Canada’s top honor, which now bears Somebeachsomewhere’s name, goes to majestic mare, while driver Doug McNair and trainer Richard Moreau also celebrate an O’Brien Awards night to remember.
by Chris Lomon with files from Standardbred Canada
From multiple winners to first-time honorees, to stars on the rise and the biggest names in the standardbred game, the 2017 O’Brien Awards feted the top Canadian horse racing talent – equine and human – on a Saturday evening that also recognized the sizable contributions of the legendary Somebeachsomewhere.
Standardbred Canada unveiled the winners at the 29th edition of the annual O’Brien Awards Black Tie Gala, which was held in Mississauga, Ont.
The O’Brien Awards, which honor Canada’s best in harness racing over the past season, are named after the late Joe O’Brien, an outstanding horseman and member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
Some familiar and impressive headliners – both in Canada and the United States – were crowned champions.
Hannelore Hanover was named Canada’s Horse of the Year, and won her second consecutive O’Brien as Older Trotting Mare. The powerhouse mare won 10 of 17 races last season, over $1.1 million in purse money and scored victories against male rivals in an elimination and final of the Breeders Crown Open Trot, the Allerage, and the Maple Leaf Trot. She also swept the Armbro Flight.
“It means a lot,” said assistant trainer Mickey Burke, Jr. “She’s special. She went five-for-five up here this year and beat the boys doing it. There’s not much more you can say about her than that. It’s just been a great year for her and it’s a big deal for us.”
It could be an even bigger deal come the Dan Patch Awards.
“We came up here and, really, when you’re up against Canadians you don’t expect to win,” offered Burke, Jr. “But, when we won, that’s a big deal. We’re hoping. That’s the best we can say at this point.”
They can also say, proudly, that they are the first to win the Somebeachsomewhere Horse of the Year award in Canada, after Standardbred Canada announced the renaming of its top prize during the gala ceremony. Trainer Brent MacGrath, driver Paul MacDonell and members of the Schooner Stable, Reg & Louise Petitpas, were on hand at the O’Briens to make the inaugural presentation of the trophy to Jerry and Theresa Silva, owners of Hannelore Hanover.
The significance of the award bearing Somebeachsomewhere’s name was not lost on Burke, Jr.
“He was an amazing horse, just watching him and watching his races,” said Burke, Jr. “Then, what he’s done as a sire is just an amazing thing also. We’ve had a bunch of Somebeaches that we’ve loved. He’s such a big deal that when everybody heard that he had cancer… so you’re thinking, ‘OK, he’s never going to breed again, but let’s see how long they can keep him.’ Unfortunately, cancer is cancer, but it’s a big deal. We’ll always be the first one, so that’s kind of nice.
Richard Moreau, of Puslinch, Ont., won his fifth consecutive O’Brien bronze in the Trainer of the Year category. Moreau led all Canadian conditioners in the wins column with 277 victories and more than $3.7 million in purse earnings. Moreau’s stable star, Sandbetweenurtoes, was recognized as Older Pacing Mare of the Year.
“I am lucky enough to do what I like, so the rest comes easy,” said Moreau. “I want to show the most respect possible to my competition, because we spend every night together and I make sure I say ‘hello’ to everybody.”
Moreau also acknowledged his team.
“I don’t have a big family, but let’s say that my staff is almost part of it because we are together all day long.”
Owner Brad Grant of Milton, Ont. had a phenomenal night, taking home three O’Brien bronzes – for his two-year-old pacing colt, Stay Hungry, his three-year-old pacing filly Bettors Up and his pacing mare, Sandbetweenurtoes. It was an impressive achievement for Grant, who lost several horses in the barn fire at Classy Lane Training Centre in January 2016.
“I was here the night Bettors Delight won,” recalled Grant. “My dad was away, so I was there that night. But since I got into it on my own, this is the first three wins, so, good night.”
Actually, it was great.
“Ah, tremendous, tremendous,” said Grant. “Stay Hungry, I thought, ‘Yeah, he’s good enough.’ Bettors Up, I’m just happy that I won with my sister. And Sandbetweenurtoes, she’s been a favorite of ours since I bought her. She was the surprise.”
Perhaps the only tough part of the hat trick haul will be finding space for the trophies.
“Tonight, they might sit on the dresser, but my wife will figure out where they are going after that,” noted Grant. “We might have to buy another cabinet.”
Al Libfeld of Pickering, Ont., and Marvin Katz of Toronto, Ont., took home two O’Briens – one for Ariana G, voted the country’s top three-year-old trotting filly and one as Breeder of the Year.
Dr. Ian Moore, a native of Prince Edward Island, and now a resident of Guelph, Ont., trains and co-owns two O’Brien winners – Percy Bluechip, the divisional champion as Two-Year-Old Filly Pacer and Classic Pro, the Three-Year-Old Pacing Colt of the Year.
