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The Amazing Tale of Jade Prince

Trot Feature: Jade Prince

When Jade Prince became the fastest horse in the history of the sport, the harness racing world stopped. Afterall, he was only a two-year-old when he did it.

But the ‘two-year-old’ was actually four to six months older than most of his rivals - how was that possible? By Dean Hoffman

The old guard of the Grand Circuit shook their heads in wonder. They’d seen a lot of remarkable miles over the fabled red clay of Kentucky’s Red Mile, but they surely never thought they’d see one quite like this.

On an October afternoon in 1976, Jade Prince, owned by Charles Armstrong and trained and driven by Canadian legend Jack Kopas, tripped the timer at 1:54.1

It was the fastest race mile ever by a Standardbred in a race.

What made the mile all the more remarkable was that Jade Prince was a mere two-year-old. Traditionally, all-age records in harness racing were set by seasoned older stars. Coming into the 1976 season, the fastest race mile ever had been by Albatross as a four-year-old. Who could ever have imagined it would be smashed by a juvenile?

But as thousands stood and applauded Jade Prince’s remarkable achievement, very few surely realized that Jade Prince was actually a foal of 1973.

Wait! How could that be possible? A foal of 1973 would be a three-year-old in 1976, right?

Wrong. That’s because the U.S. Trotting Association had passed a rule that permitted foals born in November and December of the previous year to be considered foals of the following year. And Jade Prince was foaled on November 25, 1973.

The so-called “early breeding” rule was in effect for only a few years before it was rescinded. Its purpose was to move the traditional January 1 birthday for Standardbreds to November 1 to allow foals more time to mature before being subjected to the rigors of racing. (See sidebar)

Jade Prince was developed by Jack Kopas, the Saskatchewan native who came east hoping to make his mark in harness racing, and became one of the sport’s most respected trainers. It wasn’t too long before his reputation spread from Ontario across North America.

The meteoric pacer Super Wave vaulted Kopas into prominence in the 1960s but that champion was also followed by a long list of pacers that achieved remarkable success. In 1976, Kopas sent forth a troika of two-year-olds headed by the precocious Nat Lobell. Stablemates Jade Prince and Super Clint were initially considered the B-team.

Kopas acquired Jade Prince as a yearling in the fall of 1975. He learned that Ted Armstrong impulsively purchased a Meadow Skipper colt for $28,000 at the Tattersalls Yearling Sale. Kopas had not inspected the yearling prior to purchase, and when the trainer saw the colt, he was aghast. Jade Prince had a lump on a knee the size of a tennis ball, a pair of bogs behind and Thoroughpins (swollen hocks) to boot.

Jack’s son John Kopas recalls the situation well.

“I don’t think Ted ever saw Jade Prince before he was in the sales ring and just bid on him because he was a Meadow Skipper going cheap,” he said.

“Dad and Glen Brown [the veterinarian who supervised the Armstrong Bros. breeding operation] wanted to run Jade Prince back through the sale,” says John. “But that didn’t happen.”

So Jade Prince joined the Kopas crew, learned his lessons easily, and proved to be good gaited. The lump on his knee never bothered him.

“We’d drain the fluid out of that knee about once a month,” says John. “He was fine. We used DMSO (Dimethyl-Sulfoxide) to paint his hocks and the bogs and thoroughpins weren’t a problem.”

Jade Prince was thrust into a talent-laden class that included Governor Skipper, Striking Image, Crash, Racy Goods, and Fulla Strikes, but the colt at the top of the heap in early 1976 was his stablemate Nat Lobell.

“Nat was probably the nicest horse I was ever around,” says John. The colt cut down his rivals like a scythe in early 1976 before his career was eventually compromised by pneumonia.

Jade Prince enjoyed some success throughout the summer but was a distinct outsider when the Kopas trio (along with Nat Lobell and Super Clint) were among the 11 freshman starters in the $62,755 Fayette Pace at The Red Mile in early October. With post 11, Jade Prince went off at 14/1 in the first heat. Racy Goods from Castleton Farm was favored, and catch-driver Joe O’Brien sent him to the front. Governor Skipper applied pressure down the backstretch, and the first half was paced in an astonishing :55 seconds.

Jack Kopas, steering Jade Prince, had his colt well back in the pack early but gradually began easing him into contention. When the pacesetters capitulated, Jade Prince surged past tiring horses and hit the wire first in 1:55.1. Stablemate Super Clint edged Crash for second.

The crowd caught its collective breath at the time, and assumed that the second heat wouldn’t be contested with such frantic fractions.

In the second heat, Racy Goods, pressured by Crash, led through fractions of :28.1, :55.2 and 1:24.3. Once again, it was an utterly insane tempo for that time.

Jack Kopas again sat back with Jade Prince and watched the pacesetters commit hari-kari. Then Kopas and his colt wrested control, and swept past the leaders to trip the timer in 1:54.1.

It was the fastest race mile ever.

Legendary Hall of Famer Delvin Miller felt vindicated because he’d predicted for years that the march of Standardbred speed would result in a two-year-old holding the world record.

Another old-time horseman holding that belief was veteran Ontario horseman Morrie MacDonald, a close friend of the Kopas family. MacDonald, who was always quick with a wisecrack, had repeated his prediction about juvenile speed ultimately reigning supreme until Kopas and others in his crew were tired of hearing it. Everyone loved Morrie McDonald’s sense of humor and respected his horsemanship, but they felt that his cockamamie comment about a juvenile holding the sport’s speed record was pure fantasy.

