by Sandra Snyder
In a normal year, the stakes season in Ontario swings into high gear in June with the Somebeachsomewhere at Woodbine Mohawk Park. In 2020, the schedule changes necessitated by COVID-19 will see things start to heat up this weekend as the Dream Of Glory, Battle Of Waterloo and Battle Of The Belles finals go postward at Hanover and Grand River Raceways.
A group of eight 3-year-old trotters, all colts and geldings this year, square off in the $76,300 Dream Of Glory Final at Hanover Raceway on Saturday (Aug. 1) and general manager Steve Fitzsimmons is anticipating a speed duel.
“They could challenge the track record of 1:56.4 for 3-year-old colts and geldings that’s held by Hemi Seelster from 2015,” said Fitzsimmons. “Certainly based on Hot Wheelz 1:57 under wraps performance, you would think he or someone else might have a shot at that.”
Hot Wheelz cruised to a one and one-quarter length win in his $7,500 elimination last weekend off a picture-perfect second-over trip. The win was the second of the season for the Wheeling N Dealin son, who has twice finished second to HP Royal Theo in Gold Series action including the July 21 leg.
“When I saw it coming up and it was four days after the Gold, I made a decision, I decided that I was going to try him in it,” said Jody Jamieson, who drives and owns the gelding, while his wife Stephanie Jamieson handles training duties. “And, you know, we would have been better off in a slower division probably, but he came right back after trotting in 1:52.2 and four days later win in 1:57 up there, so I think so far it’s been a good decision and we’ll see how it goes from here.”
Jamieson will steer Hot Wheelz from Post 3 in Saturday’s final while the other elimination winners, Grassroots Series regulars Lexus Markus and Field Gunner, start from Posts 5 and 8, respectively. Lexus Markus was a one-half length winner in 2:01.2, while trailer Field Gunner got a neck in front in 1:59.2.
All three colts will make their first appearance in a stakes final on Saturday. Field Gunner was unraced at two, Lexus Markus made four starts and Hot Wheelz made two. Both Jamieson and Shannon Henry, who trains Lexus Markus, have been delighted with the progress their charges have made this season.
“Obviously I wasn’t expecting anything, or I wasn’t expecting too much, so what we’ve got so far is, I wouldn’t say a dream come true, but it’s damn close. He’s been a real, real good horse for us so far,” said Jamieson, who offered up $15,000 to acquire the trotter at the 2018 London Selected Yearling Sale. “To have the results we’ve been having with him, I mean, hopefully we have a great summer and into the fall and he can strut his stuff, and hopefully he stays good, but if he doesn’t, he doesn’t owe us anything.”
Henry has her doubts that Lexus Markus can collar Hot Wheelz in Saturday’s final, but the Arthur resident said the Amigo Hall gelding surpassed her expectations by winning the elimination and anything he earns Saturday is a bonus.
“The truth is, I didn’t even know if he was going to be competitive at Mohawk. He’s just surprised me really. I actually thought I just had a half-mile trotting colt, is what I had, and then he just come out swinging,” said Henry, who conditions Lexus Markus for her husband, and the gelding’s driver, Trevor Henry, breeder Norm Dunstan of Caledon Village, ON and Dave Hudson of Dallas, TX. “He’s never missed a cheque for me, and that’s a good horse as far as I’m concerned. We’re happy with him.
“And Dream Of Glory night, it’s a big night, we try to race in it every year for the last, well probably even when Trevor’s dad was in it. It’s been a big part of us.”
In addition to the Dream Of Glory Final, Hanover also has a $10,000 invitational pace on Saturday’s card that will honor long-time assistant race secretary Gail Murray.
“She’s worked here for the past 32 years and she’s just a wonderful lady and she has, in that time, missed only one race date ever, and that was for her niece’s wedding. She is as dedicated and hard working as people come and she is the face that people know in our race office that they’ve dealt with for 32 years,” said Fitzsimmons. “She’s watched little kids like Bob McClure and Doug McNair and these guys who have been around here and now become fantastic drivers, so she’s kind of seen it all. We just wanted to recognize her wonderful efforts on behalf of our Raceway and so we thought this was a nice way we could do it.”
