Mohawk baby races make a triumphant return

Canada’s first 2-year-old qualifiers held Saturday at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

by Melissa Keith

Saturday (June 1) marked the first baby races of the year at Woodbine Mohawk Park. The 2-year-old qualifiers are a precursor to the Campbellville, ON track’s first 2-year-old stakes events of the season, the Tomkins-Geers Stakes. Divisions for fillies and males of both gaits are scheduled for Mohawk on Thursday (June 27) and Friday (June 28).

The inaugural baby races always make for a special day at the track, complete with race calls from Mark McKelvie. The senior manager of communications for Woodbine Entertainment announced Canada’s first 2024 baby races, and said he will be on the mic for upcoming 2-year-old qualifiers.

“I also chart the qualifiers at the same time, so a little bit of multi-tasking, but this is the fun time of year,” McKelvie said. “We’re also looking at some enhanced coverage of baby races, and still ironing out some details, but we know how much owners and fans are wanting to see the future stars.”

The entry box for Saturday’s qualifiers closed May 31 at 10:30 a.m., a rare Mohawk Friday with no scheduled qualifiers. Two qualifiers for 2-year-old trotters and one for freshman pacers filled, along with one qualifier apiece for 3-year-old trotters and pacers.

Six 2-year-old trotters lined up in the first baby race.

Southwind Grenade was eager behind the gate, off-stride for a few moments before settling down for owner/trainer/driver Gino Toscani. The Walner—Southwind Gilly colt led through early fractions of :31.4, 1:03, and a 30-second third quarter, reaching three-quarters in 1:33 flat.

Pocket-sitting Macthenight (Trixton—MacKenzie Hall), driven by Tyler Jones and owned by Chad Hill and Kimberly Jensen of Hagersville, ON, stepped out to challenge Southwind Grenade down the stretch. Filly Exquisite Taste (Resolve—Ghost Glider) went three-wide to overtake both colts in deep stretch for driver Louis-Philippe Roy. She won handily in 2:02.2.

Exquisite Taste is owned by Ecurie Csl of Sorel-Tracy, QC and Louis-Philippe Roy Racing of Campbellville, ON, and trained by Eric Nadeau. The former $34,000 London Classic yearling was bred by Glengate Farms and Ariel Stables of Erin, ON.

The second 2-year-old qualifier saw five trotters go behind the gate. Southwind Francoo (Muscle Hill—Follow Streak) was first to the front for driver Sylvain Filion. The colt was quickly followed by Foresworn (Walner—Princess Lilly), in line to James MacDonald. Reaching the opening quarter in :33.2, Southwind Francoo then surrendered the lead to Foresworn, who hit the half in 1:05.

Another three-horse stretch duel developed when Filion’s colt left the pocket and lone filly Bright Green (Green Manalishi S—Shine Bright) tipped three-wide for driver Louis-Philippe Roy. Southwind Francoo held off Bright Green to win the 2:04.2 qualifier.

Southwind Francoo is a former $12,000 Lexington Select Sale yearling, bred by Southwind Farms Llc of Pennington, NJ. The colt is owned and trained by Gaetan Hebert of Dundas, ON.

Seven 2-year-old pacers qualified in the last of the day. Lady Gambler, a Bettors Delight—Lady Be Great filly, was scratched.

Free-legged grey colt Snowport (Huntsville—Milky Way Hanover) instantly crossed over to the front from the outside post for trainer/driver Gino Toscani. Seas The Day (Your Nemesis—No Time for Talkin) and driver Bob McClure circled him approaching the :31.1 first quarter.

Seas The Day maintained command through a 1:02.3 half. Snowport emerged from the pocket to chase him from first-over to three-quarters, reached in 1:33.4. The stretch drive saw fillies Love Tap Station (Captain Crunch—Hit By A Bus) and Stylish Stella (Betterthancheddar—Arabella J) closing wide. Seas The Day held off Stylish Stella, with Tyler Borth driving, in the 2:02.2 mile. 

Seas The Day is a homebred owned by Stephen and Marilyn Gillard of Innerkip, ON. The colt is also trained by Stephen Gillard, who owns his 27-year-old sire, Your Nemesis (p, 5, 1:51.2m; $425,953).

McKelvie told HRU that numbers entered in the early 2-year-old qualifiers can be unpredictable from year to year.

“It’s always a bit of a toss-up with how many babies will be entered for that first week,” he said after calling this Saturday’s qualifiers. “I think the winter we had should mean we’ll have plenty ready over the first few weeks.

“I’m not sure too many trainers are really aiming for that first week, especially when it falls right on June 1. But the group we had looked good, and now it’s full steam ahead for a busy month.”

Starting next week, there will be three days of Mohawk qualifiers scheduled each week. Tuesday mornings will be for 3-year-olds and older horses, with 2-year-old qualifiers set for later in the week.

The baby races return on Friday (June 7) and Saturday (June 8), with one Thursday (June 13), also allocated for 2-year-old qualifiers. The regular Friday-Saturday schedule resumes from June 14 through June 29, excluding Saturday (June 15), the date of the 2024 Pepsi North America Cup final. Qualifiers begin at 9:30 a.m. (Eastern).

“It’s just the plan every year to offer up 2-year-old qualifiers on that first weekend in June,” McKelvie said. “We’ve penciled in multiple baby race days for next weekend and throughout the month.”

Depending on demand, there could be more or fewer baby races.

“The entry box will tell us if we need both Friday and Saturday next weekend,” he said. “We’re ready to accommodate whatever number comes forward.”

Woodbine Mohawk Park will also open the track for training from 7 a.m. to noon each Wednesday during the month of June.

A complimentary “Owners’ Breakfast” is scheduled for the grandstand Mohawk Harvest Kitchen on Saturday (June 8). The special event begins at 9 a.m., and does not require reservations. It’s open to all racing participants attending the morning’s baby races.

“The Owners’ Breakfast is just a way for us to show some appreciation for the individuals and groups that support our industry,” McKelvie told HRU. “Just as you’d expect, baby races draw more owners out than regular qualifiers, so it’s a perfect time to host a breakfast. Some of our Woodbine executives will be attending and they’ll be available to chat and answer any questions owners and trainers might have. It’s hard to find time in the busy racing season to get everyone together. This, though, is a good opportunity.”