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Third Time The Charm For McClure?

Published: December 23, 2019 4:53 pm ET

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Bob McClure has twice made his way to Standardbred Canada’s annual O’Brien Awards Gala with his sights on the nation’s Driver of the Year award. His deserving nominations have come on the strength of his solid numbers, on-track successes, and the contributions that he has made to the nation’s harness racing industry.

This year, McClure will be making yet another trip to the Hilton Mississauga/Meadowvale hotel in search of his first O’Brien Award. This time will be different, though. On Saturday, February 1, 2020, McClure will still be all dolled up and looking like a million bucks. He will again be at the gala with impressive numbers under his wing, but this time he will be entering the ballroom with the 2019 Hambletonian title under his belt.

“Hopefully the third time’s the charm,” McClure stated during a recent discussion with Woodbine Entertainment’s Monique Vag. “I think it’s a pretty even race between me and Louie (fellow driving nominee Louis-Philippe Roy). If it doesn’t happen, then maybe [I’ll] have another shot next year. I’m looking forward to it (the O’Briens).”

McClure of Rockwood, Ont., is currently putting the final touches on a career-best season in the earnings column. Thus far in 2019, McClure has piloted his charges to $5.93-million in purses and has also made 227 trips to the winner’s circle. McClure, who just missed out on year-end driving hardware in 2016 and 2018, was the regular driver for three of this year’s O’Brien finalists – three-year-old trotting colt Forbidden Trade, two-year-old trotting colt Port Perry and older trotting mare Emoticon Hanover.

The trio of trotters provided McClure with memories he surely won’t forget any time soon, but it was the big win down at the Meadowlands Racetrack with the Ontario-sired Forbidden Trade that will be hard – if not impossible – to top, career-wise.

“I think it’s the biggest win of anybody’s career, if you win the ‘Hambo’ – it’s the first one that comes to mind,” said McClure. “I was fortunate enough to have the right horse on the right day.”

Forbidden Trade had shipped down to East Rutherford, NJ as an understandable underdog, seeing as though he had readied for the Hambletonian with a pair of overnight races and a qualifier at Woodbine Mohawk Park. The son of Kadabra was then dismissed at odds of 19-1 when he finished third to Greenshoe in the first of the Hambo heats. That performance didn’t win over the wagering public, who then turned around and sent Forbidden Trade off at odds of 15-1 for the final heat.

Punters clearly didn’t think that McClure was going to walk away with harness racing’s ultimate prize on that August afternoon. To be fair, McClure had his doubts right up to the wire. When asked if he ever felt that he had Forbidden Trade’s Hambletonian victory in the bag, McClure responded by saying “I didn’t.”

“When I came off of cover, I figured Greenshoe was going to go right by, but I was pretty excited that I thought I had second wrapped up. Greenshoe got by, but in the late stages he kind of backed off a bit and [Forbidden Trade] dug in. Right down by the wire it kind of sunk in, and it was just like ‘wow.’”


Forbidden Trade pictured defeating Greenshoe (2) and Gimpanzee (7) in the 2019 Hambletonian final at the Meadowlands Racetrack (Lisa Photo)

“It was kind of shocking to me,” McClure said. “We weren’t quite at the wire yet – we were steps away from the wire – and Brian Sears looked over and went ‘Congrats kid.’ I was [thinking], ‘but we’re not there yet!’”

McClure’s 2019 driving campaign has been much more than just that fateful afternoon at the Meadowlands, though. He currently ranks third at Woodbine Mohawk Park in wins and purse earnings this season, behind Sylvain Filion and Louis-Philippe Roy. McClure’s work for trainer Luc Blais and the Determination stable of Montreal is continuing to pay dividends, as evidenced by what Port Perry, Forbidden Trade and the now-retired Emoticon Hanover were able to achieve this year.

McClure was put on the spot, somewhat, when he was asked who is the best horse that he has had the privilege to drive at this point in his career. In all fairness, though, when you’ve sat behind champions like Forbidden Trade and Emoticon Hanover, the answer really shouldn’t be that easy. “I should say Forbidden Trade,” McClure explained, “but ‘Emoticon’ (Emoticon Hanover) is right there.

“Emoticon was just different. Emoticon was unique. She was such an ‘aware’ horse. I know I’ve beat it to death, but she was such an ‘aware’ horse. She knew that she was in a race and aware that she was supposed to win. When she was on the track in the post parade it was a bit of a wrestling match. Some horses, you turn to the gate and they will wheel and go the other way and try to get out of it. She would turn and charge the gate. I’ve never driven a horse that was like her, but her and Forbidden Trade are special horses.”


Bob McClure, pictured steering Emoticon Hanover in December of 2019 during her career swan song.

The 2019 O’Brien Awards Black Tie Gala will take place on Saturday, February 1, 2020 at the Hilton Mississauga / Meadowvale. Tickets and program ads are now on sale and can be ordered by contacting SC’s Member and Stakeholder Relations Department at 905-858-3060 (Ext. 207 or 243).

Finalists in each of the 17 categories were announced on December 18. Media Excellence Finalists will be announced on December 27 and SC is still taking submissions for the Outstanding Groom Award until January 3.

Follow the latest updates on the O’Brien Awards on Standardbred Canada’s Facebook Event page and website.

For hotel information, click here.


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