After nearly 20 years and a number of attempts, driver Chris Christoforou made it look easy while winning his first Battle of Waterloo title thanks to talented young colt Sports Column who also gave trainer Blake Macintosh his first win in Grand River Raceway’s premier event.
by Dave Briggs
For the better part of 20 years, the Battle of Waterloo has inexplicably eluded one of Canada’s best drivers. “I don’t even want to count because it makes me sick,” Chris Christoforou said when asked how many times he had tried and failed to win Grand River Raceway’s premier stakes event.
Monday afternoon, Christoforou got off the Battle of Waterloo schneid by guiding favored Sports Column to a wire-to-wire, two-length victory in 1:55.4 in the $159,500 race for two-year-old Ontario-sired pacers, the highlight of the 26th edition of the track’s popular Industry Day program.
“It’s been awhile. It’s always eluded me. But I just had a good feeling this year. I knew this colt and how good he was. I had a good feeling after the draw, especially. If you draw the seven or eight you’ve got a big problem, but he drew well and I was really confident after that.”
The driver said the victory was, i ndeed, as easy as it looked.
“I hate to say it was easy,” Christoforou said, “(but) there was no fear anywhere in the mile.”
Not so for trainer and part-owner Blake Macintosh, who also celebrated his first Battle of Waterloo victory and admitted he was nervous despite having the favorite and the rail.
“We’ve had five in this race. Three of them broke and we got a fourth or fifth with the other ones,” Macintosh said. “Then we’ve had the favorite in the Battle of the Belles the last two years and it just hasn’t happened. That’s the way it goes. We’ve had tough times in big races and finally won one.”
The trainer called it his biggest win “by far. No comparison. I’ve wanted to win this race for so long. Carl Jamieson is one of my idols. He’s won it and I really love the way he trains horses. He came through the same way, always cheaper horses. So, I’ve wanted to win this race for a long time.”
Macintosh picked Sports Column out at last year’s Lexington Selected Yearling Sale and paid $20,000 for the son of Sportswriter out of Lady Leslie.
“There have been three horses that I absolutely loved that I wanted — one was Sports Chic. I ended up getting in on her after the sale from Mr. (Joe) Thomson. The other was Twin B Thong. I was the underbidder on her. Casie (Coleman) got me on that one. Then this colt,” Macintosh said of Sports Column.
“There was something about him. He was in late. I saw him the first day. I buy cheaper horses, so I look at a lot of horses. I saw him the first day and there was just something about him, in his eye. He had a bit of an offset knee, but I just loved the horse so much I went to Mr. Thomson and said, ‘Mr. Thomson, I want this horse.’ He said, ‘Blake, if you want it, you buy it and then we’ll split it up later.’ I said, ‘We’re going to buy it then.’ I was sitting there and he went for $20,000. I wrote down a lot more and I never go high. I was just super happy to get him for $20,000.”
The Battle of Waterloo was Sports Column’s third win from five starts and boosted his bankroll to $169,500 for Macintosh, Hutt Racing Stable of Paoli, PA (Joe and JoAnn Thomson) and Daniel Plouffe of Bromont, QC, the man who owned pacing Triple Crown winner Blissfull Hall.
Happy Trio with Sylvain Filion finished three lengths back in second and Aston Hill Dave was third with Doug McNair.
“I want to thank Blake for using me on the colt. I really appreciate it,” Christoforou said. “He’s done a great job with him. Blake goes to the sales and he doesn’t pay $150,000 and $200,000 like some of these trainers get to do. Some drivers and myself were talking about this just the other day. He brings along some really nice horses at cheap prices and that’s not easy to do.”
Battle Of The Belles: For most of the mile, Bid Writer had it her way in $107,800 Battle Of The Belles for two-year-old Ontario-sired pacing fillies, but ended up in a stretch tussle with favorite Aint Three Ok and Trevor Henry.
