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Elkins Thrilled With On The Ropes

Published: January 24, 2021 9:22 pm ET

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Percy Elkins has been involved in harness racing for over four decades, by his recollection. But, in all that time, he had never enjoyed success in the sport quite like he did in 2020.

Elkins, in addition to being a partner in Moneyman Hill — who finished third to Tall Dark Stranger in the North America Cup — owns older pacers East End and Major Hill, who combined to earn over $200,000 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. But it was his trotter — On The Ropes — who landed him on cloud nine. Not only did the now-six-year-old son of Chapter Seven bank $142,800 last season while competing week in and week out at Woodbine Mohawk Park, but he also gave Elkins his first ever O'Brien Award nomination — an accolade that has given the the 75-year-old Milton, Ont., resident cause for sheer elation.

"I've been in this business over 40 years, and it's the first time I've been up for anything," a thrilled Elkins told Trot Insider. "It's not winning; it's getting there. And I got there — or, at least my horse did!"

The very phone call in which Elkins learned that On The Ropes was named an O'Brien finalist was an absolute thrill for the longtime industry participant.

"I was very excited — and also shocked," he continued. "If you win things, like Moreau — he wins Trainer of the Year for the last (seven) years, and if he gets the call, it's just another thing that happens during his day's activities. Me, I've never had it, so when you get something like this, 'Wow!' I'm like, 'Is this a hoax or something?'"

Elkins, who is the president and CEO of KML Food and Confectionery, at one point had "25 or 30" horses at a given time, but has since scaled back his operation considerably.

"I have six right now," he explained. "I've got two young ones — a colt and a filly — and then four racehorses. I've been very fortunate over the last four or five years. This business isn't the greatest business in the world to make a profit, but over the last four or five years, I've done extremely well."

That stretch of time roughly corresponds to Elkins' partnership with trainer Carmen Auciello, in whose care Elkins has placed his quartet of racehorses.

"Carmen is a very good trainer," Elkins said. "The beautiful thing — I've been with Carmen for close to five years — is I've spent no more than $1,000 on vet bills. That's pretty good. It was a couple trips up to Barrie, and that's all in five years. To me, I think that's a very good record!

"They get vetted when they have to get vetted. I've been very lucky with horses that have stayed extremely sound. And I also think Carmen's an excellent horseman who can work around when horses get aches and pains in their legs — he's good at working around that and giving them time when they need time. You can't race a horse 52 weeks out of the year; they've got to get a little time every now and then."

Auciello, who won an O'Brien Award two years ago thanks to pacing mare Exhilarated, is just as happy for Elkins:

"I know Percy has been in the business for a lot of years, and I’m so happy for him to finally receive an O’Brien Award nomination for one of his horses. He has had a lot of nice horses over the years, but I’m very happy to be training horses for him, and to be able to give the chance to win an award such as this."

Aside from 2-1/2 months off when racing was shut down across Canada from mid-March through the end of May, On The Ropes raced steadily all season long, accounting for six wins and 16 on-the-board finishes in 34 starts while taking on many of Canada's top trotters. One of those wins stands out to Elkins in particular — and in a stroke of serendipity, it was a race in which On The Ropes shared victory with fellow O'Brien finalist Perfetto.

"We were leading coming into the lane by a length or so," Elkins recounted of the Feb. 10 Preferred at Mohawk. "Of course, he was tiring a little bit and Perfetto was coming on a little bit, and I figured we just hung on, but by a whisker. But I saw the photo, and you couldn't separate them from the wire. It's kind of ironic that the two that were picked was my favourite race — and I was there that night, so it was more exciting."

After such a gruelling campaign, On The Ropes is enjoying some well-deserved downtime during the current Ontario shutdown along with stablemates Major Hill and East End.

"Right now, those three are on a rest," Elkins said. "No training, no nothing. We shut them down, took the shoes off and gave them a month off. When (Carmen) finds out when they're going to start, he'll probably put the shoes back on them and start them back up."

Elkins laments that, due to public health restrictions, his first O'Brien experience won't be the gala he envisioned:

"It would have been nice. I always thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice one year to go to the hotel — the wife and I at a black-tie affair ...' And all of a sudden, I got a call from Standardbred Canada. But this year, nobody's going anywhere!"

... but seemingly nothing — not even a pandemic — can dampen the sheer joy Percy Elkins has derived from the highlight of his harness racing journey.

"I'm definitely going to watch it," a jubilant Elkins concluded. "Win, lose or draw, I'm happy I got there. That's one thing now I can say that I can take off my bucket list. I made it."

The 2020 Virtual O’Brien Awards Gala takes place on Sunday, January 31, 2021 and will be available for viewing on from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. (EST).

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