Professor Frydoc and the longshot

As Graeme Mitchell battles cancer, T H McMurry brings his life-long dream to Woodbine Mohawk Park.

by Melissa Keith

Graeme Mitchell has worked as a public handicapper, promoter, sports broadcaster and racing analyst for a half-century.

“I can’t complain,” said the 72-year-old, who is currently an analyst/handicapper at Rideau Carleton Raceway. “I’ve been very, very, very fortunate. I’m very thankful to be able to stay in the game I’ve been in since I went to Richelieu Park in 1972.”

He’s especially grateful this year, because of diametrically opposed twists of fate.

First, the positive twist: T H McMurry, the 2-year-old pacing gelding he co-owns with Jeffery Taylor of Gloucester, ON and Siobhan Andrusek of Ottawa, ON.

On Saturday (June 24) at Woodbine Mohawk Park, the McWicked–Waasmula son started from outside post 8 in his first baby race. He floated off the gate for driver Doug McNair, settling fourth behind pace-setting At Ease Hanover, with trainer Dr. Ian Moore in the sulky.

On the final turn, T H McMurry hinted that he might be as special as his owners hoped. He tipped first over, closing ground between himself and At Ease Hanover in a :26.2 final quarter. More impressively, he took the inside path to a 1:56.1 victory.

“Even older horses can get kind of leery going up the rail,” said Mitchell. “He was at full speed and expanding. He was cruising at the end. I’ve just got to sit back and watch what we do in the coming weeks. I’m still dumbfounded by him.”

Known for offering handicapping selections under the “Professor Frydoc” pseudonym, Mitchell said he took his handicapping nom de plume from the imaginary sidekick of a 1980s Montreal radio personality.

“There used to be a DJ on the morning show at CKGM, Ralph Lockwood. He wouldn’t know how to pick a horse if there was only two in the race. They got his name into the paper, but I did his selections for him. Yeah, I used to do that and it was called ‘Professor Frydoc.’ So I took that once he was done.”

His philosophy: “If I finish in the top three with my longshot, I’m pleased.”

Mitchell said he has been reserved about touting his $23,000 (Cdn) London Classic Yearling Sale purchase.

“I got a lot of comments on him and everyone is like, ‘Wow! What a mile!’ And I’m sitting back here, and don’t really want to speak,” he said.

There was plenty to be excited about, even before the gelding made his winning debut.

“He did train awesome. The mile was 1:57 over the track at Classy Lane. So, that’s a pretty big mile.”

Mitchell should know. He’s been picking winners for decades.

“I was a handicapper for the Montreal Star; for the [MontrealGazette; I had a column in the Daily News in Montreal,” he said. “When one of the papers folded, I had a TV show, The World of Horse Racing, on CTV, which I didn’t produce, but I put it all together with my friend, [CTV sportscaster] Randy Tieman. We were on there for two, three years, and that was basically five years before racing in Quebec folded up, which was unfortunate… We had a viewing audience of over 22,000 people on a Sunday morning at 11:30.”

Despite his familiarity with the racing game, owning a top young horse remained an elusive goal.

“I’ve been around for a long, long time. So, I talked a lot. I bought racehorses, Quebec-breds which were no good, so I lost a lot of money, like most people. And I had a great time,” said Mitchell. “The Prix d’Etés that I saw, the great horses that I saw… It was just amazing.”

A great pacer he never got to see in the flesh was Waasmula (p, 5, 1:49.2s; $954,282), a Woodbine and Mohawk Racetrack regular who took her lifetime mark in the latter part of 2013. The Million Dollar Cam–Waasmowin mare won her debut qualifier at age 3 before launching a three-race Ontario win streak spanning three different tracks (Flamboro Downs, Clinton Raceway, Georgian Downs). She retired with 33 victories, eight of them in the Mohawk filly and mare preferred, from 146 starts.

“I’ve been in this a long time and I hung out with the top guys, and they always told me at the sales: The mother is the most important part. The stallion, yes, to a degree. But the mother is the key,” said Mitchell, recounting how he became co-owner of Waasmula’s third foal, T H McMurry. “His mother? I don’t know how we stole this horse for $23,000.”

He’s had a taste of success, although primarily with older racehorses racing in Quebec and at Rideau Carleton. He was one of the “Gs” in the Three Gees Racing Stable, along with Rideau Carleton owner/founder George Warren Armstrong and trainer Gary McDonald.

