01/27/2012 6:31PM

Paying tribute to Moni Maker

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One year ago - January 27, 2011 - Moni Maker, one of the greatest and most beloved Standardbreds in history, survived a tragic barn collapse.  What better day to pay her the tribute she deserves.

 

In her day, she was the talk of the town and the toast of the world.  The globe-trotting trotter raced at 28 racetracks and in 7 countries - Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, Canada and the U.S.  She beat males and females, in top races, setting records and humiliating competitors with her incredibly powerful gait.

She was Horse of the Year twice, Trotter of the Year for three consecutive seasons and the Trotting Mare of the Year from 1997 – 2000.   She was called the “Queen," and among her 67 (!) victories over five years was the grueling Prix d’ Amerique, considered by many the greatest race in the world.  For her career finale, as the icing on the cake, she set a world record under saddle - with top jockey Julie Krone in the irons.

With earnings of over $5.5 million, she retired as the world’s top-earning Standardbred of all time.  More than a decade later, she is still its top female earner.  

And at age 19, she remains harness racing’s leading lady.  She is Moni Maker.

You’d never guess the laurels resting on her tall shoulders when the long-faced mare moseyed around her paddock at the world-famous Lindy Farms in Somers, Conn., when I visited in November.  The paddock wasn’t as large as some around the 800-acre farm, although it’s 7 or 8 acres, and Moni (pronounced money) Maker was out with other mares who were either older or – for one reason or another - not as rambunctious as they once were.

Moni Maker blended in with her three bay mates, although her coat was a touch lighter and her sunbleached mane and tail were highlighted in chestnut and auburn tones.  She is classy, tall for a Standardbred –16.1 or 16.2  - and, due to arthritis, she generally is in no hurry.  If another mare in the field got worked up and broke into a gallop, Moni Maker glanced her way - but, unless it was her own idea, she wasn't going anywhere.  

Above/below:  The great Moni Maker, foreground, at Lindy Farms.

At first glance, she had a sweet and kind face but, other than her height, she seemed unremarkable.  Yet there was still something - something deep within her eyes and in her very confident, proud manner - that gave her away as one for the ages.   

“She is definitely the boss,” said farm manager John Belskie, smiling.  She likes what she likes and when she’s done with you, she’s done.   She’ll walk away from you and you can’t catch her again.” 

John’s pride in the resident star is obvious.  And why not?  He has worked at Lindy for 18 years.  He watched Moni Maker blossom into one of the top Standardbreds the sport has ever known.  He worked at the farm when Moni Maker retired to their broodmare band.  He’s watched her foals grow up, and he watches out for her now.   

He also entertains visitors, and Moni Maker still attracts fans from around the world.  And although her foals have not yet accomplished anything approaching their mother’s greatness, he sees a trace of her in each one.  Lindy Farms has retained each of Moni Maker’s offspring, and, John said, “their attitudes are definitely like her, and they look like her, too.  She stamps them in the head and the eyes.”  

Above:  Moni Maker (right) with a pasture mate at Lindy Farms.  November is not the best time to photograph a top-class horse or farm, so please forgive Moni Maker's woolly coat and the lack of greenery.

One year ago, just before sunrise, it was John who - while plowing snow after a major storm - noticed something amiss with one wing of the main barn.  Of world-class design and built just a decade or so earlier, the barn was home to a track lay-up named Gladiator Lindy and several broodmares being kept under lights. Through the semi-darkness, John initially thought several boards were down or something similarly minor had happened.  Upon closer inspection, things came horrifyingly into focus.  Part of the showplace barn had collapsed under the snow’s weight.

John immediately called for assistance, and everyone went into ‘rescue mode.’ Two of the farm’s most important and beloved broodmares were critically injured and, with the roof now at ground level in spots, neither the track layup nor Moni Maker could be seen. 

A horse’s whinny soon alerted them to Gladiator Lindy. Lying near him was Moni Maker.

