Trot Insider has learned that three-time O’Brien Award winner and longtime stallion Earl passed away at the age of 26.
A winner of 35 races and over $984,000 in his career, Earl was the first horse in Canadian harness racing to three-peat as an O’Brien Award winner. His streak started as the Three-Year-Old Colt Trotter of the Year in 1992 before earning back-to-back Older Trotting Horse honours. In 1993, the son of Balanced Image-Lindfields Gem was also honoured state-side with the Dan Patch Award as the top older trotting horse for owner-trainer Charalambos Christoforou and Banjo Farms.
Racing in the pre-slots era, Earl won 10 of 13 Ontario Sires Stakes starts, the 1993 Breeders Crown at Mohawk, the 1994 Maple Leaf Trot at Woodbine as well as the American National at Sportsman’s Park. When he retired, he was the Canadian record holder on a seven-eighths mile track (1:54.2s), a five-eighths mile track (1:55f) as well as the co-holder of the world record on a half-mile track (1:56h), which he held with the great Mack Lobell.
“He was one colt in a group of colts we had and right away, from the beginning, he was the boss,” said Earl’s regular driver Chris Christoforou Jr. “The other colts didn’t eat until he finished eating. To this day, my father says he’s never seen another colt like him. He had a very strong character and he was like that all the way through he racing career.”
While he was a strong-willed colt, Christoforou noted that he was never aggressive to people as many of the Balanced Image colts at the time had a visit from a veterinarian and were frequently castrated.
“He was very calm, but he was the boss,” said Christoforou. “We had a line of feed troughs along the fence and they were spaced apart, but I remember my father kept spacing them out farther and farther because the other colts wouldn’t even try to eat — they’d just stand there and wait for him to finish!”
The young driver was handed the lines for this young trotter, but Christoforou said he was fortunate to sit behind such a professional.
“He was just like a hoppled pacer that was 10 years old, perfect gait. To this day, I’ve never sat behind a trotter that could trot a turn like he could. He was like a sewing machine: step on the gas, piston goes up and down and away he goes.”
The memories are many with Earl, and not necessarily the races you’d expect to be most prominent in Christoforou’s mind. Setting a track record at two in Orangeville and winning the Canadian Breeders Championship come to mind in addition to his World Record at Batavia and his appearance in the 1994 Elitlopp.
“He took me around to quite a few places where I wouldn’t have got to go at that age, that’s for sure. He came around at the perfect time for me. He’ll always be my world champion and #1 pick.”
As a stallion, Earl sired two millionaires — O’Brien Award winner JM Vangogh (1:52.4s; $2,285,500) and trotting mare Earl Of My Dreams (1:55; $1,016,611). His North American sire stats show 314 starters from 488 foals, with total progeny earnings of nearly $32-million. Earl’s stallion career continued in New Zealand with Alabar Farms where he sired 163 winners and boasted $6.4 million in progeny earnings. Christoforou told Trot Insider that Earl is buried beside another successful Team Christoforou standardbred at the Alabar stallion station.
“They buried him right beside Astreos. To me, I’d rather have them buried beside each other than buried here in Ontario…in different places.
“I’m happy to know the horse had such a great life. He had the dream trip.”