Master Shawn out of retirement and into winner's circle
Tourists and traveling salesmen negotiating the hilly country roads of Tuscarawas County may have tapped their brake pedals and swung around him as recently as a year ago. Impatient motorists were eligible to honk their car horns and curse his middle-of-the-road presence. The horse-and-buggy age has passed, so what's with this four-legged Yellow Cab?
Today, the roads around Sugarcreek and Dover, OH are a little less clogged with original horsepower. Master Shawn, the George Blanda and Satchel Paige of harness racing, has been rescued from a life of chauffeuring the Amish and giving kids pony-back rides and is racing for big dollars at Northfield Park. Blanda, who kicked field goals in the NFL until he was 48, and Paige, who pitched in the majors at age 58, are joined by Master Shawn who, at 14, is whipping pacing rivals half his age.
"He's got a heart the size of a bushel basket," said Eli Yoder, who bought Master Shawn for $975 last winter on the hope of returning the old warrior to the racetrack.
"I looked at his papers and saw where he'd been," said Yoder. "I thought I could get back to the races. But he sure didn't look like he looks now. He needed help."
Working with trainer Joseph Miller and driver Jimmy Pantaleano, Yoder has turned Master Shawn into a lean, mean, pacing machine. And not a minute too soon. United States Trotting Association rules insist that all horses face last call to the post at age 14, which means that Master Shawn must retire at the end of 2002.
The Illinois-bred son of Prize Sarnel out of the Strike Out mare Hilarious Miss must sense his racetrack days are numbered. He's going out like he came in back in 1991 - on a winning tear. Master Shawn, who won eight of his first nine career starts at tracks around Chicago, is making the most of his second pari-mutuel life. A decade later, the moderate brown gelding is riding a three-race winning streak and also boasts of 12 victories in 17 starts since his return last year.
Overall, Master Shawn has won 43 of 125 starts and $448,531, two-thirds of the money earned in his first two years of racing.
"He doesn't feel like an old horse," said Pantaleano. "He's easy to drive. I had a 14-year-old named CD Columbo and he looked 14, tall, skinny, long hair. But Master Shawn is big and strong. He looks 4, not 14."
Miller says Master Shawn all but trains himself.
"We race him and take him home, either to my place or Eli's. He's never hooked up [in harness] until he gets to the races. The rest of the week, we just feed him, put him in the field, and bring him in at night."
But why did Master Shawn leave the racetrack from 1998 to 2000 and where he go?
"We were told he had bad right front ankle, but he's clean. The ankle is fine," said Miller.
"He was a pleasure horse," said Yoder. "He was giving rides and pulling a buggy. I learned he was for sale last year and since I was looking for a racehorse, I decided to take a chance on him. He's more than paid me back."
Master Shawn has earned $9,974 for Yoder and is scheduled to risk his winning streak Saturday night at Northfield.
"It's fun to drive him," said Pantaleano. "If I had a double [two mounts in one race], I'd choose him. He's best in his class."
Miller first asked Pantaleano to drive Master Shawn last summer at the Richland County Fair in Mansfield.
"When somebody asks you to get behind one that old, you check them out. But this one is sound. I knew it after jogging him a lap."
Master Shawn, who paced in 1:56 3/5 in winning last week, is far from being a has-been who is whipping bottom claimers.
"He's in with $7,500 horses," said Miller. "We could drop him [in class], and he'd dominate, but, even though this is his last year, we're not going to push him. Eli wants him to be the riding horse for his grandkids."
It will be a second retirement that's well-earned. Master Shawn has raced at 18 different tracks, won a few minor stakes races, and took his career mark of 1:53 2/5 when he was a 5-year-old in 1993.
"This horse is going to be taken care of when he's done racing," said Pantaleano. "He's Eli's pet. He even talks to him."
In the winner's circle, of course.
NOTE: Master Shawn won again on 2/2/02, making his win streak 4 for 4, but he was claimed for $7,500 by the Jason Ash Stable and is back in to race 2/9/02 for a claiming price of $10,000!
Master Shawn extended his win streak to 5 by winning the $10,000 claimer 2/9/02 and was claimed back by trainer Joseph Miller, then was given a few weeks off.
On 3/16/02 Master Shawn returned to Northfield Park and extended his win streak to 6 in a row by winning a $12,500 claiming class in 1:57.1h. He returned the following Saturday night and suffered his first defeat finishing second in the same $12,500 claiming class coming out of post position eight. Thus the win streak ends...
-- © Plain Dealer, 1/30/02
-- Re-printed with permission
-- Contact: Bob Roberts at email@example.com