McDuffee has always enjoyed some type of success as a Standardbred owner over the decades, and his loyalty to the sport of harness racing produced his biggest season to date last year.
The New England native owns 2013 Horse of the Year Bee A Magician with Herb Liverman and Mel Hartman, and owns ’13 Breeders Crown winner Spider Blue Chip with Hartman.
“I’d have to think it was probably my best year,” the 75-year-old McDuffee said on Friday, after a training session with Chuck Sylvester at Sunshine Meadows in Florida. “We’ve had a lot of good horses going back -- all the trotting fillies over the years -- we seem to come up with one or two every year.
“But these two are kind of special. Bee A Magician -- who could hope for a Horse of the Year? That’s what you dream about.”
Dreams do come true, and this one was only 60 years in the making.
|David McDuffee enjoyed tremendous success in 2013 with Bee A Magician and Spider Blue Chip.|
Growing up in Massachusetts, David was always around horses. His father owned a few and the McDuffees actually owned a half-mile training center.
The legendary story is that David bought his own horse before he purchased a car, and he is here to tell us, “That is a very true statement.”
At age 15, he used the money he saved raising chickens and selling the eggs on his family’s small farm to buy a homebred yearling from a Massachusetts breeder.
“I was taught to save money right from the get-go, so I had enough to buy him,” McDuffee said. “Believe me, he didn’t cost me very much. What I remember about that horse is that he was like so many other ones -- he didn’t earn much money.”
The family continued to deal with local horses but didn’t enjoy much success. From there, David graduated from Boston University, was in the service twice (getting recalled once), and then started a family and his own insurance business.
“I really didn’t have much time for horses,” he said.
That didn’t last long. In the early 1980s, he headed for the Meadowlands and hooked up with Tom Walsh. The two formed a partnership and began to enjoy some success.
“Miles McCool was one of the first great horses we had,” McDuffee said. “Then we had Magical Mike. We had a lot of horses together and a lot of fun together. We enjoyed the sport thoroughly and both felt the same way about Standardbreds.
“As time went on, I got more involved with trotters and trotting fillies. I had one after another. We had so many great trotting fillies. Well, I used to think they were great until Bee A Magician came along. I classify her as great and the rest as good ones.”
|Bee A Magician was a perfect 17-for-17 in 2013 on her way to Horse of the Year honors.|
Bee A Magician, who was unbeaten in 17 races last season at age 3 and earned a divisional record $1.54 million, became the first 3-year-old filly trotter to receive the Horse of the Year Award since Continentalvictory in 1996. Trained by Richard “Nifty” Norman and driven by Brian Sears, Bee A Magician’s wins included the Breeders Crown for 3-year-old filly trotters, Hambletonian Oaks, Elegantimage Stakes, and Delvin Miller Memorial.
Her $1.54 million in purses were the most ever for a 3-year-old filly trotter, breaking the record of $1.17 million set by Continentalvictory in 1996, and her winning time of 1:51 in the Miller Memorial at Meadowlands Racetrack is the fastest mile ever by a 3-year-old filly trotter.
After Walsh passed away, McDuffee partnered with several other owners on Kadabra, the 2002 Trotter of the Year. Other top horses for David included female trotters Pizza Dolce and Poof She’s Gone.
“We just kept right on going,” he said. “We just had great luck with trotters so we pretty much concentrate now 100 percent with trotters. I breed a few pacers but very seldom buy a pacer.”
When purchasing Spider Blue Chip, it wasn’t a unanimous decision.
|USTA/Mark Hall photos|
|Spider Blue Chip won 10 times in 20 starts last year, with earnings of $1,088,918.|
“Mel didn’t even want him,” McDuffee said. “He was standing there right after I bought him and said ‘I don’t want a trotting colt.’ I said ‘Think it over, you really ought to take half of him.’”
He did, and it made for a magical year for the duo.
“It’s funny,” McDuffee said. “Two-year-olds are usually my bread and butter but last year they weren’t very good. But these two 3-year-olds were special. I’ve always had a few other good horses, but it was a very special year to have both of those in the same year. What more could you ask for?”
Well, he could ask for them to have another big campaign in 2014.
“We’ve staked them both to about everything,” McDuffee said. “I’m in favor of what (Meadowlands Chairman) Jeff Gural is encouraging, of keeping horses on the track beyond their 3-year-old season. It’s good for the sport. However, you don’t have the caliber of racing, the horse structure, to really make it as rewarding as you hope it would be.
“Right now, 4-year-olds are going to have to race all comers. The fillies will have to race colts to accomplish anything, but we’ve staked them all pretty good to everything they’re eligible to. We’re not in a big hurry to get them going. A lot of their best races come in October and November. You kind of have to be a little cautious of jumping in right away.”
It hasn’t all been great for David, however, who tragically lost one of his two sons to a heart attack last year.
“That should never happen,” he said.
But there are six grandchildren to keep him and his wife of 52 years busy, along with buying horses.
“Obviously conformation is the most important thing to me,” McDuffee said for his secret to making a purchase. “Although we were just joking about that. Chuck (Sylvester) has a horse that’s horribly conformed, but he may be the best one he’s got in the stable.
“I was telling him it’s amazing. You go to these horse sales and check everything out that’s not perfect in every sense. Then we go to the Meadowlands in July when the best horses in the world are in the paddock and I’ll say ‘Geez, I wouldn’t have bought that horse the way he’s standing.’
“But conformation to me is very important. It’s hard to find a horse that’s not bred well. I pay more attention to the maternal side than the stallion. But conformation is what I look at. We spend most of our time looking at yearlings.”
McDuffee shows no signs of slowing down. He concentrates his efforts on young horses as a lifelong romance continues.
“I love the horse, it’s what it’s all about to me,” he said. “They are just amazing animals, amazing athletes, I just enjoy them so much.
“Most of my efforts are built with young horses. I generally race them at 2 or 3. This year I probably have 15 or 16 2-year-olds in training. That’s what I really like most, is developing horses.”
And in doing so, he has developed a pretty nice career -- which reached its current high point just six decades after it started.