Over the course of the last half-century there have been several aged trotting mares with North American roots who dominated their peer group, and in some cases their male counterparts, for an extended period. They are Moni Maker, Peace Corps, Delmonica Hanover, Fresh Yankee, Grades Singing, Scenic Regal and Buck I St Pat. Une de Mai and Roquepine were great mares, and both experienced success on this side of the Atlantic, but they were European. Fresh Yankee was the first of these mares to grace our presence, and she also lasted the longest, racing until age nine and winning 89 of 191 starts—an astonishing 47%.
The story of Sanders Russell plucking Fresh Yankee from the 1964 Harrisburg yearling sale for $900 is familiar to most, but her journey from obscurity to stardom is less well known. She won four times, earning less than $8,000, at two; stepping up to eleven wins and earnings of almost $47,000 during her sophomore campaign, the highlight of which was a win over TOY and Hambletonion winner Kerry Way at the Red Mile.
It was in her aged form that the Hickory Pride mare made her mark, but success didn’t come easily: she only beat the Metropolitan New York open trotters once at four, and for the only time in her career speed was privileged over her ability to win races and money. A 1:57.1 time trial mark at Lexington for Ralph Baldwin established her as a world champion.
It was during the next five years, from age five to nine, that the great mare proved her greatness. Joe O’Brien had taken over training and driving duties and at five and six she won 23 races, including the Elitlopp, Challenge Match, American Trotting Classic, Pacific and Gotham—she was an Amazon from coast to coast. Fresh Yankee was awarded CTA Aged Trotter of the Year status in 1968 and was voted HOY in 1970, at age seven, accruing more than twice as many votes as POY Most Happy Fella. She won 20 of 31 starts and finished second in the other nine.
In the spring of that year O’Brien took Duncan MacDonald’s mare to Munich where she won the Grand Prix of Bavaria over expatriates Dart Hanover and Lindy’s Pride. And before returning to the states the mare took a heat of the Elitlopp. That summer she beat the formidable Euro Tidalium Pelo in the $125,000 Roosevelt International, and rocked his world again the following week in the $30,000 Roquepine Trot. The ten-year-old gelding Earl Laird was third for Jimmy Cruise. In September the mare was sent away as the 4/5 favorite in the $50,000 Gotham Trot at Yonkers but came up a half-length short to Dayan. Une de Mai was third. And in October Fresh Yankee beat the geriatric tandem Grandpa Jim and Earl Laird in the Galophone at Yonkers. It was her seventeenth win of the year and she had not finished back of second in 26 starts. The mare had won races in four different countries and was voted HOY.
In 1971, as an eight-year-old, Fresh Yankee beat Dayan in the Star’s Pride at Yonkers in June, tying the track record in the process. At that point she had finished first or second in 51 consecutive races and trailed only Une de Mai, Roquepine, Cardigan Bay and Bret Hanover in earnings. Still, the brilliant but unpredictable Dayan was to Fresh Yankee what Adios Vic was to Bret or the Tar Heel brothers, Nansemond and Isle Of Wight, were to Albatross. He was the same sort of pest Songcan was to Super Bowl. The week after the Star’s Pride, Dayan scratched lame out of the Volomite and more than 25,000 watched the mare cruise to victory, paying a miserly $2.40. Dayan broke in the Speedy Rodney Trot at Yonkers a few weeks later and the mare won for the ninth time in thirteen starts, paying a generous $4.20. She was favored to repeat in the International but Une de Mai prevailed by a nose, after being parked the mile out of the eight post. All was not lost, as runner up Fresh Yankee did pass the million dollar mark.
In the fall the mare set a world record for a mile and a quarter in Brandywine’s Star’s Pride Trot and went on to win a PASS race before losing to Cathy Lee—three years her junior—in the Trader Horn at Yonkers. Fresh Yankee, who had won five in a row, was sent off at 2/5 from the eight post and dispatched almost $82,000 of the people’s money down a black hole. And the following week, when Dayan beat her in the Porterhouse, $86,000 was lost, as the eight-year-old was sent away at 2/5 once more. She finished the season by trading wins with Marlu Pride at Hollywood Park. He took the $50,000 Pacific Trot but the mare won the big one—the $100,000 American Trotting Classic.
At nine Fresh Yankee won 12 times. Her owner questioned Joe O’Brien’s driving tactics in the International and decided to drive her himself the following week in the $150,000 Challenge Match against Speedy Crown and Une de Mai. Howard Beissinger sat back and allowed MacDonald to do himself in as he took his mare to the mile much too fast, allowing Speedy Crown to blow by her in the last quarter. Fresh Yankee was retired at the end of October, second only to Une de Mai in earnings. She is a HOF Immortal and a member of the Canadian HOF. Beissinger stated that Speedy Crown’s greatness was couched in the fact that he was unfailingly consistent at a very high level, and never made a break training or racing. One could say the same about Fresh Yankee.
Peace Corps won more than forty stakes races and was HOY twice in Sweden in her aged form; Moni Maker earned well over five million dollars and was HOY twice in the U.S.; Delmonica Hanover won her division four times, was a two-time winner of the Roosevelt International and the first American owned winner of the Prix d’Amerique; but no US bred and North American based trotting mare of the last half-century has performed to the level of Fresh Yankee through age nine. Her 89 wins, most of them against the best of the boys, on all size tracks, don’t place her above the others but they do set her apart.