Driver Doug McNair celebrated his first O’Brien as Canada’s Driver of the Year following a sensational 2017. McNair, a resident of Guelph, Ont., was also a finalist for the 2013 award. Last year, he topped the charts in earnings for drivers in Canada last year with more than $5.9 million in purse money, and $6.5 million in earnings in North America while driving 325 winners. McNair was also the regular driver for O’Brien winners Stay Hungry, Bettors Up, and Sandbetweenurtoes.
“It’s a big thrill, you know,” McNair told HRU. “There’s a lot of great drivers out there and so to be number one and win the award is a great thrill. Probably since I was five or six years old, I’ve been jogging them. Like being a little kid and growing up to win the Stanley Cup, that’s what it feels like to me. Obviously, I love hockey, too, but I wasn’t much of a player.”
When McNair saw the horses he drove all year winning O’Briens, did he think it was going to be his night?
“Yes, definitely,” he said. “You see them nominated and you’re not sure which way it’s going to go, but when you see them all winning then you know there’s a pretty good chance. You don’t want to hype yourself up for disappointment, though.”
Marc Campbell of Winsloe, P.E.I. took his second O’Brien Award of Horsemanship after enjoying a career year in 2017, which saw him top the charts for training and driving at both Red Shores properties –- Charlottetown Driving Park and Summerside. Campbell, who won the award in 2012, notched 255 victories and more than $584,000 in purse earnings as a driver. On the training side, Campbell recorded 131 victories and more than $376,000 in earnings last season.
Percy Bluechip, Canada’s Two-Year-Old Pacing Filly of the year is co-owned and conditioned by Dr. Ian Moore, who also managed her sire. The Shadow Play filly netted five wins in nine races on the season and racked up more than $440,000 in earnings. Her triumphs included four scores in Ontario Sires Stakes events, including the season-ending Super Final. The talented filly also posted a wire-to-wire win in the Eternal Camnation at Mohawk Racetrack.
Stay Hungry, a son of Somebeachsomewhere, won the Two-Year-Old pacing colt division. Last season, he won six of nine races and bankrolled more than $557,000 during a campaign that yielded wins in a Champlain Stakes division, and an elimination of the Metro at Mohawk Racetrack. His crowning moment came in a sweep of the Breeders Crown at Hoosier Park where he eked out a nose victory in his elimination and came back one week later to notch a neck nod in the final.
The title of Three-Year-Old Pacing Filly of the Year went to Bettors Up. The daughter of Bettors Delight put together an outstanding season, finishing first or second in 10 of her 17 races while adding more than a half-million dollars to her bankroll. She scored a career best 1:49.4 victory at Mohawk Racetrack in the Fan Hanover Final.
Classic Pro was the winner in the Three-Year-Old Pacing Colt division. Trained and co-owned by Dr. Ian Moore, Classic Pro won four of 14 starts and earned more than $293,000 on the season. Two of those wins were in Ontario Sires Stakes events and one of those gave the Shadow Play colt his mark of 1:51.
Older Pacing Mare bragging rights went to Sandbetweenurtoes. The daughter of Somebeachsomewhere was a model of consistency, hitting the board in 24 of her 30 starts and earning in excess of $243,000, while primarily competing in the Fillies and Mares Preferred races at Mohawk and Woodbine Racetracks.
Sintra took the Older Pacing Horse hardware following a productive campaign where he won nine of 19 races and more than $617,000. The son of Mach Three captured Canada’s oldest harness stakes event, The Canadian Pacing Derby at Mohawk Racetrack, to take home the lion’s share of the $615,000 purse. He also won a leg and the final of the Graduate Series.
The outstanding trotting filly Kadabra Queen was the Two-Year-Old Trotting Filly champion. The Kadabra filly won five of 10 races and more than $328,000. All of her victories were in the Ontario Sires Stakes, including a win in the Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final at Mohawk Racetrack, her final start of the season.
In the Two-Year-Old Trotting Colt division, the winner was Alarm Detector. The Chapter Seven colt was almost perfect in his debut season, winning six of seven races and $276,000. Stakes victories included the Define The World and an elimination and final of the William Wellwood Memorial.
Ariana G won her second consecutive O’Brien trophy, this time as Canada’s Three-Year-Old Trotting Filly of the Year. The Muscle Hill filly reigned supreme in 12 of 15 races during her million-dollar season. Her major victories included the Breeders Crown, Elegantimage, the Simcoe, the Hambletonian Oaks, the Delvin Miller Memorial and the New Jersey Sire Stakes final.