That’s precisely what Jack Kopas was thinking when he took the new champion back to the barn after the epic mile.

“Dammit!” Jack said to his son John, “Now we’re gonna have to listen to Morrie all winter.”

Jade Prince came back to win the Cane Pace at Yonkers the next season, and campaigned at ages four and five, but he never lowered his juvenile mark. He retired to stud at Armstrong Bros. with $569,247 on his card, and he was greeted with a bevy of well-bred broodmares - both from the Armstrong holdings and outsiders.

And Jade Prince failed miserably.

“He never sired anything worth a damn,” said John. “He was a terrible sire. We trained a whole bunch of them in his first crop and they were just no good. He later went to Prince Edward Island and he wasn’t even a successful sire there.’

(The author can attest to that as I bred a fast-record Albatross mare to Jade Prince and the foal turned out to be - like many others by Jade Prince - an absolute nothingburger.)

Jade Prince can be a lesson to those reading this special Stallion Issue of TROT Magazine. A stallion can have everything in his favor and still flop spectacularly. Jade had received some of the Armstrongs’ bevy of broodmare beauties, as well as appealing mares from outside breeders. Foals from his first crop went to top trainers. Yet across the board Jade Prince’s foals were disappointing.

Maybe his ‘two-year-old’ mark was more heavily influenced by his early foaling date then people thought at the time? Governor Skipper, who won in 1:54 at age three, the following year, and went on to be an excellent sire, was foaled on May 12, 1974 - 168 days after Jade Prince! At the very young age of two, there’s no doubt that 168 days of added time to mature, would provide a huge advantage.

The mare owners that figured that out, and bred to Governor Skipper instead of Jade Prince, went on to reap the rewards, in many cases. When it comes time to breed your mare, do your homework first!

Sidebar 1: Contrary To Nature

In the early 1970s, the U.S. Trotting Association passed a rule that allowed foals of November and December to be considered as foals of the following year. Ostensibly the purpose was to allow foals to be more mature when placed in training.

Murray Brown of Hanover Shoe Farms remembers the rule well.

“Delvin Miller [Hall of Fame horseman] and John Simpson [President of Hanover Shoe Farms] were the biggest advocates of the rule,” he recalls. “Hanover Shoe Farms was a big proponent. The idea, although never really strongly voiced, was to keep going back a month or two so that the breeding season would start in April or thereabouts, and that Hanover would be selling two-year-olds instead of yearlings.”

Not all breeders were so enthusiastic. Ontario-native Albert Adams, one of the most respected active farm managers, then supervised the stock at the resplendent Almahurst Farm in Kentucky.

“You’re working against Mother Nature,” he pointed out, emphasizing that mares more naturally cycle in the spring with the arrival of more hours of sunshine.

“Also, when a farm has November and December foals and also has May and June foals, it’s as if you have two different groups of yearlings. It disrupts your routine on a farm.”

Ironically, Sherry Almahurst, a standout pacing filly named after Albert’s wife Sherry, was one of the early foals at Almahurst that went on to great success.

Veteran Ontario breeding icon Jack McNiven recalls that the Canadian Stardardbred Horse Society (then the registration arm for harness horses), followed the USTA’s lead after a few years but did not continue the experiment as long as the USTA did.

“I was certainly not a big fan of early breeding in Ontario,” McNiven says.

In addition to Jade Prince, the Hambletonian winner Green Speed fell into the early foal category as he was a December 18 foal. The 1979 juvenile pacing champ Misty Misty was another early foal.

Other early birds included Nat Lobell, the wunderkind colt praised so much by John Kopas, Rowdy Yankee, and Pats Gypsy.

Opposition to the rule ultimately prevailed. The USTA rescinded the early breeding rule without ever conducting a study to see if early foals were more successful. There were almost 4,000 ‘early’ foals registered by the USTA.

Sidebar 2: Parlez-vous Francais?

I worked at Stoner Creek Stud when Jade Prince was sired by Meadow Skipper, but Farm Manager Charlie Kenney hated the early-foal concept.

“These mares go under a rock in December and January,” he said repeatedly. “You just can’t get them to cycle correctly. It’s contrary to nature.”

Some mares, however, would cycle in the depths of winter, and I remember that it was around Christmas in 1972 when the mare Oui Oui Byrd was bred to Meadow Skipper - the mating that would yield Jade Prince.

Stoner Creek was located in Paris, but it was Paris, Kentucky, not Paris, France. The Kentucky farm workers evidenced little familiarity with the French language and constantly referred to Oui Oui Byrd as ‘Ew-wee Ew-wee Byrd.’

1 Comment

February 19, 2018 - 1:16 pmGood story on Jade Prince. I

Glen Brown SAID...

Good story on Jade Prince. I remember the details as related by John Kopas. One thing though - Jade was purchased by C. Edwin (Ted) Armstrong, the "Brother" of Elgin Armstrong, his partner in the ownership of Armstrong Bros. Charlie was Ted's nephew and didn't own Jade.
I remember the purchase quite well. Elgin and I were sitting in the auction at Tattersalls and Ted came in and advised us he had just bought a Meadow Skipper for $28,000. He took me out to see him and you probably could have seen the lump on his knee from outside the stall, it was that big.
Good thing he hadn't asked my opinion before he bid on him. Ted might have missed one of the best experiences he ever had in the horse business.


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