While Brad Grant's name is peppered throughout North American past performance programs during the season, he's making his debut as an owner in the program for Canada's year-end harness racing honours with three 2017 O'Brien Award finalists.
The Milton, Ont. based owner could have his hands full of hardware on Saturday, February 3. Grant owns part of two-year-old pacing colt Stay Hungry, a piece of three-year-old pacing filly Bettors Up and 100 percent of older pacing mare Sandbetweenurtoes. These are Grant's first O'Brien Award finalists.
"To go from not having any horses ever nominated to having three in one year, it's kind of topped off a great year," Grant told Trot Insider. "I've had a great year, it's probably been my best year in the business. And to top it off by getting three nominations, that in itself is an honour and if we're lucky enough to win, great, if not, you know what, just to be a part of it is special."
In most cases, an owner would have a common trainer for his standouts. Grant's finalists come from three different stables but they do have one thing in common -- the primary driver for all three horses is O'Brien Award finalist for Driver of the Year, Doug McNair.
"I've watched Dougie grow up and to be a part of his growing up process and watching him race against the big boys and hold his own and carry himself well, it's just all been good.
Stay Hungry (5) and driver Doug McNair winning the Breeders Crown Two-Year-Old Colt Pace with Stay Hungry.
"You very seldom go into a race thinking 'I don't have a chance'", said Grant of McNair's driving ability. "I really believe that, in our case, Dougie can get that much extra out of a horse."
Never was this a truer statement than the 2017 Fan Hanover Final at Mohawk Racetrack. Dismissed as odds of 11-1, McNair guided O'Brien finalist Bettors Up to a popular victory for Grant, his sister Teresa Davidson and trainer and co-owner Scott McEneny.
The victory was the highlight of a $500,000-winning campaign that vaulted Bettors Up, -- a daughter of 2001 Horse of the Year Bettors Delight, owned by Grant's father John -- into O'Brien Award consideration with Ontario Sires Stakes standout The Joy Luck Club.
"She just raced so large that night. It's hard enough to win a stakes race anywhere, but it was great to win it at home. Milton is home to Teresa and I, and the area is home to Scott, so it's winning the Fan Hanover and being associated with a great mare and people like Dr. Glen Brown, it had a special moment to it."
The Fan Hanover victory margin was scant, just a nose separated Bettors Up and rival Agent Q at the wire. With a finish too close to call from his vantage point, Grant patiently awaited the results of the photo finish before making a presumptuous trek to the winner's circle. And with good reason.
"I stayed up there until they put the number on the board. I wasn't going to jinx her. Funny story, Sandbetweenurtoes three years ago raced in the Breeders Crown in Toronto. I'm upstairs, my wife and I, and when the race is over, she's the last call," recalled Grant. "Only time [Ken Middleton] called her was at the end. Everybody was 'congratulations, congratulations, blah, blah, blah' and I never go down unless the number is up because you never know. And I'm going 'Well, if everybody else says it, well maybe I won.'
"So we were going down to the winner's circle and up flashed the number and we finished second. And I thought, 'Damn it, I knew I shouldn't have left the table,'" Grant continued with a laugh. "And so I've never done it. I never did it before and even that night, everybody said, 'oh no, you won'. I remember standing beside John Fielding, and I just looked at him and said 'I'm not moving until the number flashes up.' And then I ran like hell!
"It was the management of the horse getting her ready and Dougie putting himself in a position to win."
Grant was quick to acknowledge the work of McEneny and his team for the sophomore success of Bettors Up.
"I've got to give all the credit to Scott -- he did a great job -- and Stacey [Currie] was the groom with her and travelled with her. I'm just kind of lucky that I got to be a part of her with my sister and with Scott.
Though Grant's millionaire pacer Sandbetweenurtoes didn't finish second in the 2017 Breeders Crown, her seasonal success garnered an O'Brien Award finalist nod in the Older Pacing Mare category -- along with Pure Country. Trained by reigning champion and divisional finalist Richard Moreau, the consistent daughter of Somebeachsomewhere raced the majority of her starts against open and stakes company during her six-year-old season, her fourth straight with more than $210,000 in earnings. Of the three O'Brien Award finalists, this one surprised Grant the most but he definitely feels she's deserving of the honour.
"It was a bit of a surprise, but, I mean, in fairness to her, she shows up and she races hard every night. She's in very tough -- you can't take anything away from Takter's filly -- but she deserves to be in that class. It's great to see."
