The art of a million-dollar (race) deal

When plans to race their own horses in Saturday’s $1 million Mohawk Million didn’t pan out, slot owners Jim Bullock, John Fielding, Jeffrey Snyder, Brad Grant and Dreamland Farms crafted deals for others to earn a berth in inaugural event for 2-year-old trotters.

by Chris Lomon

The inaugural Mohawk Million headlines Canada’s richest night of racing with over $2.8 million on the line this Saturday at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

Showcasing a field of 10 rookie trotters vying for top prize, the Mohawk Million is the first million-dollar “buy-in” race in standardbred history. A total of nine slots in the race were available for purchase at a cost of $110,000 (USD). The 10th and final slot was awarded to On A Streak, winner of the William Wellwood Memorial.

Some of the participating owners were required to change course from their original plans and engage in private negotiating to secure their Mohawk Million starter.

Warrawee Whisper from the Shawn Steacy barn will race in the slot of Jim Bullock’s Glengate Farms. The son of Trixton is winless in six engagements with three runner-up finishes, including seconds in the Wellwood Memorial elimination and Champlain.

“If you go back to February when I made the initial payment, I have a fair number of 2-year-old trotters this year,” said Bullock. “I was hoping that one of them would be competitive. I principally buy fillies, and I was always of the view that often the fillies are better than the colts as 2-year-olds. I guess the proof of that is the [Mohawk Million] favorite is Donna Soprano. The flaw in my theory is that she doesn’t belong to me. Right theory, wrong horse.”

But, as Bullock has displayed in the past and present, adapting to a change in plans or circumstance is something he always takes in stride.

It was over 10 years ago when Bullock shuttered the doors on Glengate Farms as a commercial breeding operation. One of the largest of its kind in Ontario, Glengate was home to all-star stallions Angus Hall, Apaches Farm and Balanced Image. While he remained in the sport after the closure of Glengate, Bullock’s passion for standardbreds and standardbred racing led him to renovate a thoroughbred farm close to the town of Erin, ON, a spot he purchased a few years back. He used it to build up a strong trotting broodmare band (there is room on the farm for nearly 40 broodmares). Friend and racing partner John Bax purchased the original Glengate Farm to be closer to Woodbine Mohawk Park.

On Saturday night at Woodbine Mohawk Park, another example of his adaptability will be on display, namely, Warrawee Whisper.

“Mark Steacy, I’ve had horses with him in the past, and we chatted about three or four weeks ago,” said Bullock. “He was asking what I was doing with my slot, and I didn’t know at that point. I didn’t have a horse that I felt was competitive, unfortunately, so in the end, we sat down and worked out this deal.”

While Bullock won’t get into the specifics, he did offer some insight into the agreement.

“I’m not going to share the terms of the deal – everybody sold theirs a little differently – but mine is a participation… if the horse wins I get more money than if the horse finishes sixth. That’s where it is. I think this horse of theirs is competitive. He’s not the favorite and we’re a longshot, but I think the horse will be competitive in there.”

He doesn’t need be reminded it’s a horse race, one that happens to be a 2-year-old trotting race.

“You can’t win in the barn,” said Bullock. “Anything can happen. I recall a few years ago that John Bax and I – between him and his owners, and myself – we had three horses in the Peaceful Way. Mission Brief was in there and was something like 1-5. When they came by the grandstand, Mission Brief was running rather than trotting, and a guy sitting next to me said, ‘Now we can finish 1,2,3.’ I laughed and said, ‘Sure.’ But that’s exactly what happened. We were hoping that amongst the three of them, one would get a check, but it turned out much better than that.”

This time, Bullock, president and CEO of Cadillac Fairview Corporation between 1987 and 1993, who held the same title at Laidlaw Inc. from 1993 to 1999, only needs to worry about one spot.

He’s happy to be in that position.

“We’ll be there and will be watching. It’s an interesting format.”

One of the highest profile and successful names in harness racing, John Fielding, is a two-time owner of the year, whose star pupils include Pinkman, Father Patrick, Shake It Cerry, Maven, and 2018 Hambletonian Oaks winner, Manchego.

Fielding will be represented in the Million by Insta Glam.

Trained by Nancy Takter for Goran Falk and Christina Takter, the daughter of Father Patrick is four-for-seven and earlier this season set a new track record of 1:54 at Harrah’s Philadelphia.

