North America Cup Rewind: Tall Dark Stranger

Tall Dark Stranger winning at Woodbine Mohawk Park
Published: June 15, 2023 11:40 am EDT

The most extraordinary, difficult, rewarding and frustrating thing he’s ever experienced is how co-owner Marvin Katz described Tall Dark Stranger’s three-year-old campaign where he won 11 times and earned more than $1.4 million in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of those 11 wins was his 2020 Pepsi North America Cup victory. The son of Bettors Delight became the first horse to win the Metro Pace and Breeders Crown at two, and the Pepsi North America Cup and Meadowlands Pace at three.

“The final of the NA Cup was one of the most extraordinary experiences that I’ve ever had,” said Katz. “When he won, everyone was overjoyed. [Driver] Yannick Gingras was crying, and my wife Lynn and I were hugging and kissing each other. It was just the relief of all the things that had gone on, the logistics, all the challenges and celebrating the magnificence of the horse.”

Marvin Katz and Yannick Gingras with the North America Cup trophy

Katz’s involvement with Tall Dark Stranger began at the 2018 Lexington Select Yearling Sale.

“Jimmy Takter and Nancy were together and Tall Dark Stranger was on the floor,” said Katz. “Jimmy called me over and said, 'This is the best horse here, you have to be part of him’. I said, ‘Great I’m in,’ and that was the entire discussion.”

Tall Dark Stranger brought $330,000 in the sales ring and was an instant success when he began to race.

He won his debut baby race at the Meadowlands, before heading north of the border to win a leg of the Dream Maker and a pair of Ontario Sires Stakes Gold divisions at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

“It’s gratifying when a horse is able to fulfill its potential because, of course, many don’t,” said Katz. “All of the rules and principles that you use are justified and rewarded and it’s as exciting as it can get. I’ve been asked many times what it feels like and tried different analogies, but it just feels like you’re on top of the mountain.”

After his standout two-year-old season, Tall Dark Stranger came into his three-year-old year with high expectations.

It’s difficult for a two-year-old to repeat their success at the best of times, never mind when the entire world shuts down in March, just as training is ramping up for the summer stakes season.

The various COVID-19 restrictions created a jumbled racing calendar with the North America Cup moved to August. By then, Tall Dark Stranger had proved he was up to the task and then some winning the Meadowlands Pace and Cane Pace.

There were a number of logistical challenges to overcome just to compete in the Cup, starting with getting the horse to Canada and ensuring his regular pilot Yannick Gingras would be able to drive him.

Trainer Nancy Takter handled the shipping and Katz secured Gingras a cottage on Lake Simcoe to base himself out of in advance of the North America Cup.

“Yannick stationed himself here at Mohawk for six or seven weeks primarily to be able to drive Tall Dark Stranger,” said Katz. “That was the primary reason he gave up a number of good mounts in the U.S. for it. So that was difficult to arrange and one of many challenges.”

On the night of the North America Cup, Katz went to Woodbine Mohawk Park. It was the first time he’d been out of his house for an evening since the pandemic began.

Tall Dark Stranger didn’t disappoint. He found the front midway through the second panel and would lead the rest of the way, putting away Tattoo Artist in the stretch drive and ultimately winning by two lengths in a time of 1:48.2.


Horse racing is a difficult business at the best of times, but the industry faced challenges like never before during the pandemic. So for a horse of a lifetime to come along during the middle of it and win Canada’s biggest race made it that much more unique of an experience.

“I hadn’t been able to attend the Meadowlands Pace or the Cane Pace because travel was so difficult,” said Katz. “It was the only race of his three-year-old year I was able to attend. It was a very joyous moment, I don’t know if it was celebration or relief, but it was something that I’ll never forget.”


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