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Drivers Entertain In Roundtable

Published: March 29, 2020 5:20 pm ET

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On Sunday evening (March 29), Greg Blanchard hosted a roundtable discussion interview with three of Canadian harness racing’s most accomplished drivers - Chris Christoforou, James MacDonald and Bob McClure.

The interview was streamed on COSA TV and featured the foursome revisiting highlights of their careers as well as racing memories and how the trio are all staying busy during the dark days of racing.

Driver Chris Christoforou, eldest of the trifecta of drivers, has a driving resume that some could only imagine attaining. In highlighting his illustrious career, the four time O’Brien Award winner for Driver Of The Year revisited the days of Earl in the 1993 Breeders Crown. “He was very instrumental in helping me along. I was about 19 or 20 when he was a two-year-old. He took me all over Ontario [with] Sire Stakes, we won the Canadian Breeders at Mohawk, he was just a real nice colt. He was really easy to drive which made it easy for me. I haven't been behind one since that could move like him.

Another memorable mount of Christoforou would be none other than powerhouse pacer Astreos, one of the last Little Brown Jug winners to have to contest in three heats in 2000.

“The whole time I was thinking about Gallo Blue Chip, if I let him in front of me my race is over. He was one of those horses that once he got in front of you, you couldn't pass him. The plan [with Astreos] right from the start and the second heat was he ain't getting by and that was it. It was a really great day with another family horse. There are two races to win. I’ve won one and Bob’s won the other one, James, he’ll win one sooner or later I’m sure. To win one of those races is very fulfilling, it's something you dream of since you are a kid.”

The other race being mentioned of course being The Hambletonian, which McClure won in 2019 with Forbidden Trade for trainer Luc Blais.

“I don't think the world had a lot of expectations for him but I expected a top five finish from him in the final to be realistic. He was racing great here [in Canada] and I think if he would have won the Goodtimes, he would have had more respect but he got locked in, got free 50 feet from the wire and just got beat a head. He's just an amazing horse. He’s so handy, you can put him wherever you want on the racetrack.”

So how does winning arguably the biggest race in harness racing change the life of a young reinsman?

“It’s hard to explain,” grins McClure. “It changes your career. Like Greek said, there are races that not many people get to say ‘I did that’ and all the stars need to line up for it to work out and you think maybe once you got it you don't appreciate it, but you do every day. I spent a lot of years driving in London, Flamboro, Georgian, Grand River and it really shows that [winning something like the Hambletonian] is not something to take for granted. A lot of great drivers go their whole career and never see it let alone win it.”

The life of a catch driver is a constant grind, the long commutes from home to track to track to home can be mentally and physically exhausting, while taking into consideration the vast majority of these drivers make this grind nearly 365 days a year.

“I'm a little older now but I feel good out there. At 48 is my timing off, I don't think so, am I as sharp as I was at 28? I'd probably be a fool to believe that. But I still think I have a lot to offer, I think I do a pretty good job with young trotters and younger horses. I enjoy it and I try to keep doing it night in and night out, I'm pretty consistent on showing up every night and I think that's important. I think if you keep grinding away, you'll get a few good horses here and there and that's what will keep you going. I know the great glory days are behind me but at the same time I'm not near anywhere ready to hang it up,” notes Christoforou.

For MacDonald, if the 2017 World Driving Champion had to choose a defining moment in his career the young reinsman would be likely to choose Courtly Choice, winner of the 2019 Canadian Pacing Derby for trainer Blake MacIntosh.

“He was really good the two starts before the Derby. I thought if I got him into the flow and he had some kind of trip, Lather Up was unbeatable at the time but I figured I'd get a good chunk if I was in the tow. Going into the last turn, I knew I had a lot of horse left. When he is on his game he will give you a vicious kick for home. He was pacing right out of his skin. It was a really good feeling,” reflects MacDonald.

As far as staying in the driver's mindset, while racing takes a brief hiatus across Canada from the COVID-19 outbreak, the trio of well accomplished drivers all agree that staying active in being behind a horse is the best way to stay sharp. All three can be found on the track in the mornings gearing up for a return to racing as the racing ‘grind’ never ends.

While all were able to reflect on great memories, it is well assured that many jokes were told as well.

The engaging piece between Greg Blanchard, Bob McClure, James MacDonald and Chris Christoforou can be found here on the SC website and on Facebook Live.

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