Gunning for the Molson Pace

Tonight at The Raceway at The Western Fair District in London, ON, State Treasurer will be looking for a record fourth Molson Pace victory, while the track’s former top driver, Mark MacDonald, will be trying to snap State Treasurer’s string while also breaking his Molson Pace maiden in his 10th attempt.

by Dave Briggs

Trainer Dr. Ian Moore is hoping the warm weather predicted for tonight’s (May 27) $150,000 Molson Pace invitational at The Raceway at The Western Fair District in London, ON will help Canada’s reigning Horse of the Year, State Treasurer, get back on track after a winless 2016 campaign, so far.

“He hasn’t been quite as good his first few starts, obviously, this year,” said Moore, who does his winter training in Florida at the Southern Oaks Training Center. “It sort of was the same thing last year. It wasn’t until about the third start that he was good at Mohawk and I really think that the first three Saturdays that we’ve been back in Ontario since April 30th the (race nights) have all been very cold. In fact, 37 degrees Fahrenheit and wet snow the last time we raced. I think some of our horses had a little trouble acclimatizing to that.”

State Treasurer, who is gunning for a record fourth Molson Pace victory, will start from the rail in the field of eight older pacers with combined earnings just shy of $9 million. Moore said winning a fourth straight Molson Pace with State Treasurer would be almost beyond comprehension.

“It’s been fun just to win it once. A second was a bonus and the third was just unreal last year,” Moore said. “A fourth time would be unbelievable.”

Moore said State Treasurer had some mild sickness a few weeks ago and was given five days off after his last start — a fifth-place finish in the $34,000 preferred on May 14 at Mohawk Racetrack — but the seven-year-old son of Real Desire—Ideal Treasure, who was the Older Pacer of the Year in 2015 in both Canada and the United States, seems fine this week and should be raring to go tonight in London.

“He seems good in every other way. He’s been sound and everything and he’s steering well this year. We hope he’ll appreciate the return to London and away we go,” Moore said. “He obviously likes that track and has done well there in the past. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to roll for the fourth time.”

The $1.8 million-winning pacer, owned by Sally and Allan MacDonald of Prince Edward Island and their nephew, Paul MacDonald of Toronto, will have his regular driver, Chris Christoforou, in the sulky.

State Treasurer is currently tied with Jambo Dancer for the most Molson Pace victories. Jambo Dancer also won the race three straight years, taking the title in 1976, 1977 and 1978.

While State Treasurer is gunning for his fourth straight Molson Pace win, former Western Fair top driver Mark MacDonald is returning to the London half-miler trying to win his first Pace title in his 10th attempt.

“It’s been my Achilles Heel. That race just keeps getting me. I almost won it a few times. Dr No, I thought I was home with him and Our Lucky Killean got me right at the wire (in 2006). I think I still have the track record at London with Tigerama (1:50.4 in 2008). He buzzed around there in the elimination and then drew the seven hole and got stung past the quarter. He was kind of a speed horse. The seven hole and a speed horse don’t really mix there in London, unless the inside wing falls off or something. Anyway, he got stung and ended up fifth.”

MacDonald, who will start from the three hole driving Jimmy Takter trainee Sunfire Blue Chip, last raced in the Molson Pace in 2014 and was eighth with Bandolito.

“Bandolito, I got a horrendous trip with him. I was out early and he didn’t fire. He wasn’t right then, either. He didn’t race for about five or six months after that race,” MacDonald said. “I’ve had some good horses in that race, but I’ve raced some horses that turned up sick and I’ve raced some horses that just got beat. I just never get to the wire first.”

MacDonald, a winner of nearly 5,700 career races and more than $84 million is a two-time O’Brien Award winner as Canada’s Driver of the Year. He set a record for driving wins on Canadian soil with 739 in 2006 — since surpassed by Jody Jamieson. MacDonald will be driving against his younger brother, James MacDonald, in this year’s Molson Pace. James will pilot P H Supercam from post seven.

“James is a good little driver. He’s doing a great job. I talk to him all the time and always try to help him as much as I can. But I won’t be helping him out on Friday,” Mark said, laughing. “Don’t eat yellow snow. That’s my tip for him.”

Mark said he likes his chances with Sunfire Blue Chip, especially drawing the inside post three.

“He’s a really good horse… A good half-mile horse,” Mark said of the six-year-old stallion, a son of American Ideal out of Shot Togo Bluechip who has earned just over $1 million. “He won the Prix d’Ete as a four-year-old at Three Rivers. He’s a really fast horse, good gaited. He doesn’t wear a boot. He’s a typical Takter horse. He’s really well-mannered, a nice horse to drive. Everything about him is nice. He just won in 1:51 a couple of weeks ago in Yonkers on kind of a tiring track. It was a good mile that night.”

Sunfire Blue Chip has a record of 4-3-2 this year in 16 starts and earnings of just over $80,000.
“He was sharp in the Levy (Series at Yonkers). He raced in every leg in the Levy and he just had horrible luck with the draw. He was, literally, outside every week… We couldn’t get a break with that horse. They actually took him out of the Levy one week and I took him to the front and he won in like :53.3… The Levy wasn’t meant to be for him this year, but he always raced well. He showed up every week.”

Mark said his time in London, ON racing at Western Fair was “maybe the best time of my life.”

Now one of the top drivers at Yonkers Raceway, Mark said London was a key stop on what he calls his “Ontario tour” that started at Windsor Raceway in the late-1990s and wound through the province before landing on the nation’s top Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) circuit.

“London was the first place I bought a house. It was a condo, but it was like a house. I lived in apartments before that. I actually lived 10 minutes from Western Fair,” said the 37-year-old Prince Edward Island native, who first made his name racing in Ontario from 1999 through 2011.

“I had some stoplights then, not bridge traffic. It is definitely a different atmosphere (in New York) as opposed to up there, but Western Fair was great. I had a lot of fun there. I won a lot of races. It was the first time I got to race in all the (Ontario) Sires Stakes and was kind of the go-to guy.”