Sandbetweenurtoes made her last start in October 2017, a victorious 1:49.4 score in the Fillies & Mares Preferred at Mohawk. Suffice it to say that she earned a break, as she had made a start in every month from May 2015 through to October 2017 -- 30 straight months of action against preferred, open and stakes caliber foes, with a fair sprinkling of travel stateside as well. That consistency comes from a talented horse and proper management through a team effort.
"I can take some of the credit as an owner, but it's really the people that look after her," said Grant. "A lot of the credit for keep her going year after year goes to Larry & Ray Remmen when she was younger and to Richard and his team the last couple of years. And Dougie's given her great drives and he stuck with her all year too."
Both Bettors Up and Sandbetweenurtoes will return to the track in 2018, as will Grant's third finalist: pacing colt Stay Hungry. The $150,000 yearling from 2016 made good on his purchase price with a $550,000 rookie campaign for Grant, co-owner Irv Samelman and trainer Tony Alagna.
"I really, really liked him when I went to Lexington," confessed Grant. "He was one of three that I probably earmarked that I really liked. When I talked to Tony, we were very much on the same page. When I bought him, I thought we'd have to go another 50 on him so getting him at a hundred and a half was, what we thought, a deal. And he's been everything and more to be quite honest."
Grant recalls an immediate connection to the regally-bred son of Somebeachsomewhere - My Little Dragon, dating back to the initial sighting of the yearling in 2016.
"I don't know, it sounds kind of quirky, but there was just something when I saw him that, you know, you hear people on a great horse say, 'When I saw him in the field, it was the best moment' or whatever you want to call it. With him, he just kind of stood out to me. And again, it was nothing special. I don't know what it was. It might have been just the moment in the sunlight, who knows, but he just seemed to catch our interest."
With a seasonal summary of 6-1-0 from nine starts, the successes far outweigh the blemishes. But one of those blemishes came at an inopportune time for Grant et al. when Stay Hungry finished fifth in the 2017 Metro.
"The night of the Metro, I'm not taking anything away from Lost In Time, but our colt wasn't a hundred per cent and he still raced good. I mean, he had to cut it out," noted Grant. "His race in Lexington, the field just backed up and he stepped on a wheel and made a break, and then he loses the Governor's Cup, which probably lost him the Dan Patch, but still put in a great race and, again, lost to a very solid horse in Lost In Time so we're looking for big things [this] year. I think he's right there with any of the best three-year-olds this year. I'm really excited about him."
The partnership on Stay Hungry is a first-time venture for Grant with longtime owner Irwin Samelman, who most notable owned millionaire Pilgrims Fiery -- a horse with his name in the news lately as one of only two Standardbreds with more than 100 wins and more than $1 million in purses.
"I didn't know Irv Samelman at all, but he called me out of the blue and said, 'Brad, I really love this horse, would you ever consider a partner?' And within 48 hours, I checked him out and he checked me out and, as they say, the rest is history. It's been great, I've got a great partner."
Although Stay Hungry wasn't able to tackle the division's best in the Metro, he cemented his status among the elite with his 2017 Breeders Crown win at Hoosier Park.
"To come three-wide off the turn at Hoosier and win the Breeders Crown the way he did, I thought it really put a statement out that that, 'I'm a player, guys.'"
Grant is no stranger to the attention a solid divisional rivalry can do for harness racing. It may have been 17 years ago now, but many still vividly and fondly recall the wars waged by sophomore pacers Bettors Delight and Real Desire in 2001. Could Stay Hungry vs. Lost In Time recreate some of that buzz in 2018?
"I think those two colts and there's always somebody that will come out that was kind of a sleeper last year," said Grant. "I think there's going to be a great crop of three-year-olds and I can surely think our colt will show himself well again this year and we'll have a lot of fun with him."
In 2017, Grant topped all owners in victories (60) and earnings ($1.2 million+) for the second consecutive season on the WEG circuit. When asked what he owes his consistency and success to, he quickly passes that praise onto his associates.
"Being associated with great people. Trainers, grooms, drivers and partners."
The winners of the 17 categories will be announced at the O’Brien Awards Gala on Saturday, February 3, 2018 at the Hilton Mississauga / Meadowvale Hotel in Mississauga, Ontario.
Tickets for the 2017 O'Brien Awards are now on sale and can be purchased by contacting the Industry Marketing Department at 905-858-3060.
Follow the latest updates on the O’Brien Awards on Standardbred Canada’s Facebook Event page and on the SC website.