“It wasn’t an ideal situation,” said Fielding, who has won over 20 Breeders Crown races, and also enjoyed great success with thoroughbreds. “I’m partners on my spot with the people [David Anderson, Robert Leblanc, Marvin Katz and Fielding] who own Spy Booth. Unfortunately, he made a break in the [William] Wellwood elimination, so he didn’t make the final. We decided to send him back home. That group, we were kind of stuck for who we were going to use. I thought I was going to use Locatelli [a bay son of Muscle Hill], but he made a break in the final of the Wellwood, and Nancy Takter just didn’t think he was quite mentally capable.”

The third time – in the form of Insta Glam – proved to be the charm.

Teaming up with top-tier talents Gingras and Takter for the race has Fielding feeling optimistic.

“The key for us in picking Insta Glam was the fact that we get Nancy Takter and we get Yannick Gingras. Unfortunately, that comes with the nine-hole, but we can’t pick that. It was thrown at us and we’ll have to deal with that. I think we have a top team in Nancy and Yannick. I look at that as an edge, and then we have a filly that probably needed that last start. She had a track record under her belt already, so I think she’s got a legitimate chance.

“I think the Million is a great race and I think it’s a great idea,” said Fielding, founder of Array Marketing, a leading global provider of retail merchandising solutions. “For 2-year-olds, it’s quite a challenge. Anything can happen. The filly, Donna Soprano, is a top, top horse, and the horse [Venerate] of Julie and Andy Miller’s, who has post 10… that’s a good horse. My history with the Takters – we had other options – I’ve had horses with them for years. I’ve known Nancy since she was around 10 – that’s how long I’ve had horses with Jimmy. We wanted to keep it in the family and that’s what we’ve done.”

Owners Jeffrey Snyder and Gina Ghent (Dreamland Farm) both negotiated to secure starters for the Million.

Tokyo Seelster from the Richard Moreau barn is an Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) Gold winner with three wins in nine career starts. The son of Kadabra will race in the slot owned by Snyder, who madea deal with Michael Sergi, Sam Sergi and Braveheart Racing to allow them to raceTokyo Seelsterin the Mohawk Million.

“I knew we were looking for a slot to have a horse in the race because we had purchased a spot in the race earlier in the year,” said Snyder. “I was scouring the races, studying them, and in particular, I watched the William Wellwood. I thought Tokyo Seelster closed very strongly to finish third. He closed in :28.3. I saw the owners were Mike Sergi and Sam Sergi, and I had sold them a horse many years ago – about 15 years ago – and I also sold them a breeding to Red River Hanover as well. So, I said, ‘Look at that. I’m going to call Mike.’ We reached an agreement to race the horse in the Mohawk Million.”

Bred by Seelster Farms, Tokyo Seelster won his debut by a neck on June 30 at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

“The horse seems to be in good shape and hopefully, we can get a little piece of it,” said Snyder. “That would be great. I just hope the horse gets a decent position, somewhere in the middle of the pack, and then he can close. You never know what can happen in a 2-year-old trotting race.”

Brad Maxwell trainee Full Of Muscles has been secured to race in the slot of Dreamland Farm. The son of Muscle Mass, owned by Farhi Standardbreds Corp, just missed a victory in last Saturday’s OSS Gold at Woodbine Mohawk Park and has notched four runner-up efforts in six starts.

Woodbine’s leading owner Brad Grant has negotiated with the connections of Kentucky Sires Stakes champion Venerate to race in his slot.

Conditioned by Julie Miller, the son of French stallion Love You won the state final at The Red Mile last Sunday in a snappy 1:51.4. He now has three wins from six starts, along with $186,766 in purse earnings for Pinske Stables and Andy Miller Stable. Andrew McCarthy, who recently won both the Canadian Trotting Classic and Elegantimage, will be in the race bike.

The $1,320,000 (CAD) Mohawk Million is Race 10 on Saturday’s $2.8 million card. Post time is approximately 10:45 p.m.

TrackMaster PPs available here.

Mohawk Million Field

Post – Horse – Driver – Trainer – Owner Slot Owner

1 Iznogoud AM S (Doug McNair/Marcus Melander) Courant Inc.
2 Warrawee Whisper (Jonathan Drury/Shawn Steacy) Glengate Farms
3 Donna Soprano (Bob McClure/Luc Blais) Determination
4 Full Of Muscles (Trevor Henry/Brad Maxwell) Dreamland Farms
5 Altar (Jody Jamieson/Per Engblom) Diamond Creek Racing
6 Tokyo Seelster (Sylvain Filion/Richard Moreau) Jeffrey Snyder
7 On A Streak (Scott Young/Luc Blais) Wellwood Winner
8 Bravado Fashion (Louis-Philippe Roy/Jim Campbell) Fashion Farms
9 Insta Glam (Yannick Gingras/Nancy Takter) John Fielding
10 Venerate (Andrew McCarthy/Julie Miller) Brad Grant