“I was very concerned,” said Bid Writer’s driver, James MacDonald. “I thought Trevor was going by and when we got nose to nose and he was pushing and I was pushing I knew it was going to go either way. I’m just happy to get there first.”
Bid Writer won by a head in 1:57 to give MacDonald his second Battle Of The Belles title in three years. It was the 8th edition of the companion race to the Battle of Waterloo.
MacDonald said Bid Writer, a daughter of Sportswriter out of Bust Out The Bid trained by co-owner Jeff Gillis and shared with Mac Nichol and Gerald Stay, is still a bit green, but raced like a champ
“I think especially with young horses and the big money’s on the line you want them to be professional, but most of them still aren’t. They’re still learning,” MacDonald said. “But she’s a smart horse and last week she got keyed up and wanted to go on a little bit and I had to kind of wrestle with her. Today, she was kind of figuring it out. ‘Okay, if I just wait, I can have a little more finishing.’ We needed every bit of it today.”
Bid Writer is a winner in three of her four rookie starts for earnings of $76,300.
Record handle: Industry Day saw a record handle of $481,230 wagered on the 11-race card, an increase of 54 per cent over the record set in 2015. A crowd of approximately 4,000 people on-track wagered $87,890.
Racing Under Saddle: Trotters under saddle were in action on Industry Day competing in an $11,000 Racing Under Saddle (RUS) Handicap. A newcomer to racing under saddle this year, Gracie Harmony pulled off a 40-1 upset as she r. to a six-length victory.
With regular RUS rider Marielle Enberg aboard for owner/trainer James Tropea of Mono, ON, Gracies Harmony got out to a quick early lead from post two and carved out fractions of :31, 1:02 and 1:33.4 enroute to the 2:04.2 triumph.
Muscle Matters (Sarah Town) who was victorious under saddle on July 16 at Georgian Downs, moved into second-place approaching the half and followed hot on Gracies Harmony’s heels before the leader took off around the final turn. Muscle Matters stayed for second while Osprey Vision (Amber Lawson Brand) finished third in his RUS debut. Gracies Harmony returned a whopping $84.60 for a $2 win ticket. The nine-year-old Hard Rock N Roll mare is a career winner of 29 races and $134,015 in purses.
Bill McDonnell Memorial Race: After a mid-afternoon rain shower, the $12,500 Bill McDonnell Memorial Invitation Pace was held to honour the memory of the former member of the Grand River Agricultural Society board and director of the Ontario Racing Commission who passed away last September at the age of 79.
“It’s very emotional,” said Marlene McDonnell, who was on hand for the Industry Day celebrations and the race named after her late husband. “But I know that this would be the biggest honour; there just isn’t any greater. He would be so pleased.”
The race was won by the front-end strider Saulsbrook Peach and driver Robert Shepherd. Leading front start to finish, the seven-year-old Royal Mattjesty gelding set fractions of :27.3, :57 and 1:25.2 before stopping the clock in 1:54.1. Lets Wait And See (Nick Steward) tipped out near the third quarter mark and came on to finish second. Rise Up Now (Sylvain Filion), the 6-5 favorite, followed in third off a pocket trip.
Down goes the king: Five races prior to his Battle Of The Belles win, driver James MacDonald was unseated from his throne as the winner of five consecutive editions of the Industry Day Bouncy Pony Stakes. Agreeing to level the playing field, MacDonald raced the 30 metre dash with two eyepatches. Despite being unable to see the racecourse, MacDonald still hung on to be nipped at the finish by newcomer Tyler Jones, with Bob McClure and J Harris close behind.
The Best In Show competition sponsored by the Ontario Harness Horse Association (OHHA) awarded $1,500 to the caretakers of horses racing on the Industry Day card. Fifteen prizes of $100 were presented to the top five in each of the categories.
A garage sale offering assorted horse and horse-racing memorabilia and collectibles raised more than $1,041 for the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society.
— with files from Kelly Spencer