The Dream Of Glory card gets underway at 2 pm on Saturday with programs and a link to the live stream available on Hanover Raceway’s website.
Battle finals on tap Monday
The Battle Finals are the highlight of Grand River Raceway’s annual Industry Day program on Civic Holiday Monday, Aug. 3, which also features Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) Gold and Grassroots action for the 3-year-old pacing fillies.
This is the 30th anniversary of Grand River’s celebration of Ontario’s harness racing industry and director of operations Jamie Martin said, while it will certainly have a different feel than the tail-gating, face-painting, ice cream eating event it has been in past years, there will still be an effort to recognize the province’s horse people.
“Senator Rob Black, who lives in Fergus, is actually coming to the races at the invitation of Standardbred Canada. He’s going to come out and speak and meet the horsepeople, as much as you can meet people in this environment,” said Martin. “We’ll have the Facebook Live show and Curtis (MacDonald) is doing that, they’ll do a great job. Greg Blanchard and Mark McKelvie will be on site, on the broadcast. People can watch and wager from home, just like they have all the rest of the year.
“And if somebody wanted to come and park their rig on the backstretch like they used to in other years, they can still do that, as long as we know they are coming and we include them in our 100. Just give us a call, because we are going to make sure we accommodate as best we can.”
Trainer Gregg McNair has five starters on the $669,000 program, including Battle Of Waterloo elimination winner Bettor Sun and fifth-place finisher Watch My Beverage, Battle Of The Belles runner-up Siri Blue Chip and Gold Series starters Karma Seelster and Beach Sports.
Two-year-old pacing colts Watch My Beverage and Bettor Son will benefit from Posts 1 and 2 in their $200,964 Final, while Siri Blue Chip gets Post 3 in the $128,149 freshman filly showdown, which McNair won last year with Karma Seelster and in 2013 with Lady Shadow. The rural Guelph, ON resident is also a three-time Battle Of Waterloo winner with Magnum J in 2015, Three Of Clubs in 2013 and Trail Boss in 2008.
“We’ve got the two colts in the Battle and the one filly. They had a pretty good draw. I think last year the one mare win the elimination, and drew the outside, so I mean it’s not impossible, but it’s a better spot to start from the inside, makes you feel better anyways, going in,” said McNair. “We’ve had a lot of starters in it, we’ve done good there sometimes, but it’s a hard race to win.”
Karma Seelster will put her undefeated record over the Elora oval on the line from Post 4 in the first $105,600 Gold division, while Beach Sports, returning to the site where her freshman career came to an end, will start from Post 7 in the second division.
“She’s suited for a half pretty good, she gets around things real good there, good gaited mare,” said McNair of Karma Seelster. “She’ll only have one shot at her this year, to get a good chunk of it over there.
“Beach Sports had trouble with the track there last year, the half-mile track, but she’s trained down a lot of fairly good miles down in Florida and back here when we couldn’t get into the tracks to train them,” he added. “She’s getting around halves pretty good now. I think she’ll be all right.”
Grand River Raceway’s Industry Day program kicks off Monday at 12:30 pm with programs and a live stream available on their website.
Stakes action July 31 to Aug. 6
– Woodbine Mohawk Park – OSS Gold Series (2ft)
– Hanover Raceway – Dream Of Glory Final
– Hiawatha Horse Park – Prospect Series (2ct)
– Georgian Downs – Prospect Series (3fp)
– Grand River Raceway – Battle Of Waterloo & Battle Of The Belles Finals; OSS Gold Series & Grassroots (3fp)
– Dresden Raceway – OSS Grassroots (2ct) & Prospect Series (3ct)
– Woodbine Mohawk Park – Dream Maker Series, Leg 2
– Woodbine Mohawk Park – Whenuwishuponastar Series, Leg 2
– Woodbine Mohawk Park – Millard Farms & Pure Ivory Series’, Leg 2
Ontario handicapping picks
A deep selection of handicapping picks for Ontario racetracks — featuring the talents of Garnet Barnsdale, Michael Carter and Melissa Keith — is available on the Ontario Racing website.