“At one time, I think we had a dozen or more,” said Mitchell. “That one night we won four on a Sunday and then the following Sunday night we won four more [at Rideau Carleton]… They were basically claimers. Warren always wanted to see his horses race every week. We had fun… Thank goodness for him, especially after Montreal closed up.”

The racing analyst’s best selection as an owner was a gelding who took his record at Mohawk in 1993, when the seven-eighths of a mile track was still five-eighths.

“I bought a trotter for $1,600. He made me like $60, $70,000. His name was Solvalla, [6, 1:59.2f; $81,733], after the track in Sweden. So I’ve had some real thrills and some real good things, but I’ve never had a real good baby. This is the first time.”

Yet, last Saturday morning, the Gloucester, ON resident did not attend the baby races and horse owners’ breakfast at Woodbine Mohawk Park. It wasn’t for lack of interest.

“I remember when they used to do that in Montreal,” he said. “Baby races were big in Montreal… That’s where Pat Lang used to make his money. He had the best 2-year-old every year in the baby races.”

Mitchell said he is currently awaiting a medical procedure for colon cancer, making the long drive to Campbellville even more difficult.

“I’ve got to have that taken care of. It’s not the greatest news, but hopefully it’ll turn out all right. But hey, I’ve had a good run.”

T H McMurry came along at a personal crossroads for Mitchell. “This is my last kick at the can, I think,” he said. “So, I want to make sure I enjoy something and have a nice horse like that for a while, to look forward to every week something good happening.”

Formerly stabled in Rideau Carleton’s Barn “A” with trainer Jeff Taylor’s WMP winner Chasing Goosebumps (p, 3, 1:55.1s; $13,349), T H McMurry matured quickly.

“Everything was easy for him,” said Mitchell. “He’s smart. I used to go to the barn every day and see him, and he just stood there. I mean, now here’s a 2-year-old sleeping on the cross-ties.

“Actually, [trainer] Jacques Beaudoin said, ‘Is that a 3-year-old?’ I looked at him and said, ‘Stop it, Jacques!’ I have heard that story so many times, I was getting psyched out.”

In preparation for his Mohawk debut, T H McMurry was relocated to Classy Lane Training Centre and trainer Dave Menary. Mitchell said the move was on the recommendation of Julie Ferguson, co-owner of top-class WMP pacing mare Dabarndawgswatchin (p, 4, 1:49.3s; $403,682).

The distance from Rideau Carleton meant Mitchell would miss his horse’s qualifier and possibly more.

He told HRU he was fortunate to have a trusted insider report back to him on June 24 after Mohawk baby race 11. His daughter, Tanya Mitchell, is herself a professional caretaker and cancer survivor with a unique connection to the son of McWicked (p, 7, 1:46.2m; $4,930,967).

Graeme described the baby race in reverent terms.

“She was there. She saw him. She said he looked awesome. And she has worked for Casie [Coleman]; she took care of McWicked. Actually, that’s why it means a little bit more. She did take care of his father.”

T H McMurry, bred by Waasmula’s owner Brent Vincent of Allenford, ON with Tara Hills Stud of Port Perry, ON, has some big horseshoes to fill when he makes his Mohawk debut. The date was still to be announced at publication deadline.

The odds of making it to Mohawk to watch T H McMurray race look ominously long some days. But so were the odds of Graeme reaching his goal of owning a top young horse.

“I’m waiting to go in the hospital to get operated on,” Graeme said of his July 7 appointment. “I’d like it to be sooner… I don’t know if I can make it that long. We’ll see. [I will] just keep plugging along, but this horse is going to help me a hell of a lot.

It’s tough not to hope for an even better result the next time T H McMurry goes behind the gate.

“I’ve been in pro [Canadian] football with the [Montreal] Alouettes,” said Graeme. “I worked with [CFL] commissioner Larry Smith; I’ve won a Grey Cup with the Alouettes. I’ve been in boxing. I was actually manager of a junior middleweight champion of the world, Matthew Hilton. So I’ve been very fortunate in my life to do whatever I enjoy doing, but there’s no better excitement than walking down those stairs [to the winner’s circle].

“Racing was always my forte and passion. Other sports, I got into and spent a couple of years in each of them, and it all came back to racing. I’ve never changed.”