Gino Toscani and Luc Blais on why they each purchased two slots for the Mohawk Million

by Dave Briggs

Ontario-based trainer Gino Toscani said Saturday he spent $200,000 (Cdn) to purchase two slots for the second edition of the $1 million (CDN) Mohawk Million primarily to help ensure the race was held in 2021.

“Supporting the race was what the whole thing was, to make sure the race went,” Toscani said of the second edition of the race for 2-year-old trotters to be held Saturday, Sept. 25 at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

Luc Blais, the private trainer for Serge Godin’s Determination Stable, said Saturday that Godin also bought two slots to support the Mohawk Million, but also because the stable is prepping nine 2-year-old trotters to race in 2021, many expensive yearling purchases.

“We spend a lot of money at the sales,” Blais said. “We spend lots of money to get very nice horses and I think when you spend money like that, you need to be eligible for big races.

“Not only that, but I think it’s a very interesting race. Last year, it was a good event… and it’s the biggest race for 2-year-olds. And another thing, it’s home. It’s right here and we’re very lucky to get a kind of race like that at Mohawk.”

This year, the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) made nine slots available for purchase at the cost of $100,000 (CDN) each. The deadline to purchase a slot was reached on Feb. 15 with all slots sold. The 10th and final slot will be awarded to the winner of the William Wellwood Memorial on Sept. 11. Each slot is considered an entity that may be sold, traded or leased. The slot holder does not have to declare a horse for the Mohawk Million until the week of the race.

The Mohawk Million debuted in 2020 with Venerate winning for trainer Julie Miller (full story here) en route to the Dan Patch Award as the 2-year-old Trotting Colt of the Year in the United States.

Determination raced two horses in the inaugural Mohawk Million, finishing second and third with Donna Soprano and On A Streak, respectively. On A Streak, with Scott Young in the bike, earned the spot in the Mohawk Million after winning the Wellwood Memorial.

So, after paying $110,000 (USD) for one slot and earning the other — the race was in U.S. dollars in 2020 — Determination won $333,000 in purses for a profit of $223,000 (U.S).

“We had a good night that night,” Blais said.

As for this year’s crop, Blais said he has a “good feeling” about “a nice bunch” of freshmen trotters, but it’s too early to know which ones will excel.

“Training horses in Canada is not like training horses in Florida,” he said, laughing. “It’s tough to evaluate (due to the winter weather), but I’ve got a good feeling if I compare to the past… but, as I say all the time, you know when you’re there. It’s not how fast you go, it’s who you beat.”

This year one other group EquineX — which was profiled twice in HRU (2020-04-19 and 2020-05-24) — also purchased two slots for the 2021 Mohawk Million. As well, Brad Grant, Crawford Farms and Steve Heimbecker purchased a slot apiece. Grant also purchased a slot in 2020 and was the one that negotiated a deal with the connections of Venerate to use it.

Al Crawford previously told HRU he purchased a slot this year because, “we have a lot of promising 2-year-old trotting fillies and a couple of colts… (and) I think it is great to support initiatives in the sport that promote the sport through big events.”

Toscani, who is based in Mount Hope, ON, said he has, “eight 2-year-old trotters so hopefully maybe one of them could go in there and then maybe I sell a spot or, you never know, maybe two, who knows?

“I have a Walner colt that I kind of like, but they are all exhibiting speed, so it’s too early to tell… Maybe in a month I’d have a better idea.”

Toscani, 60, is perhaps best known for campaigning Cam Terrific to earnings just shy of $600,000 between 1993 and 1997. Between 1991 and 1993 Toscani also sent out pacing mare Ghostly to earnings of more than $400,000. In 1993, pacing mare Miss Nadia earned some $300,000 for Toscani. Most recently, Toscani purchased Alberta star Major Custard, a finalist for the 2020 O’Brien Awards for top sophomore pacing colt in Canada. Major Custard won 15 of 16 races in Alberta in 2020 and earned more than $237,000 while winning a string of stakes races. Toscani is prepping the 4-year-old to race in Ontario.

As for the Mohawk Million, Toscani said he told WEG, “If you don’t need my spots, then sell it to someone else, but if you need me to buy them to support the race to make sure it goes, I’m there to support it.

“I don’t think the Americans want too much to do with (the Mohawk Million this year) because of COVID right now… I think next year will be different and hopefully they go back to normal.”

But Toscani said if the world opens up this summer, it’s a strong bet American connections of some of this year’s top freshman trotters will be interested in negotiating for a slot on the Mohawk Million starting gate. If so, Toscani said he’s open to offers.

“You can probably get most of your money back. It should work out okay,” he said.

Maybe, just maybe, Toscani has bought himself some karma with his significant support and one of his eight trotters will be racing in the Mohawk Million this September.

“That would be nice. If it happens, that’s great,” he said, “And if it doesn’t, it is what it is, right?”