Gigante tabbed Va-bred Horse of the Year

Gigante doubled up, earning laurels as Virginia-bred Horse of the Year and champion three-year-old colt at the Virginia Thoroughbred Association (VTA) Championship Awards program May 3.  In winning the Grade 2, $500,000 Secretariat Stakes at Colonial Downs this summer, the champion captured the biggest win by a Virginia-bred in the history of the track that opened in 1997.

Now racing as a four-year-old, Gigante was bred by Smitten Farm in The Plains, Virginia, not far Great Meadow, where the VTA ceremony was held on the eve of the Virginia Gold Cup.  Smitten Farm’s owner Anne Backer, who continues to breed mares at age 91, was present along with her farm manager, Hunter Lee Marek.  Both were eagerly awaiting word on the imminent foaling of Gigante’s dam Summertime Green.

Summertime Green, by Empire Maker, is in foal to Epicenter. whose sire was Not This Time. Not This Time is Gigante’s sire, making the prospective foal and Virginia-bred champion very closely related, indeed.

Smitten Farm continues to bred quality thoroughbred after the passing of Anne’s husband, Bill Backer in 2016.  

Gigante’s win in the Grade 2 Secretariat Stakes at Colonial Downs in August was a show-stealing feat on a day when Colonial Downs hosted its first Grade 1 stakes events with the Arlington Million and the Beverly D.  A large crowd, including Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) and First Lady Suzanne Youngkin, witnessed an unscripted molding of Virginia’s breeding and live racing at the highest level.  

Gigante won four stakes races during his sophomore campaign including his last two starts. In addition to his Secretariat win, Gigante has won two other races at Colonial Downs, both as a two-year-old, when he broke his maiden in New Kent and then won the Kitten’s Joy Stakes.

Represented by the Horse of the Year, Smitten Farm shared Breeder of the Year honors with Audley Farm in Berryville, VA, which had a busy evening.  Audley Farm bred three champions: Determined Kingdom, Galilei, Low Mileage.

Determined Kingdom won the Meadow Stable Stakes and the Punch Line Stakes at Colonial Downs in 2023. Last year’s VTA three-year-old turf champion, the Animal Kingdom gelding earned Virginia-bred Colt Turf Sprinter Champion honors this year. He was trained by Phil Schoenthal for D Hatman Thoroughbreds and Kingdom Bloodstock, Inc.


A win in the Brookmeade Stakes at Colonial Downs helped Galilei win the Virginia-bred Older Mare Champion title. By Lemon Drop Kid, she is trained by Michael Trombetta for Country Life Farm.

Eyeing the future, Low Mileage was named Virginia-bred Two Year Old Champion. A Mineshaft filly, Low Mileage won twice in 2023, with her win in the Jamestown Stakes helping to secure the title. She is trained by John Salzman, Jr. for Bird and Grady LLC.

Gigante won the G2 Secretariat Stakes with Javier Castellano up. Photo by Coady Photography.

On the female side, Tufani, bred by Chance Farm & Distorted Humor Syndicate was named Virginia Bred Three-Year-Old Filly Champion. Trained by Michael Stidham for Susan Moulton, Tufani won four of seven 2023 starts and finished second in the Brookmeade.

Sam English, III bred and owns the Virginia Bred Filly Turf Sprinter Champion, Chambeau. Chambeau won both the Tyson Gilpin/Glenn Petty Stakes and the Camptown Stakes during a productive summer in New Kent. 

The Virginia Certified Filly Champion, Carmelina, won three stakes in three different stakes in 2023, including the Keswick Stakes at Colonial Downs. She also took the Shamrock Rose at Penn National and the Gin Talking at Laurel Park for trainer Butch Reid and owners Cash Is King and LC Racing.

Repo Rocks repeated as Virginia Bred Older Horse Champion, his third straight year of picking up a VTA honor.  The winner of two Grade 3 races, the Toboggan and Westchester Stakes in New York, was bred by Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin, III in Middleburg, Virginia.  Repo Rocks also finished second in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap. 

Trainer Neil Morris was named Virginia Based Trainer of the Year. He won 14 races and osted over $425,000 in purse earnings.  

Kant Hurry Love, owned by Ken Wheeler, Jr., was named Virginia Owned Champion after winning four races, including the Dancin Renee Stakes at Belmont Park.

Wolfie’s Dynaghost, owned by Woodslane Farm, also in The Plains, was named Virginia Certified Colt Champion after winning three stakes last year, including the Grade 2 Autumn Stakes at Woodbine. He is trained by Jonathan Thomas.