s when he found the deal of a lifetime at a yearling sale. “I still remember he was #709 going through the sale,” he told APC. “I really liked the video. He had some problems: He had chips removed from his hocks as a yearling. Actually, myself and Jamie Campbell and Malcolm MacEachen went to Harrisburg on that trip. We drove down and kind of picked out sires, like Jeremes Jet, the sire of Drachan Hanover. He wasn’t a sire who had really proven himself, although he was a great racehorse. We looked at sires where we might be able to get a bargain.”
Drachan Hanover impressed Rankin, who was nonetheless sticking to a budget. “I must have watched that video 20 times, and when it came time to bid, I got Jamie to bid on the horse. I was going to go to $6,500, and Jamie said, ‘Well, if you get out at $6,500, I might buy him for somebody else.’ But anyway, he went for $4,500 and I bought him. The next day, I asked Lloyd [MacLean of Inverness] if he wanted in on him, which he did.”
While talented, the colt “had some problems, actually from day one,” recalls Rankin. “ I took him to North Sydney. We were in Lee Collins’ barn with him, and he was coming on pretty good. At that time, my mother had passed away and before she passed away, we were trying to look after her. So we sent the horse up to Pooker [McCallum, at Truro Raceway]. He got sick up there. He was probably up there for five weeks.” Drachan Hanover was taken to the Atlantic Veterinary College, where he was diagnosed with ulcers. Then, “I took him back,” says Rankin. “I have a farm in Mabou, and I treated him with Gastrogard and put him in the field for probably about three weeks before we took him back to North Sydney. I just kept him with myself and Lee Collins until he was ready.”
A sensational freshman season would follow. “He had eight starts, and only one worse than third,” says his longtime owner. “We started him in Truro, just to give him a race, so we took him up. We had made up our minds that we were going to Marcel [Barrieau] with him, but we raced him in Truro on a Sunday, and the next day we were going to keep going to Ontario with him, which we did anyway. But he didn’t race good--he made a break. He’d never made a break in his life before. We still went to Marcel with him, and Marcel qualified him three days later.” The colt who had won his second lifetime qualifier at Inverness on Rankin’s birthday, July 6, also won his third lifetime qualifier--at Mohawk. ”We were still there, and he came his last quarter in 26 and a piece,” remembers Rankin. “So Marcel was pretty pleased that he got him, and said, ‘You know, he’s special. You don’t get this kind of horse everyday.’”
The highlight of Drachan Hanover’s two-year-old season was his 1:51.4 victory in OSS Gold company at Mohawk September 29. He was second in the Gold Superfinal October 11.
Hopes were high for the colt in 2015. “We were going to send him down to Pompano with Marcel that year,” remembers Rankin. “That was the first winter that Marcel wintered in Florida.” But plans changed twice, after bad weather prevented Drachan Hanover from being turned out in Quebec. “I decided to take him back to North Sydney as a 3-year-old, and trained him down again, after some time off, then brought him back to Marcel.”
“Drachan” made 20 starts that year, hitting the board in half of them. His first win of the year was over Physicallyinclined in an OSS Gold leg at Woodbine, just after that rival had captured the North America Cup Consolation. The 1:50.2 victory was his fastest of four that year. “It was always a job to keep him healthy,” says Rankin. “Actually, we thought about not racing him in the North America Cup. We knew he wasn’t right, but when you get that far…” His horse finished sixth in both his Cup elimination and the Consolation final, in rein to Rick Zeron.
At age four, Drachan Hanover recorded three wins at Mohawk before joining his trainer in Florida. “It wasn’t hard for me to be convinced, because Marcel was the guy I thought he should be with,” notes Rankin. “You’re dealing with US funds and getting him down there, so it’s kind of a worry, but we sent him down, and I think he still might have the record for four-year-old stallions.” It’s true: The on-track Pompano program still listed the pacer’s lifetime-best 1:50.1f mark as the all-time fastest by a four-year-old stallion over the 5/8-mile track. Drachan Hanover won his first qualifier there for Wally Hennessey December 10, 2016, then paced his record-setting mile in a December 18 Three-and Four-Year-Old Open. They next wired Pompano Open-1 Handicap pacers in 1:50.3f on December 26.
Visiting his horse on the Pompano backstretch delighted Rankin. “I was there probably two or three times every year he was there. Myself and my wife, we always went to Florida for a couple of weeks in April anyway, and I made trips down in January. I stayed with Marcel for about a week, helped him out around the track and kind of enjoyed myself. I was around the horse, so that was the big thing.”
Drachan Hanover, like many Maritimers, clearly appreciated “the winter capital of harness racing”: In 2017, all six of his wins were at Pompano’s Open-1 or -2 level, all but one of them with Hennessey in the sulky.
After returning from Pompano in 2018, the horse was injured during a routine training mile for Barrieau. “He broke a P1 bone,” recalls Rankin. “We were invited to the Gold Cup [and Saucer] three times, but it just never worked out. That year, we were definitely going to do it. So we told Marcel when he got back to Ontario with him to just take it easy with him, just get him primed. We weren’t going to race him in Ontario that year; we were going to take him home and race him in the Gold Cup, and then maybe send him back to Ontario.” The six-year-old made just 12 seasonal starts, all in Florida, hitting the board in half and capturing one Pompano Open-1 Handicap. “[Barrieau] was only light training him, probably a month after we got back from Pompano, and he broke that bone on the training track,” explains the pacer’s original owner. “He lost the rest of the year.” When MacLean opted to sell his share of the now-gelding, Barrieau became Drachan Hanover’s new co-owner.
