Righteous Resolve goes from a controversial placing to Hambletonian Oaks elimination favorite

by Melissa Keith

In a dozen lifetime starts, Righteous Resolve (3, 1:53s; $528,203) had tasted defeat just twice: Her Ontario Sires Stakes Gold debut last July 3 at Georgian Downs and the Oct. 28, 2022 Breeders Crown final for 2-year-old filly trotters at Woodbine Mohawk Park. At age 3, the Resolve—Motown Muscle daughter began her season with a winning WMP qualifier on May 26, but ended up scratched sick from her 2023 pari-mutuel return, a June 13 OSS Gold leg at her home track.

Trainer Matt Bax said smoke from widespread forest fires further delayed her comeback last month. On June 7, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) issued a notice recommending racetracks cancel training, qualifiers, and races if the air quality health index was in the high-risk range. Woodbine Mohawk Park canceled qualifiers and racing for Friday (June 30), moving the scheduled OSS Gold 3-year-old filly trot to July 6.

“Her having the respiratory sickness and the air quality, it definitely wasn’t ideal, but she came out of it well,” Bax said. “Anyway, she got the time that she needed. We talked to the owners about it. She wasn’t quite 100 per cent, so you give them time and you hope they reward you later on.”

July 6, Righteous Resolve was back with a vengeance, taking a new lifetime mark in what was also the fastest 2023 mile by a sophomore trotting filly in Canada. Teamed up with James MacDonald for the first time, the 2022 O’Brien Award winners were sent off as 1-5 favorites in the second leg of divisional OSS Gold at Mohawk. Biding her time in fifth to the hotly-contested :55.3 half, Righteous Resolve then tipped to follow Stonebridge Bravo from second over in pursuit of leader Baroness Hill. Gaining ground down the stretch, MacDonald’s filly edged out Baroness Hill in a perfectly-timed 1:53 flat victory.

In the winner’s circle afterwards, trainer Bax told WMP racing analyst Randy Waples, “She’s a gritty filly, and you never know, coming off so much time off. I thought that we had her ready and that she was good. The trip worked out nice, and you can’t say much more about that heart on her.”

Righteous Resolve moved on to the third OSS Gold leg, making the lengthy journey from Bax’s private Campbellville, ON training facility to Rideau Carleton Raceway July 16.

“She was strong last year and the last couple of weeks,” said her trainer. “I just wanted to see how she came out of the Ottawa trip. It’s not a real easy one for horses, and she did really well. So that kind of shows that she can travel well.”

Her trip down the Rideau stretch would prove more problematic. Jody Jamieson, driving Climb The Pole in that race, told AGCO judges that he was not allowed to access the passing lane. Winner Righteous Resolve was placed second, and 15-1 longshot Climb The Pole was placed first in what remains a contentious result. MacDonald was also fined $100 for not maintaining a straight course and obstructing the passing lane.

“We are appealing the decision,” said Bax. “You know, the plugs were still in [Righteous Resolve’s ears] and the horse [Climb The Pole] wasn’t even to the wheel. She was well in hand, so it’s pretty disappointing, but hopefully things work out in the end.”

Meanwhile, the wheels were in motion for last year’s top Canadian 2-year-old distaff trotter to take her biggest road trip yet. She has post 8 in the second of two Hambletonian Oaks eliminations this Saturday (July 29) at The Meadowlands.

“I feel that she’s as good as any down there,” said Bax. “You know, a [1]:53 mile up here [at Mohawk] is probably a [1]:51.2 mile at The Meadowlands. In my eyes, it’s a second and a half faster. I don’t really think she was as tight as she could be for that [July 6] race; that was her first start of the year. I was just training her at home, so I was really impressed that she went that big of a mile.”

He added that a light schedule so far this season works to Righteous Resolve’s advantage.

“It was kind of the plan,” Bax said. “You take a little bit [of time] off at the start of the year, and hope that she has a lot more at the end of the year. I would have liked that one OSS start that she missed, but she [will have] three starts going into the Hambletonian Oaks [final, tentatively], and that’s a good spot to be in. She’s maybe a little fresher than some of the other ones that have a bunch of starts. I think she’s trending upwards, not down.”

Righteous Resolve is owned by Bet Max Stables Inc., Casco, MI and Benenati Inc., Clinton Township, MI. The ownership group also bred and raced her dam Motown Muscle (3, 1:53.4s; $447,945), a 3-year-old Ontario stakes winner the same year that eventual Hall of Famer Bee A Magician (3, 1:51m; $4,055,865) dominated the Hambletonian Oaks. The Muscle Mass mare is out of Bankers Jackpot (3, 2:00h; $167,886), Bet Max/Benenati’s Michigan-bred winner of ٢٥ races from ٣٦ career starts.

“They’re great owners to have,” Bax said. “They always say, ‘Do what’s best for the horse.’ They really enjoy themselves, watching this filly [Righteous Resolve] race. They have a lot of fun at the track when they go… We’re really happy that she could perform for them. They have a great maternal family there, all the way down. I don’t know if they’re pretty lucky or just that good, but they keep hitting good horses in that family.”

Righteous Resolve and her stablemate, Hambletonian contender Southwind Coors (3, 1:52s; $186,613), are New Jersey-bound this week.

“We’ll take the two of them down for Friday,” Bax said. “They’ll go down to Mark Ford’s and then travel the rest of the way on Saturday.”

Plans are for the filly to return to Mohawk for OSS and Grand Circuit events after the Hambletonian Oaks, the race Bax called “the biggest goal” of her career so far.

He said she was essentially a more mature version of her O’Brien Award-winning 2-year-old self.

“Same old story, you know, a little bigger, a little stronger,” he said. “She always was a nice, big, strong horse last year. She doesn’t seem to have too many flaws.”

Her steady temperament was a particular strength, in his view.

“She’s pretty relaxed,” Bax said. “She’s got her paddock mate that she goes out with. I don’t think you could fault her anywhere. She’s a nice horse to be around. Actually, I’m holding her right now while she’s getting new shoes on.”

Bax admitted he was surprised to learn Righteous Resolve was the 2-1 morning line favorite in her Oaks elim.

“It doesn’t matter at all, but I didn’t think that they would give her or Southwind Coors [5-1 morning line in Hambletonian elim 1] the respect I thought they should get,” Bax said. “I guess I was wrong.”

James MacDonald is listed to drive both Saturday at The Meadowlands.

Righteous Resolve looks ready for revenge after her technicality-based defeat at Rideau Carleton.

“It was a big bonus that she trucked really well, and I would say she’s even stronger than she was in her first start, so we’re really happy going into Saturday,” said Bax.