Jimmy Takter made his first appearance in the Breeders Crown in 1986, but it was seven years before he got to hoist a trophy. Takter, who trains and sometimes also drives, had two second-place finishes and one third-place effort in eight championship starts before driving Gleam to victory in the 1993 Breeders Crown for two-year-old female trotters at Florida’s Pompano Park.
And if the waiting was the hardest part, it also made the triumph all the more satisfying.
Takter has created many more Breeders Crown memories since that first win with Gleam. He heads to Saturday’s 12 Breeders Crown finals at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack as the top trainer in the history of the series, with 21 victories and $9.48 million in purses.
He has posted three victories in each of the past three years and 10 triumphs overall in the past four editions of harness racing’s championship event.
“I’m very proud of that,” Takter said about his Breeders Crown record. “I really am. Winning 21 of them to me is amazing. It’s really hard. It’s like the saying, ‘It all comes down to the Breeders Crown,’ and I believe that. That’s what it is. I think the Breeders Crown is the most prestigious. It’s the end of the year and every horse normally is most mature and most ready.”
Takter moved to the U.S. more than three decades ago, but could have enjoyed a comfortable career in Sweden, where his father, Bo, was already established as one of the sport’s top trainers. But after getting a taste of racing in the United States as a teenager during a 10-month stint with the powerful Continental Farms Stable, Takter decided at the age of 22 to leave his homeland for good.
The decision was not easy. Takter and his wife, Christina, had a one-year-old girl, Nancy, and Takter knew he was unlikely to see his family in Sweden very often. Nancy is also now a trainer and in 2014 conditioned Dan Patch Award Horse of the Year winner JK Shesalady.
“It was a big decision to start all over, but I loved the United States; it was something special,” said Takter, who became a U.S. citizen in 2000. “The harness racing was so different compared to our country. It was a big sacrifice for my wife and me, but I’m glad I did it. It’s a special country.”
Takter rose to prominence in 1997 when Malabar Man won the Hambletonian and Breeders Crown and was named Horse of the Year. Malabar Man was followed by the trotting mare Moni Maker, who was Horse of the Year in 1998 and 1999. She was an international star thanks to victories in major races in Europe, including the Prix d'Amerique and Elitloppet, and is the last mare to win the Breeders Crown Open Trot, which she won in 1998.
This year, Takter has 17 horses in Saturday’s Breeders Crown finals. His group is led by returning Breeders Crown champion Pinkman, who captured last year’s Crown for two-year-old male trotters and is the sport’s second-richest horse this year, with $1.75 million in purses.
Pinkman’s wins this season include two legs of the Trotting Triple Crown – the Hambletonian Stakes and Kentucky Futurity – as well as the Canadian Trotting Classic. Takter, who was voted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2011, has won the Hambletonian four times and this year became the first trainer since 1992 to win the race in consecutive years.
Takter has three horses joining Pinkman in the Breeders Crown for three-year-old male trotters: French Laundry, The Bank, and Uncle Lasse. Last year, French Laundry finished third, Uncle Lasse fifth, and The Bank sixth in the Breeders Crown.
“They all are players,” said Takter, who is a four-time Trainer of the Year Award winner in the U.S. “They all belong there. Overall, they’ve had a great season.”
Takter has won the two most recent Breeders Crown finals for two-year-old male trotters, and three of the past four trophies. He sends out Pennsylvania Sire Stakes champion Lagerfeld in Saturday’s final for two-year-old male trotters.
He also has captured two of the most recent three finals for two-year-old female trotters, where this year he sends out elimination winners All The Time and Haughty – who is seven-for-seven this year – plus another contender in Kathy Parker.
“[All The Time] is the one to beat,” Takter said. “I was very impressed with her in her elimination. That was a helluva performance; (1:) 56.1 and the way she did it, never pulling the plugs. She was amazing.
“Haughty is undefeated, so you have to respect a horse like that. I didn’t like her much early. She was a pain in the [butt]. But she’s good. She won in (1:) 54.1 for me in Lexington. I know she’s got the gear.”
Other top contenders for Takter include undefeated Pure Country in the two-year-old filly pace, Always B Miki and JK Endofanera in the Open Pace, Wild Honey in the three-year-old filly trot, Shake It Cerry in the Mare Trot, and Creatine in the Open Trot.
Shake It Cerry, a four-year-old mare, won Breeders Crown trophies at ages two and three. She can join Peace Corps, Grades Singing, and Mack Lobell as the only trotters in history with three or more Breeders Crown titles.
Wild Honey won this year’s Hambletonian Oaks – giving Takter a sweep of the Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks for the second consecutive year – and defeated Mission Brief, last year’s divisional Breeders Crown champ, in the Kentucky Filly Futurity.
Always B Miki was the favourite in last year’s Breeders Crown for three-year-old male pacers, but was scratched because of injury. He joined the Takter Stable during the winter, suffered another injury setback in the spring, but has returned to win his first two starts of this season, including his Crown elimination by three lengths in 1:49.4.
“This is what it’s all about for me, with this horse,” Takter said. “It was 10 months to get here. He’s the king. He’s unbelievable. They supplemented him to the Breeders Crown last year and he won his elimination and never got to race in the final. Now, hopefully, he can continue the story.”