After experiencing bad luck in previous stakes outings, Courtly Choice delivered on his connections’ decision to supplement to the Crawford Farms Meadowlands Pace and gave Hall of Famer David Miller his first Pace victory in his 20th attempt.
by Brett Sturman
In winning the Crawford Farms Meadowlands Pace in a new career best time of 1:47.1, Courtly Choice found redemption for himself and his connections.
Courtly Choice (Art Major—Lady Ashlee Ann) went through a couple of tough-luck races in June, including one where he hooked wheels when looming in a North America Cup elimination, but his trainer and owners never wavered on what they felt they had. So much so, that they made the decision to roll the dice for over $60,000 and supplement their colt to the Meadowlands Pace.
That decision paid off to perfection when Courtly Choice won the Meadowlands Pace on Saturday over longshot Dorsoduro Hanover and fellow elimination winner Stay Hungry. Trained by Blake MacIntosh, the winning favorite is owned by Hutt Racing Stable (Joe and Joann Thomson), Mac And Heim Stables, Daniel Plouffe and Touch Stone Farms (Barbara Intine).
For co-owner Plouffe, the Meadowlands Pace win was almost 20 years in the making. The Quebec-native owned 1999 pacing Triple Crown winner Blissfull Hall, and was at the Meadowlands when the horse surprised in his elimination at odds of 27-1 over the eventual Pace winner, The Panderosa. But in that year’s final, Blissfull Hall — who will be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in August — never had a chance to fire his best and denied Plouffe a chance at Meadowlands Pace glory.
“I was here (in the winner’s circle) for Blissfull Hall in 1999, but I wasn’t here for the final. I’m just really happy to be here,” said Plouffe. “I’m happy for Blake (MacIntosh), for the partners and just to be here at the Meadowlands – it’s a beautiful place. It’s a place where you want to win these races.”
Coincidentally from that famed year, Plouffe paid a $35,000 supplemental fee to make Blissfull Hall eligible to the Messenger stakes, which was successful. Perhaps as was the case then, the decision to supplement Courtly Choice seemed to be a no-brainer.
“It really wasn’t a tough decision because this horse was really good in both consolations (NA Cup and Hempt),” Plouffe said. “He was just unlucky prior, but in those consolations he raced like a monster. But when Blake and the partners called me about the decision to supplement, I said (without hesitation) ‘Yes, right now.’”
After Courtly Choice failed to even make a final in his last two respective stakes tries, Hall of Fame driver Dave Miller couldn’t have possibly put a better trip into the Meadowlands Pace champion Saturday. When given the dream opportunity to flaunt his best, the Art Major—Lady Ashlee Ann colt — bred, raised and sold by Winbak Farms — didn’t disappoint.
In the race, Yannick Gingras quarter-moved with American History to the front past an opening quarter of :26. After flying to the half through :53, American History took on pressure from Dorsoduro Hanover, who went first-up while making his second move of the race after tucking away fourth following a leave from post 10. All the while, 6-5 favorite Courtly Choice latched onto that ideal cover and moved up into a striking position turning for home.
From there, a game as hell Dorsoduro Hanover with Matt Kakaley put away American History, but couldn’t fend off an all-out and surging Courtly Choice who crossed the wire first in 1:47:1. Stay Hungry rode the winner’s cover from third-over and rallied to finish third. The other supplemental entry Jimmy Freight suffered a shuffle at the top of the stretch and split horses late to get the fourth spot.
Winning trainer Blake MacIntosh won his first Meadowlands Pace, and spoke with pride of his new champion.
“I felt he had finally got what he deserved,” MacIntosh said. “I thought that we had a good shot going into it, but you never know in these races. Dave gave him a perfect drive; couldn’t have asked for a better drive from the ‘Buckeye.’”
It’s hard to believe, but it was the first Meadowlands Pace victory for Miller. Coming in his 20th Pace attempt, the win enabled the Hall of Famer to come full circle from Courtly Choice’s North America Cup elimination when he hooked wheels with a rival when coming into the stretch.
“Going into that North America Cup race, I thought we had a real good shot to make the final,” Miller said. “When we hooked wheels with Scott (Zeron) I felt horrible to get eliminated like that and I solely took the blame. It was an awful feeling and what I told Blake tonight was, ‘Thank you so much for giving me another chance.’”
Like the rest of the connections, Miller felt confident.
“I knew he was a good horse – a good quality horse – but I didn’t know for sure how good until after last week,” Miller said. “He raced so well over this track and was so strong. I felt good all week about him and thought that I could have a good shot.”
The trip played out to what Miller had envisioned.
“I was kind of trying to plan a trip like that,” Miller said. “Matt (Kakaley’s) horse took me right to the stretch and you couldn’t have drawn it up any better.”
Grinning, Miller said that he knew halfway down the stretch that he was home. He couldn’t have asked for a better trip, or more redeeming story for his first Meadowlands Pace win.
KEEPING PACE: All-source wagering on the 14-race program totaled $4,083,390, an increase over Pace Night 2017 of $259,761