Randy Waples on what it will take to win a deep Pepsi NA Cup

The Hall of Fame driver and Woodbine Mohawk Park racing analyst breaks down the field for the 40th edition of Canada’s richest 3-year-old harness race.

by Melissa Keith

Randy Waples is not driving in the 40th edition of the Pepsi North America Cup. Yet, when he looked at the 10-horse field for the Saturday (June 17) final at Woodbine Mohawk Park, the reinsman-turned-racing-analyst said he couldn’t help but consider driving in the context of mapping out a winning trip. The crop of 3-year-old male pacers is simply too talented to suggest that one stands above the rest based on outsized talent or maturity.

“It is an incredibly deep field; I’m the first to say that.” Waples said at the Tuesday (June 13) draw. “But you’re always going to have a couple of horses that you think raced maybe that much better than the others. There are a couple that I think raced just a smidgen better than the others.

“I’ll be more or less concentrating in my mind on how their trip is going to go, and then, of those two that I think are coming in just slightly ahead of the others, I’ll come up with one that I think is going to come up with the best trip.”

He added that drivers with past success in the $1 million race have an edge.

“If they’ve won it a couple of times, there’s not as much pressure,” Waples said. “If they haven’t won it, then there’s a lot of pressure; not to say they can’t overcome it.”

Waples spoke from experience, having mapped out a North America Cup victory with Thinking Out Loud (p, 4, 1:47.2m; $1,932,805) in 2012.

“I still look at it as if I was driving in that race and I was thinking, ‘How’s the best trip going to work for me?’” he said.

He believes that fast-leaving colts and geldings captured his imagination in the four eliminations.

“That’s the beauty of it,” he said. “We had about four that showed me incredible gate speed, and one of those horses drew the outside, which is Save America [p, 3, 1:48.1f; $366,380], and he can really wail out of there. So, I really think it’s going to set up into a huge funneling-down into the first turn.”

Waples said a track and Canadian record was well within the trip scenario he envisioned.

“This is just a prediction, but I could see us being at the half in :52.4,” he said. “I could see it as being at the three-quarter pole in 1:20.2, and I see the race going the mile in 1:46.4.”

Waples’ mention of 1:46.4 was not intended to evoke memories of Somebeachsomewhere (p, 3, 1:46.4m; $3,221,299), the 2008 North America Cup champion who cruised to victory in 1:49for driver Paul MacDonell, and trainer Brent MacGrath of Truro, NS, lead partner in the colt’s ownership group, Schooner Stable.

“Somebeach did it on his own,” Waples said. “He just stood out so much. We don’t have that now.

“We’ve got 10 horses that are all evenly-matched, with 10 eager drivers, and they’re going to go out there and it’s going to be a race. I think that’s what’s going to happen. It’s going to be constant, continual motion, and that’s what won me the race in 2012 with Thinking Out Loud. They were at the half in :52 and change, and they just kept constantly changing leaders that pulled me into it and I ended up winning in :47 and change.”

The Bob MacIntosh trainee, owned by Robert McIntosh Stables Inc. of Windsor, ON; C S X Stables of Liberty Centre, OH; and Al McIntosh Holdings Inc. of Leamington, ON lowered the stakes record to 1:47.4, which was equaled in 2016 by Betting Line, driven by Dave Miller for trainer Casie Coleman and owners Coleman, Ross Warriner, Steve and Christine Calhoun, Mac Nichol.

The current stakes, track, and Canadian record is held by Captain Crunch (p, 3, 1:47.2s; $1,561,940), who took the 2019 North America Cup with Scott Zeron in the sulky for trainer Nancy Takter of East Windsor, NJ and owners Takter; 3 Brothers Stable, New York, NY; Rojan Stables, Wilmington, DE; and Caviart Farms, Vienna, VA. The Captaintreacherous—Sweet Paprika colt established his lifetime mark in the record mile.

In the 2023 North America Cup eliminations at Woodbine Mohawk Park, gelding It’s My Show (Sweet Lou—Put On A Show) matched the 1:48 national record for 3-year-old pacing geldings, set in the 2015 North America Cup final by Wakizashi Hanover and driver Tim Tetrick, who won for trainer Joann Looney King and owner Tri County Stable of Nova Scotia.

“This year is developing much the same as the year I won it,” Waples said. “I think there’s going to be some serious speed and then somebody coming from off the pace is going to get the money.”

At Tuesday’s (June 13) Cup draw, Waples teasingly asked leading WMP driver James MacDonald about whether winning races ever became monotonous.

“It never gets old,” MacDonald said. “It’s always fun winning races. I’ve said a million times it doesn’t matter if it’s a four claimer or a stake race; it feels awesome hitting the line first. Just keep trying to do it as much as possible, following in your footsteps, Randy.”

MacDonald said “[Winning his first North America Cup was] right at the top of the bucket list, being a regular driver at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Like [outgoing Woodbine Entertainment CEO] Jim Lawson said, it’s an international race. It’s the best race, the best horses, the best drivers, the best trainers, so I’m just honored to be able to participate in it again this year. If I can get my horse’s nose there first on Saturday night, I think I would be pretty emotional.”

Waples pointed out that MacDonald did not name which horse he would drive in the final.

“They were both third,” MacDonald said. “They both had to sweat out the draw” to decide who amongst the four show finishers in the eliminations would move on to the final. This year’s stake drew 33 horses, sufficient entries for four fields, for the first time since 2009.

The reigning O’Brien Driver of the Year piloted Moment Is Here (p, 3, 1:49.0s; $204,930) and Redwood Hanover (p, 3, 1:49.0s; $87,589) to show finishes in the first and second of four Cup eliminations last Saturday at Mohawk. He will drive the latter in the final for trainer Anthony Beaton of Waterdown, ON, who shares ownership with Mac Nichol of Burlington, ON; Mckinlay & Fielding, Toronto, ON; and David Mercer, Westmount, NS.

“To hang in for third, I was really proud of his effort,” MacDonald said.

His brother Mark MacDonald gave Sportswriter (p, 3, 1:48.3s; $1,566,460) the winning drive in the 2010 edition for trainer Casie Coleman and owners Coleman, West Wins Stable of Wellington, FL; Christine Calhoun of Chatham, ON; and Mac Nichol.

James told Waples that either Moment Is Here (20–1 morning line) or Redwood Hanover (12–1) was capable of an upset in this year’s final.

“Anyone who watched them race knows, if their number comes up first at the end of the day Saturday, it wouldn’t be a shock,” James said.