“She somehow got through the barn and out onto the roof, where the roof had split from the gable at the end,” John said.  “She fell down there on the snow and ice.  When we found the two horses out there, (Gladiator Lindy) was standing next to her like he was watching out for her.” 

The workers tranquilized Moni Maker, hooked her up to equipment and carefully dragged her to a spot where she could be treated. Miraculously, both she and Gladiator Lindy survived the collapse with only minor injuries. The two other mares – a tremendously successful and beloved mother and daughter named Lady Starlet and My Dolly – could not be saved. 

Above/below: The rebuilt main barn, which, like everything else at Lindy Farms, is world-class.  Below is the wing (the left side, in the photo above) which collapsed under the weight of heavy snow on January 27, 2011.  Moni Maker and three other Standardbreds were in the wing at the time.

The barn has been rebuilt and it again houses world-class Standardbreds.  Daughters of Moni Maker – her only son died young – are scattered here and there around the vast Lindy Farms’ landscapes.  Embryo transplant is allowed in the Standardbred industry, and a surrogate mare is carrying Moni Maker’s 2012 foal, a son or daughter of Cantab Hall.

And then there is Moni Maker herself, the grand dame of harness racing, now 19 years old. She is back in the main barn, “doing great and getting ready for breeding season 2012,” John happily reports. 

She once shook up the international harness racing world.  Now she seems quite content as a fortunate survivor in her little corner of Connecticut.

Above:  The Hall of Fame trotting mare Moni Maker, with her regular caregivers, Katie Ridgeway and Frances Sutherland.  They see to Moni Maker's daily needs, including figuring out who would make the best company for the mare.  "We try to make her fit in with a group of mares that she's comfortable with," says Frances.  "The number of horses she's with depends on who fits in with her activity level."

And when Moni Maker raised her own foals over the years?  "She was a very good mom.  She loves her children."

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There is absolutely no way to fit this adorable creature into the story comfortably, but let me introduce you to CASEY, the Lindy Farms' resident zebra!  Now, he has nothing at all to do with Moni Maker nor does he have anything to do with their other champions or horses-in-training, but...helloooooo....!  He is a zebra!!! 

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MONI MAKER (b.m. 1993, by Speedy Crown - Nans Catch, by Bonefish).  Bred by Cane Run Farm.  Owned by Moni Maker Stable.

Earned $5,589,256.  Career mark: 1:52.1 for the mile, set at age 7.  105 starts, 67 wins, 18 seconds, 10 thirds. The richest Standardbred - and female racehorse of any kind - upon her retirement. Among her many victories were the Prix d`Amerique and Prix de France (the first American trotter to win both), the Breeders' Cup, Hambletonian Oaks, three runnings of the Nat Ray (the first mare to ever win the Nat Ray), the Trot Mondial, Grand Criterium de Vitesse in 1:53.2 (at the time the fastest time ever recorded in Europe), the American-National, the Fina Cup, the Copenhagen Cup, the Elitlopp, and two renewals of the Premio Nazioni.  Moni Maker is a Living Hall of Fame member of the Harness Racing Hall of Fame.

Lindy Farms of Connecticut's website, which includes interesting information about this top farm's history: http://www.lindyfarms.com/

Moni Maker wins the 1999 Prix d' Amerique (I enjoy watching this just to try to make out the words "Moni Maker"): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20W9V54KKJg&feature=related

Moni Maker and Julie Krone at the Red Mile, attempting a new world record for trotting under saddle (parts 1 and 2 below)

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dbn8RNrk9wU (includes very interesting historical footage of Greyhound)

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egIK-nA8DvE&feature=related

Moni Maker wins the 1998 Elitloppet in Sweden ("Moni Maker" sounds great in Swedish, too!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMMjGEvv6CQ

Article about Moni Maker's induction into the Hall of Fame: http://www.harnesslink.com/www/Article.cgi?ID=34504

With a very special thank you to John Belskie and the staff at Lindy Farms of Connecticut, Ellen Harvey of Harness Racing Communications/United State Trotting Association (USTA), and Anne Chunko of the USTA.