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Is This Emoticon Hanover's Year?

Published: January 15, 2019 10:25 am ET

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Is this, finally, Emoticon Hanover's year at the O'Brien Awards?

Trainer Luc Blais certainly hopes so.

"If there is a mare in Canada that deserves it, it's really her," said Blais. "Every race, she's there."

A defeated finalist in her trotting category at the O'Briens in both 2016 and 2017, after finishing third in the vote as a two-year-old in 2015, the Kadabra mare is a finalist again for 2018 after another outstanding campaign. She had six wins and 12 top-three finishes in 15 starts, some of which were against males, and collected $397,208 to boost her career earnings to more than $1.6 million.

Emoticon Hanover started the year with a victory at Woodbine Mohawk Park in a $50,000 leg of the Miss Versatility Series in May and saved the best for last, capturing the $250,000 Breeders Crown final for trotting mares (for a second straight year) at Pocono Downs and then the $175,000 TVG final at the Meadowlands in her final two appearances of the season.

"The Breeders Crown is the one that impressed me most," Blais said. "It's so hard to win those races. There are no easy ones at that level. But she's so tough. She fights the whole mile."

He said the mare finished the year healthy and happy and the plan is to bring her back again in 2019.

Blais, who has shared in two O'Brien awards as trainer of millionaire trotter Intimidate, actually has two chances to add to his total this time around.

In addition to Emoticon Hanover, Forbidden Trade is a finalist for champion two-year-old trotting colt after a standout season in which the fast-closing son of Kadabra won seven races in 11 starts and just over $300,000. He was a powerhouse on the Ontario Sires Stakes circuit, winning four Golds in five tries and the $225,000 Super Final as well. His season ended on a bit of a down note, with an off-the-board finish in the $435,000 Valley Victory final at The Meadowlands in November, but Blais said he wasn't lucky in the draw there (post seven for his elimination, post 8 for the final).

He has full confidence in the colt and said the plan for 2019 definitely includes the Hambletonian, if he continues to improve and stay healthy. "I think he can race with the best. He's certainly built for it. He just got better as the year went on. I'm anxious to see what he'll do this year. A horse like that makes you dream."

The strong campaigns of Emoticon Hanover and Forbidden Trade were far from the full story in 2018 for Blais, 56, and the stable that has employed him for six years, Montreal-based Determination.

For the third consecutive year, it topped $2 million in purses, almost evenly split between Canada and the U.S., and Blais' winning percentage (28) ranked among the highest in North America for prominent trainers.

The 25-horse stable got major wins from four-year-old trotting mare Dream Together, who captured the $154,800 Steele Memorial at the Meadowlands and the $141,000 Joie de Vie at Tioga Downs in consecutive starts, and five-year-old trotter Warrawee Roo, victor in the $250,000 Harry Harvey Trot at Yonkers and third behind Homicide Hunter in the $500,000 Breeders Crown final. Warrawee Roo earned $356,107 and Dream Together accumulated $260,424.

Two-year-old trotting filly Champagne Jane, narrowly beaten in the $225,000 Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final, broke her maiden in a Breeders Crown elimination and also earned six figures in 2018.

Dream Together and Warrawee Roo both were injured late in the year, but Blais is optimistic they'll return to action.

All in all, Blais said, 2018 was "a good year, another good one, reflecting the strength of our foundation," and the O'Brien award nominations just make it sweeter, "because it reminds you how far you've come, with horses you started from scratch."

Standardbred Canada will present the 30th edition of the O’Brien Awards on Saturday, February 2, 2019 at the Hilton Mississauga/Meadowvale Hotel. Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased by contacting the Member & Stakeholder Relations Department at 905-858-3060. Tickets are $200 each (includes HST) and include a cocktail reception, gourmet dinner, wine, and complimentary portrait.

(A Trot Insider Exclusive by Paul Delean)

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