International Moni took the Three-Year-Old Trotting Colt division after winning nine of 15 races and $620,000 in 2017. His victories included the Carl Erskine Memorial, a Breeders Crown elimination, a Kentucky Futurity elimination, the Bluegrass, a division of the Simcoe, an elimination of the Hambletonian and a sweep of the Goodtimes.
The durable Odds On Amethyst, was voted Older Trotting Horse of the Year. The son of Muscle Hill recorded 11 wins and more than $232,000 in earnings, primarily competing in the preferred and free-for-all trotting ranks.
In the Armstrong Breeder of the Year category, partners Marvin Katz of Toronto, Ont., and Al Libfeld, of Pickering, Ont., collected their third consecutive O’Brien trophy. The Katz-Libfeld partnership has evolved into one of harness racing’s most respected breeding enterprises. From the 10 horses bred by this partnership that raced in 2017, there were 27 wins and earnings of more than $1.5 million. Their top horse was O’Brien recipient Ariana G, an earner of more than $1.1 million.
Brett MacDonald of Manotick, Ont., was named Future Star winner. In only his third season of full-time driving, MacDonald posted impressive numbers, driving 114 winners to more than $616,000 in purse money. The 21-year-old competes regularly at Rideau Carleton Raceway.
Chantel Gillis, 22, of Truro, Nova Scotia was presented with the Outstanding Groom Award.
Standardbred Canada also presented three Media Excellence Awards at the Gala, to recognize exceptional work in covering Canadian harness racing.
Dave Briggs (End of an Era) won in the Outstanding Written Work category, Woodbine Entertainment (Hope and Resilience) Group took home honours for Outstanding Broadcast, and Kyle Burton (Dusty Lane Appearance) won in the Outstanding Photography category.
*all purse figures noted in Canadian dollars
A complete list of the winners and their respective owners follows.
2017 O’BRIEN AWARD WINNERS
TWO-YEAR-OLD FILLY PACER
Owned by Shadow Two Stable, Puslinch, ON; James & Wilma MacKenzie, Ennismore, ON; Hudson Standrdbrd Stb Inc., Hudson, QC
TWO-YEAR-OLD COLT PACER
Owned by Brad Grant, Milton, ON; Irwin Samelman, Las Vegas, NV
THREE-YEAR-OLD FILLY PACER
Owned by Brad Grant & Teresa Davidson, Milton, ON; Michelle McEneny, Waterdown, ON
THREE-YEAR-OLD COLT PACER
Owned by Dr. Ian Moore, Puslinch, ON; R G McGroup Ltd., Bathurst, NB; Serge Savard, St Bruno, QC
OLDER PACING MARE
Owned by Brad Grant, Milton, ON
OLDER PACING HORSE
Owned by Brad Gray, Dundas, ON; Michael Guerriero, Brampton, ON; Menary Racing Inc., Rockton, ON
TWO-YEAR-OLD FILLY TROTTER
Owned by Harness Horsepower Inc., Campbellville, ON; Frank Monte, Markham, ON
TWO-YEAR-OLD COLT TROTTER
Owned by Thomas Rankin & Elizabeth Rankin, St Catharines, ON; Claude Hamel, Ayer’s Cliff, QC; Santo Vena, Brampton, ON
THREE-YEAR-OLD FILLY TROTTER
Owned by Marvin Katz, Toronto, ON & Al Libfeld, Pickering, ON
THREE-YEAR-OLD COLT TROTTER
Owned by Moni Maker Stable, Enfield, CT
OLDER TROTTING MARE & HORSE OF THE YEAR
Owned by Burke Racing Stable LLC, Fredericktown, PA; Weaver Bruscemi LLC, Canonsburg, PA; Frank Baldachino, Clarksburg, NJ; J And T Silva Stables LLC, Long Beach, NY
OLDER TROTTING HORSE
Odds On Amethyst
Owned by William Cripps, Acton, ON; Charles Gazzola, Waterloo, ON; Pat Hudon, Rockwood, ON; Adam Kean, Rockwood, ON
O’BRIEN AWARD OF HORSEMANSHIP
Marc Campbell, Winsloe, PE
ARMSTRONG BREEDER OF THE YEAR
Marvin Katz, Toronto, ON / Al Libfeld, Pickering, ON
DRIVER OF THE YEAR
Doug McNair, Guelph, ON
TRAINER OF THE YEAR
Richard Moreau, Puslinch, ON
FUTURE STAR AWARD
Brett MacDonald, Manotick, ON
Additional awards were presented:
OUTSTANDING GROOM AWARD
Chantel Gillis, 22, Truro, NS
MEDIA EXCELLENCE AWARDS
OUTSTANDING WRITTEN WORK
Dave Briggs for End of An Era
Woodbine Entertainment Group for Hope and Resilience
Kyle Burton for his photo Dusty Lane Appearance