Wagering is up more than 30 per cent at the Ontario track located near Barrie.
by Sandra Snyder | Sponsored by Ontario Racing
This Sunday (Aug. 18), Georgian Downs will thanks fans and horsepeople with a fun-filled Family Day event featuring the $75,000 Honourable Earl Rowe Invitational Trot.
“This is our biggest day of our racing season every year, and for the last couple of years we’ve tied in Family Day just to wrap up the summer up in Barrie,” said general manager Chad Gates. “It’s a very touristic racetrack with all the cottagers, and they all close up on Labour Day weekend, so it’s kind of nice to give them a farewell family day at Georgian Downs.”
The Earl Rowe Trot pays homage to the founder of Georgian Downs’ predecessor, Barrie Raceway. Throughout his life William Earl Rowe bred, owned, trained and drove some of the top standardbreds in Ontario, including star trotters Van Riddell and Celias Counsel. In addition to his hands-on involvement in the business, Rowe and his son Bill founded both Barrie and Windsor Raceways. Outside of harness racing, Rowe served his community as the reeve of West Gwillimbury (1919-23), a Member of Provincial Parliament (1923-25) and a member of the House of Commons in Ottawa (1925-35 and 1937-1962). He also served as leader of the Provincial Conservative Party for two years in the late 1930s and was appointed Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor in 1963, serving until 1968.
In addition to honoring Rowe and thanking fans and horsepeople for their support, Gates and his staff will be celebrating a very successful Georgian Downs meet. With three weeks left in the season the average handle per race is up by more than 30 per cent at the Innisfil oval.
“I think a lot of it is, we’ve had better field sizes, so the horsemen have really stepped up to the plate to support Georgian Downs, and also our new HD broadcast I believe is really helping out in our signal sales, because our foreign joint venture agreement is up 66 per cent,” said Gates. “It’s just a great story being up over 30 per cent average per race.”
Sunday’s program should match or better the 30 per cent increase as some of the top older trotters gather for the Earl Rowe and Ontario’s top 3-year-old pacing colts square off in their fourth Ontario Sires Stakes Gold Series Leg.
Among the horses prepping for the Earl Rowe is Lean Hanover, who has spent the summer competing at Yonkers Raceway for Mike Keeling and Paula Wellwood of Cambridge, ON and their partner Karen Carroll of Shedden, ON. In eight starts the son of Donato Hanover and Lives Like A Queen has amassed two wins and one third for earnings of $34,770.
“He really does well at Yonkers Raceway,” said Keeling. “We’ll send him back down, but we’re home now for a couple of months, we wanted to have every horse home, so it just worked out.”
The same age as their Hambletonian winner Marion Marauder (six), Lean Hanover typically accompanies his more storied stablemate in his travels, and with the Maple Leaf Trot eliminations coming up on Aug. 24 Lean Hanover was back in Ontario when race secretary Ian Fleming called with the Earl Rowe invitation.
“He’s always shown us a lot of ability and we just had to be patient with him. He would make little silly mistakes behind the gate, and still does once in a while, but he’s turned out well for us,” said Keeling. “Paula, she just loves this horse. This is her pet. Marauder is the family horse, but this horse is her pet, she just loves him, so wherever she is, he usually is.”
The 2019 edition will be Lean Hanover’s second appearance in the Earl Rowe Trot. The winner of $277,790 also competed in last year’s edition, where he made one of those untimely errors behind the gate and finished seventh.
“He’s had a habit of doing it whenever there’s money on the line. He did it as a 3-year-old; he should have won the Townsend Ackerman the day before we ended up winning the Hambletonian. So it was okay. I’d take the break Friday night over anything going wrong on Saturday,” said the pragmatic Keeling. “But he had a habit of doing this whenever there’s money on the line and he looked like he’s possibly one of the better competitors. Hopefully he’s getting past it.
“He made a bobble about three starts ago at Yonkers and it was the first time that driver (Jordan Stratton) had ever had him do it and he goes, ‘So that’s what he does’,” added Keeling with a chuckle. “Because I kept warning him. Once in a while he just gets a little warm behind the gate and he needs the gate to get out of there, and if he gets to the gate a fraction of a second early then he explodes. Otherwise he’s a really kind animal and easy to get along with.”
Lean Hanover and driver Paul MacDonell will be handicapped by the outside Post 9 in their effort to improve on last year’s result, while reigning champion Dancer Hall and driver James MacDonald will look to defend the Earl Rowe title from Post 6.
Dancer Hall was a four-length winner from Post 6 in last year’s edition, stopping the Georgian Downs teletimer at 1:52.2. The Deweycheatumnhowe son used the Earl Rowe as his prep for the Maple Leaf Trot, where he finished second to Marion Marauder in the elimination and fourth in the final won by Crazy Wow.
Heading into last year’s Earl Rowe then 4-year-old Dancer Hall was on a 16-race streak where he had finished no worse than second. His 2018 efforts earned him an O’Brien nomination in the Older Trotting Horse category. This season, the horse heads to Georgian Downs with two wins, including a personal best 1:51.1, and two fourths under his belt since returning to preferred action on July 1.
“I think he is the best horse up here and I think he’ll show that on Sunday,” said Rod Boyd, who trains Dancer Hall for numbered company 1187422 Ontario Inc. of Ottawa. “I think this year might be a little bit tougher with Run Director (Post 7) in there, but if we get the front pretty easy, or something like that, I don’t think anybody is coming at us too quick.
“He’s going into it good I think. James (MacDonald) trained him pretty good the other day and he thought he was awesome.”
The sharp training mile over the Woodbine Mohawk Park oval served as a check-up for Dancer Hall, who came up sick after a fourth-place finish in the July 29 preferred where he was caught in the late going by Run Director.
“We scoped him and took his blood there, because I’ve had so much sickness running through my barn in the last month it’s been hard to keep up with,” said Cambridge, ON resident Boyd. “But hopefully he’s over that.”
Before Dancer Hall begins defense of his Earl Rowe title in Race 10, the 3-year-old pacing colts, led by Meadowlands Pace champion Best In Show at Post 3 and division leader Century Farroh from Post 5, will compete in a $156,400 Gold Series division in Race 9.
Stakes action August 16 to 22:
Aug. 16 – Woodbine Mohawk Park – OSS Gold Series (2cp)
Aug. 17 – Woodbine Mohawk Park – OSS Grassroots (3cp)
– Hanover Raceway – Balanced Image Eliminations
Aug. 18 – Georgian Downs – Hon. Earl Rowe Invitational Trot, OSS Gold Series (3cp)
Aug. 19 – Woodbine Mohawk Park – OSS Grassroots (3ct)
Aug. 22 – Woodbine Mohawk Park – Dream Maker and Pure Ivory Series Finals
Ontario handicapping picks
A deep selection of handicapping picks for Ontario racetracks — featuring the talents of Garnet Barnsdale, Michael Bozich and Michael Carter — is available on the Ontario Racing website.