The Ontario Sired colt won’t be the favorite in Saturday’s $1 million Pepsi North America Cup, but his trainer believes the pacer has a great shot at a sizeable check.
by Sandra Snyder
Even if he cannot quite articulate the reasons, Blake Macintosh is clear; he would not trade places with any other owner or trainer in Saturday’s $1 million Pepsi North America Cup.
“I’m sure it sounds stupid, but I wouldn’t trade him for any horse in there,” said the trainer and part-owner of Sports Column. “I know that we’re not the best horse, but I just, I love the horse.”
Sports Column is frequently a thorn in Macintosh’s side — he can be tough to handle in the paddock and has a playful energy that requires a firm hand — but something about the son of Sportswriter and Lady Leslie has wormed its way firmly into the Cambridge, ON resident’s heart.
“He can be a bit of dink, but he’s just, I don’t know, special to me,” said the trainer.
Macintosh and Joe and Joann Thomson’s Hutt Racing Stable of Paoli, PA acquired Sports Column from the 2015 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale for a modest $20,000. After an impressive 1:52.1 win in the 2016 Ontario Sires Stakes Gold Series season opener, Daniel Plouffe of Bromont, QC joined the ownership group. The colt would go on to post a record of four wins and two seconds in six freshman starts, capturing one more leg of the Gold Series and his elimination and the final of Grand River Raceway’s Battle of Waterloo before being shut down in September.
This season, Sports Column qualified twice at Mohawk Racetrack, winning in 1:54.3 and 1:55.2 over off tracks on April 21 and May 8, and had made three starts heading into last weekend’s North America Cup eliminations. Third in an overnight at Mohawk on May 13, the colt then finished fifth in the Gold Series season opener at The Raceway at Western Fair District on May 26 and third in his Somebeachsomewhere division back at Mohawk on June 3.
“He hasn’t had the best start so far, but we’ve had troubles with his blood all along,” said Macintosh, adding that the colt’s bilirubin and GGT enzymes, both indicators of liver function, have been elevated since his qualifiers. “Hopefully we’re starting to get that under control and we’ll have him a lot better for the Cup.”
Sports Column earned his way into Saturday’s final with a third-place finish behind Downbytheseaside in the first of three eliminations. Starting from Post 7 in the elimination round driver Chris Christoforou, Jr. — who has driven the colt in all 10 of his starts — sent Sports Column straight to the front, reaching the quarter pole in :27. Lawrencetown Beach and Downbytheseaside rolled by heading for the half, leaving Sports Column buried on the rail in fourth, but Christoforou was able to find a lane up the inside in the stretch and the colt paced into third spot.
“I think his best asset is that he can leave out and get spotted,” said Macintosh. “I imagine Chris will leave out with him on Saturday and hope for the best.”
Christoforou will line Sports Column up at Post 5 in Saturday’s final, sandwiched between elimination winner Fear The Dragon at Post 4 and the other Ontario Sired entry, Classic Pro, at Post 6.
“Very happy with the post position, couldn’t have asked for a better post,” said Macintosh. “It’s a tough field, but hopefully we can work out a trip and get a piece.”
While Macintosh would love to see Sports Column be the second straight Ontario Sired horse to capture the North America Cup trophy, following the path blazed by 2016 winner Betting Line, the horseman is clear-eyed about the colt’s chances against North America’s best.
“I’m just so happy to be in the race, honoured to be one of the ten horses in there, and I’ll be happy if we get a cheque,” he said. “Anything can happen in a horse race, and we’re in there, and hopefully everything works out and we get a good piece of it.”
Between now and Saturday the trainer and his staff will be working furiously to have Sports Column in the best shape of his life, ready to give a peak performance in the biggest race of his career, and should the horse that he is most proud of achieve the unimaginable Macintosh offered up a piece of advice for members of the media.
“If we actually won it, don’t come interview me, because I’ll be crying for a day,” he said with a laugh.