by Jackson Thompson
(written as an assignment for the Clyde Hirt Sports Media Workshop that introduces aspiring journalists to harness racing).
One year after the Kawhi Leonard trade set the Toronto Raptors on the path toward an NBA Championship, another “trade” gave the nation of Canada an additional huge triumph in 2019.
Forbidden Trade, a trotter owned by Quebec’s Determination Stables, pulled off a shocking 15-1 upset in the $1 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands on Saturday. Much like the Raptors slaying of the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, prohibitive Hambletonian favorite Greenshoe – a 1-5 public-choice – tasted defeat after a determined effort from Forbidden Trade, who made his 28-year-old driver Bob McClure a Hambletonian winner in his first attempt in the sport’s biggest event.
McClure likened his victory to the Raptors’ recent NBA victory.
“I absolutely love the Raptors,” said McClure. “The entire nation was so proud and I think even a lot of Americans were cheering for (the Raptors), probably because we were the underdog and everybody loves an underdog.”
Six weeks later, as a rank outsider, McClure himself got the opportunity to embrace and capitalize on the underdog role. He claims that “flying under the radar” at this year’s trotting classic was an advantage that relieved him of pressure.
“The most pressure I had was on Twitter,” said McClure. “For the last week or two, it’s been hashtag ‘go Canada go’. I felt like it was us against the U.S.”
Prior to Saturday, McClure and Forbidden Trade’s only other trip to the Meadowlands was a seventh-place finish in an elimination for last year’s Valley Victory on Nov. 17, the same day Leonard sat out of a game against the Chicago Bulls to rest.
Rest also proved to be a stoppage in McClure’s journey to the winner’s circle, but under less than ideal circumstances. During a qualifier at Woodbine Mohawk Park in late April, a chain reaction accident was triggered when a competing horse stepped on the wheel of another, spilling multiple drivers out of their sulkies and onto the track.
One of those drivers was McClure, who sustained a broken pelvis. The accident put McClure out of racing for an extended period of time in which he was restrained to almost no movement throughout the day.
“I’ve never experienced anything like (that), and in our industry there’s a lot of it,” said McClure. “I made sure I didn’t move. I was going to the hyperbolic chamber four times a week. I was going to physiotherapy four times a week and just laying down and resting as much as I could. I tried not to watch the races, because it just made me depressed.”
McClure spent six weeks on the sidelines, and it was time that McClure was able to fully devote to family. McClure’s toddler son became the beneficiary of a month and a half of his injured father being rooted firmly at home for maximum bonding time.
“From the time he was born, I’ve been able to spend seven days a week with him, so I’m really lucky that way,” said McClure. “The only difference was, (after I got hurt) I was able to spend nights with him and I was able to watch him go to sleep every night. It was nice family time, but my wife was gonna kill me if I stayed home any longer.”
The injury that gave McClure that time with his 3-year-old son proved to only be a temporary roadblock in his Hambletonian journey. He returned to the track one day after the Raptors went up 3-2 over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals.
The team of McClure and Forbidden Trade found themselves on an unstoppable run in the wake of his return, winning four races in a row going into the Hambletonian, where they pulled off the big surprise to join Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors as national heroes.
“Unfortunately, he’s gone now,” said McClure, alluding to Leonard’s offseason, free agent signing with the Los Angeles Clippers. “But he brought the city and the country a title, so he owes us nothing.”