Win-streaking preferred pacer carries on family tradition.
by Melissa Keith
When one Freelton, ON-based harness racing family believed in the strength of another, it was the beginning of Saulsbrook Victor’s gradual rise to the Woodbine Mohawk Park preferred. Currently on a five-race win streak at the Campbellville track, with four in a row in the top class, the Source of Pride–Atlanta Girl gelding initially failed to live up to his maternal pedigree.
“Originally, the guy we purchased him from was the breeder, Al McNeil,” said Brett MacDonald, who co-owns Saulsbrook Victor with Brent MacLennan of Charlottetown, PEI.
The 5-year-old pacer is the fastest of seven racing-age foals from Atlanta Girl (p, 2, 1:57.1f; $9,864), dam of Saulsbrook Peach (p, 10, 1:51.4f; $201,840), Saulsbrook Alana (p, 4, 1:53.4h; $169,151) and Saulsbrook Jessie (p, 6, 1:52.3f; $208,140). Trained by current owner William Allan McNeil of Currys Corner, NS during her brief racing career, Atlanta Girl (Real Artist–Only the Best) won her first two qualifiers at Truro Raceway back in 2007. In her third qualifier, she was beaten by another 2-year-old: Somebeachsomewhere.
Unraced at 2, Saulsbrook Victor (p, 4, 1:49.2s; $187,288) didn’t show his dam’s precocious ways.
“He was having issues,” said MacDonald. “Making breaks and cross-firing and stuff like that. We’d had a couple previously from the family: We had trained Saulsbrook Jesse, who’s a half-sister to Victor, for [McNeil], and we had bought Saulsbrook Raven [p, 3, 1:53.2s; $84,144] privately, which was another sister, so we kind of grew fond of the family.”
Trainer Ronald MacDonald, Brett’s father, soon got an offer to add another Atlanta Girl offspring to the stable.
“Al [McNeil] called dad to buy Victor,” said Brett. “He was having a lot of trouble with him, so we could buy him cheap, just so we could try and figure him out. It was just a fluke, because he was related to the other two [mares]–that was why we bought him.
“We bought him late in his 3-year-old year … We had him previously, a few months before qualifying. He just went on after that.”
Saulsbrook Victor finished third in his debut qualifier on Sept. 15, 2021 at Grand River Raceway. He would win the next one on Sept. 21 at Flamboro Downs, before breaking his maiden in his first pari-mutuel start on Sept. 28 at Flamboro. Brett was in the sulky each time. On Oct. 22, he won his second race at Woodbine Mohawk Park, in line to catch driver Bob McClure.
Saulsbrook Victor was a work in progress for Ronald and Brett.
As the latter told HRU, “We bought him and started tinkering with stuff and he eventually got to where he raced and then he just kept getting better and better. We kept changing things and he kept getting sounder and better gaited, to the point where he’s at now.”
The gelding took his 3-year-old mark (1:52.3s) at Mohawk on Dec. 18, 2021, with Brett in the bike. By then, his early issues were resolved.
“He was very hot early,” said Brett. “The thing with him was he used to crossfire really bad, so with him crossfiring and being so hot, it was the kind of thing where you held him together and he just kind of did it, but he always wanted to do it. That was the biggest thing: He put steps in, but he wouldn’t run. He liked to keep going forward.
“He had the mentality of wanting to go, like he always wanted to go fast. It was just getting him to go fast when you wanted him to.”
Last season, Saulsbrook Victor made six visits to the winner’s circle, all but one of them at Mohawk. He gained a reputation as a stalker/closer, which Brett called inaccurate.
“I know they said he was kind of one-dimensional, but it wasn’t so much that he was one-dimensional, because he was second in 1:53 in his third lifetime start, on the front at Mohawk, last half in :56 and change,” said Brett. “But he just got to be so hot that you kind of had to race him from off the pace, to try and keep him quiet, and I think that’s what helped him out along the way. He got to be where he was versatile, like you could leave with him or take him off [the starting gate], and do whatever you wanted.”
Saulsbrook Victor had an autumn 2022 vacation that laid the foundation for a powerful comeback.
“We gave him five weeks off and he came back from the five weeks unbelievable,” said Brett. “The hitch to [his gait] and stuff like that, he lost that. I think it was just him getting sounder.”
Undefeated since Dec. 17 at Canada’s top track, “Victor” was finally living up to his ambitious name and bloodline.