The fan favourite was back in 2019, making 21 starts on both sides of the border. The seven-year-old won two conditioned races for Hennessey at Pompano in March, and one at Woodbine for James MacDonald in September. Last year, Drachan Hanover presented his owners with a Mohawk victory one day after Rankin’s birthday, and gamely battled to a nose-margin win in a Grand River Preferred Pace July 29. Then came more bad news: “Last year, he didn’t break [the same] bone, and it was in a different way, but he was laid up again for probably three months. It wasn’t the same leg, but it was a P1 bone. It was a hairline fracture, so we stopped with him again.”
When the gelding coasted to a free-legged 1:59 qualifying win at Rideau Carleton on December 20, with Barrieau in the bike, it was the start of another comeback. “The horse could go free-legged, but you would never take a chance when you were racing tough. Anyway, Marcel decided to qualify him free-legged, and he did qualify well,” says Rankin, noting the winning margin of four open lengths.
Barrieau drove Drachan Hanover in his first pari-mutuel start of 2021, the February 21 Rideau Preferred Handicap. The free-legged experiment didn’t work to their advantage, says Rankin: “His first race back, Marcel said he got the hole and just took him back a bit, and he went off stride. He kind of blamed himself, but you don't want to take that chance again [...] so he put the hobbles back on him.” In a Rideau March 21 conditioned event, Drachan Hanover and catch driver Stephane Brosseau set the early fractions, but were beaten at the wire by The Regulator and Avatar J.
Sadly, “Drachan” would not get a victory before the Ontario lockdown. “He raced once more after that and he was terrible. He finished last,” Rankin remembers. “Marcel went to a closed bridle instead of an open, because when he got beat at the wire, [Brosseau] said that he should have a closed bridle on. But that horse won with an open bridle in 1:50.1 at Pompano! He scoped sick after the [March 28] race that he finished last, and that’s why he wasn’t in the next race. They did draw, but Marcel didn’t put him in.” The April 4 card was subsequently cancelled.
What’s next for Drachan Hanover? It’s tough for his owners to make decisions, because of the temporary but complete shutdown of Ontario racetracks. “He’s nine years old. He raced tough all his career. Marcel knows that I’ll never sell him, so at some point, I’ll probably take him home,” Rankin tells APC. “I have that farm in Mabou, so I’ll turn him out there. Actually, it might happen sooner rather than later, because of the way the racing is right now.” For the immediate future, he says the gelding will remain in training in Ontario: “Marcel is a great guy. That's why the horse is still with him. He cares about the horse as much as I do. The first year that Marcel went to start racing in Mohawk, he had our horse, so I imagine it was a big help for him.”
Pompano was ruled out for Drachan Hanover’s 2021 campaign: “No, because of his age and it’s expensive to send them down there. I’m the kind of guy who wouldn't give a horse to just anybody.” But Rankin had definite thoughts about the Florida landmark where his horse set a track and personal best. “It’s sad when you see any of these tracks close,” he notes. “It’s people’s lives hanging in the balance of somebody making decisions, and, you know, it’s not cheap to keep a horse, feed a horse, and some of these guys have numerous horses--it’s their living. That's not the case with me, but you definitely have to feel bad for all these people, and to lose a track like Pompano.”
Rankin is in the sport for reasons that have nothing to do with racinos or fast money. “Even before I had horses, I’d been around horses. The guy who lived up the road from me when I was a kid, I used to go up there, muck stalls and do a little jogging. The guy’s name was Gordon Leloup. He was from New Waterford. He raced at Sydney, Tartan Downs; he had some pretty good horses over the years. But that’s where I started hanging around horses. I always had a place in Mabou, my father was from Mabou, so I knew guys like Lewis MacDonell and Malcolm MacEachen. We were in on a couple of horses we bought ourselves, at the sale. Lewis trained them, and we raced in Truro quite a bit. We had horses with Pooker, then in the summertime we’d take them home and Lewis would race them in Inverness.”
In his view, the racing game might be better off if there were greater acknowledgement of who is actually involved in the sport today. “The people in the Maritimes, especially in Nova Scotia, it’s definitely a hobby. You're not going to get rich. You're going to be lucky if you make enough money to pay the horse’s way, so people are in it for the love of it, and that's it. It’s not only here--it’s Pompano too. Anybody that’s in the horse industry, if they’re around the horse, they’re in it for the love of it.”
Whenever Drachan Hanover does return home to Mabou, he will join 23-year-old Springtime Tilly (Drop Off x Lingan Erin by Sly Bird), who was foaled in Port Morien. “When you get a horse like him, sure, the money helps, but it’s not really about the money,” said Rankin. “You have to appreciate the fact that you were lucky enough to land a horse like him. I always said, if a horse is good to you, you have to be good to him, so that's why I still own him. People would say to me, ‘Why didn’t you sell him?’ And we could have sold him: We got offered big money for him from a guy down in the States. We were offered $200,000 for him, when he was turning four.”
Rankin’s philosophy is “never say never” when it comes to buying another young horse to develop at Northside Downs, but he says his focus is on Drachan Hanover. “I like to be hands-on, but when he turned out to be the horse that he is, we had to send him to somebody and he was Ontario-eligible. Otherwise, I wouldn't buy one just to give them to somebody.” Ironically, “Drachan” has exceeded his $4,500 sale price many times over, even though he was purchased by a non-career horseman who most values the priceless elements of the sport. “There's nothing as peaceful and gratifying as sitting behind a horse on a track, even if you're there all by yourself, jogging alone,” shares Rankin, “It’s a different way of life for other people, but that’s the way I feel about it, anyway.”