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‘Determination’ Pays Off In Full

Published: February 17, 2019 9:22 pm ET

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When the dust settled from the 2018 O’Brien Awards, trainer Luc Blais and the Determination stable walked away with a very respectable haul. Both of the outfit’s two O’Brien nominees, Emoticon Hanover and Forbidden Trade, emerged with the hardware from their respective divisions. Batting 1.000 never felt so good.

Trot Insider caught up with Blais alongside members of Determination after the awards ceremony to discuss the talented trotters and for some insight into their upcoming stakes campaigns.

It goes without saying that Emoticon Hanover had her work cut out for her heading into the 2018 season. The millionaire daughter of Kadabra was once again set to skirmish in the aged trotting division that housed Hannelore Hanover, the great trotting mare that was coming off of a Horse of the Year season on both sides of the border.

‘Hannelore’ came out of the chute firing to kick off her ’18 campaign. She notched victories in her first six starts of the season before tailing off later in the year. ‘Emoticon,’ on the other hand, started off her season in good order, but hit a bit of a rough patch through the summer. It was Emoticon’s fall resurgence, however, that Blais believes earned his charge the O’Brien as Canada’s top aged trotting mare of 2018.

Left to right: Janet Scringer, Mario Proulx, Darryl Kaplan, Director of Innovation & Information for Standardbred Canada and President of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, Luc Blais, Liisa Vatanen, Lina Machado, Pierre Charette.

“I think at the end of the season she finished very strong and looked good, which I think helped (in terms of O’Brien Award voting),” Blais said after the awards ceremony.

And look good she did.

Emoticon had experienced an up-and-down campaign heading into the late-fall stakes schedule, but that was when she went on to shine the brightest. The bay wasn’t the favourite for neither her Breeders Crown elimination nor the $250,000 final at Pocono, but she won both, each by three quarters of a length. She retained her sharp form roughly one month later when she trotted to a gritty, neck win in her $175,000 TVG final at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

Trot Insider asked Blais what his favourite part of Determination’s 2018 campaign was. He pointed to Emoticon’s late-season resurgence, which spoke to the heart and desire of the tough mare. “Probably the comeback of Emoticon,” he said. “She had a bit of a drop in the middle of the season and she came back strong. I think that’s the best moment for me, her comeback.”

While speaking with Trot Insider, Blais stated that he recently started back with Emoticon in advance of a 2019 campaign, and that her upcoming stakes season will most likely follow the same course as 2018, including the Maple Leaf Trot.

“She looks good,” Blais said of Emoticon. “She finished the season very healthy and strong and will be back for 2019… I think it is going to be the same schedule as last year. We’re going to race her with the aged mares. [She’ll also be pointed to] the Maple Leaf Trot, probably.”

Although it was Emoticon’s resurgence that stood out in Blais’ mind, many in the industry would point to the development of Forbidden Trade as their favourite Determination moment of 2018. The Kadabra colt progressed nicely through his freshman campaign and won seven of his 11 starts and $300,000 in purses. He thrived in the Ontario Sires Stakes program and raced well for pilot Bob McClure, who would end up being a finalist in Canada’s 2018 driver of the year category.

In speaking of Forbidden Trade, Blais explained that the colt just seemed to get better and better as 2018 unfolded, which, before Blais knew it, resulted in an O’Brien nomination and victory for Canada’ top two-year-old trotting colt of 2018.

“Every week was better and better after we broke him,” Blais told Trot Insider. “After that he just got better.”

Left to right: Pierre Charette, Lina Machado, Jean-Noel Leblanc, Standardbred Canada Director Darren Crowe, Luc Blais, Liisa Vatanen and Mario Proulx.

It’s fair to say that a 1:56.4 mile over Grand River Raceway – the current Canadian record for a two-year-old trotter over a half-mile track – could be classified as ‘better.’

“The Grand River race where he broke the Canadian record first over against Dream Nation, that race impressed me a lot,” said Blais.

Blais explained that Forbidden Trade will be pointed toward more Grand Circuit engagements in 2019 if all goes according to plan. The respected conditioner also took the opportunity to comment on driver Bob McClure, who has forged a professional working relationship with Blais.

When asked what has made McClure an asset to Blais’ barn, the conditioner pointed to the pilot’s true dedication to the operation.

“What I like is that he is patient,” Blais said of McClure. “We don’t have a big barn, and he cares – he cares about my horses, and I like that.”

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