Canadian Coronation on Crown opening night

Canadians figured prominently in the opening night of the Breeders Crown on Friday at Woodbine Mohawk Park that also renewed the battle between Hanover Shoe Farms and Brittany Farms. Even the weather was cooperative, for once.

by Dave Briggs

For the first time in a long time, the Breeders Crown kicked off with a rain-free night and the Canadian locals made the most of the opportunity, figuring prominently in the first three of four freshman Crown finals on Friday (Oct. 28) at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

On a cool-yet-dry Ontario evening featuring $3.24 million (Cdn) in Crown purses on the night — $810,000 for each of the four Friday finals — the locals kicked off the night in the freshman trotting colt division a with maiden-breaking Crown victory for both driver Louis-Philippe Roy and nine-time defending O’Brien Award winning Trainer of the Year Richard Moreau.

Roy earned it, too, with a perfect steer of Gaines Hanover out of the less-than-advantageous one-hole, to edge favorite Celebrity Bambino at the wire in 1:53.2.

The driver told Mark McKelvie in the winner’s circle that he felt he had put Gaines Hanover in position to win, but in mid-stretch his lingering thought was, “Please, win. We didn’t do all that just for second.”

That it was a victory by mostly Quebec connections was also particularly nice to see given La Belle Province’s incredible harness racing history.

Not only did it spark a big night for local and Quebec connections, but it also fired up a big evening for breeder Hanover Shoe Farms, which scored back-to-back Crown wins and went over $20 million in lifetime Breeders Crown earnings. Gaines Hanover’s win, followed right after by Sylvia Hanover’s triumph in the 2-year-old pacing filly final, gave Hanover its 25th and 26th Crown champions, which is the most all-time.

It was also back-to-back victories for Quebec ownership. Sylvia Hanover, trained by Mark Steacy, is owned by Tony Infilise’s Hudson Standardbred Stb. Inc. of Hudson, QC. It was Infilise’s first Breeders Crown victory after more than 40 years of horse ownership.

The night also continued Hanover’s epic battle with Brittany Farms for Crown supremacy. Gaines Hanover allowed Hanover Shoe Farms to tie Brittany in the total breeder trophy count with 28. Hanover went ahead thanks to Sylvia Hanover’s win in the very next race and then Brittany tied it back up at 29 with a win by homebred Special Way in the 2-year-old filly trot final.

However, Special Way helped George Segal’s Brittany further solidify its lead as the top owner in Crown history.

Special Way is a homebred owned by Brittany (based in Kentucky) and Toronto’s Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld — that’s where the third straight winning locals comes in. She was driven to victory by her trainer, Ake Svanstedt.

For Brittany, Special Way is their 19th champion as an owner. Those 19 champions have produced 22 Breeders Crown triumphs. Brittany is also the leading owner by earnings in Crown history.

It was the 14th champion and 15th trophy for Katz and the ninth champion and 10th trophy for Libfeld.

A Breeders Crown trophy seems like a terrific reward for the good work of Katz and Libfeld. Earlier in the evening, it was announced that the Breeders Crown Charity Challenge has raised a whopping $1.4 million for local charities in Crown host cities since Katz and Libfeld started it in 2019, the last time the Crown was held at Mohawk.

If all that wasn’t enough excitement for one night, the Crown events ended with a bang.

Ammo posted a 52-1 shocker from post nine in the 2-year-old pacing colts’ final. The upset — which broke up the Canadians’ hope for a sweep of the night — was orchestrated by Hall of Famer David Miller for Hall of Fame trainer Joe Holloway and U.S. owners Val D’Or Farms and Ted Gewertz.

It was the 30th Crown win for Miller, the 10th by Holloway (and fourth in this division alone), the ninth by Gewertz and the sixth by Val D’Or Farms.

As for Ammo’s breeder, Sergent Stables of Pennsylvania, it was a Breeders Crown first.


Woodbine reported that handle for Friday’s entire card was $3.9 million.

Bill McLinchey, Woodbine’s director of standardbred racing, said he was very happy with that number.

“Going in we were hoping to be around the $3 million mark. So, getting to $3.9 million is great,” McLinchey said. “The handle was good, the racing was good, the Canadian connections did well and we’re very happy and excited going into (Saturday night).”


Major kudos to the tandem of Woodbine Mohawk Park and the Breeders Crown for a terrific kick-off night, but the WEG broadcast team of Chad Rozema, Randy Waples, Mark McKelvie and Greg Blanchard was a notable highlight.

Rozema and Hall of Fame driver Waples, in particular, make a great team. It’s wonderful to get Waples’ insights all night long.

Early on, Rozema and Waples gushed about just how deep this year’s entire Breeders Crown lineup is from top to bottom. Friday certainly proved that to be true and tonight’s eight Crown finals look so on paper.

Even the weather is predicted to be rain-free again. Let’s hope that’s the case.

Tonight’s card begins at 7 p.m. and the Crown races are great eight in a row starting in race two.

Don’t miss it.