“I think a lot of it was mental,” said Brett. “He got to where he would relax. I remember before, he would almost want to tear the wing off the starting car… It clicked mentally, and now you can do whatever you want with him. He’s at that point where [frequent driver] Austin [Sorrie] got breathers for him at Mohawk, because he’s so versatile that he just waits for you to ask him.”
Brett said he wasn’t able to watch Saulsbrook Victor in person Saturday night (Jan. 21) at Mohawk, because of his own driving commitments at Flamboro.
“I got off the track and I missed the post parade. They were just going in front of the gate when I was finally in the drivers’ room to watch him.”
In race 9, Austin Sorrie allowed Wheels On Fire to make front before the first turn, then sent the 6-5 favorite after that early leader, clearing easily at the :27.3 opening quarter. Saulsbrook Victor was never headed for the remainder of the mile, even after earplugs were pulled on Wheels On Fire, who left the pocket to take his best shot down the stretch. As race caller Chad Rozema noted, Saulsbrook Victor won under tight lines in the 1:50.4s victory.
“He makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, watching him,” said Brett, who was in the sulky for half of Saulsbrook Victor’s 2022 wins.
O’Brien Future Star Award winner (2020) Sorrie was aboard for the other three last season, and now the first three of the new year.
“When I couldn’t go [to WMP], because I was at Flamboro, we put Austin down,” said Brett. “Austin’s great. Whatever we want to do, he’s always good. He drives with confidence, tries not to [urge] him too much, so it’s worked out well.”
Saturday night also worked out well for Brett, who went over the $10 million (Cdn.) mark in career earnings as a driver. He is currently at the top of the standings at Flamboro Downs.
Brett said he knew the milestone was approaching, but he “wasn’t really paying attention to it, because we were all in awe of ‘Victor.’ When I saw that, then it really made the night special.”
There are no plans to test Saulsbrook Victor against Grand Circuit horses later this season.
“He’ll just stay at Mohawk and we’ll keep taking it week by week, see how he does,” said Brett. “We’re just kind of riding the high with him right now. If he raced all winter and then had a month off in the summertime, when it got really tough, and we brought him back to race in the fall again, that wouldn’t bother me either.”
In the meantime, Brett takes care of the reigning king of the Mohawk preferred, stabled at Baycairn Training Centre in Campbellville, ON.
“We all work together in the barn, so everybody plays a part in what he does,” he said. “Some days it’s dad who jogs him; some days I jog him; some days it’s another guy that works for us who jogs him. It all depends. Everybody plays a role.
“Taylor Fritz looked after him earlier, and I put him away every day now. I enjoy going to the barn every day… Usually he’ll go outside in the morning, and then he’ll come back in and jog. We put him away and that’s his day.”
Saulsbrook Victor’s slow-building evolution became visible as it happened, even before he reached the current spotlight.
“There were a couple of trips there where he was up the rail, running over them at the wire, and I think it just got to be where he was confident,” said Brett, adding praise for the gelding’s off-track attitude: “He’s always happy. You walk by his stall and he always has his ears up. He’s looking in your pocket for either a carrot or a donut, any treat of some kind.”
The MacDonalds’ faith in Atlanta Girl’s offspring also continues with lightly-raced Saulsbrook Ian (p, 1:57.3h; $6,304), who returned to owners Red Oak Stables of Charlottetown, PEI after competing for trainer Ronald in Mohawk’s Pop-Up Series and Harvest Series last fall.
“I believe he will probably come back [to Ontario] as a 3-year-old and probably race in the sires stakes here,” said Brett, who drove the Betterthancheddar gelding. “We bought the McWicked brother to him last year at the sale in London [for $34,000 Cdn.]. His name is Saulsbrook Tsunami. He’s nice. He’s good-gaited. The rest of the family, they were all hot originally. I don’t know if it’s the McWicked, but he’s a little more docile than the rest, and he does everything right.”
Owned by Louis Willinger of Louisville, KY and William Allan McNeil, Atlanta Girl was bred to world champion Bulldog Hanover last year, in his first season at stud.
“They all have ability and it doesn’t seem to matter what they breed that mare to,” said Brett. “Every one of them, they show up. Whether they show up at two, or they show up at four, they always have some type of ability to go fast and they seem to have grit to them.”
Saulsbrook Victor is carrying on that family tradition, with no signs of slowing down.
“He’s fun to watch, especially right now,” said Brett. “We always knew that he had the ability…but to go five in a row, that’s something special.”