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A 'Choice' N.A. Cup Contender

Published: June 6, 2018 10:45 am ET

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Somehow the fastest three-year-old pacer in North America is heading into Saturday's 2018 Pepsi North America Cup eliminations flying somewhat under the radar.

So for Courtly Choice, this could be his coming-out party. After wins in both of his sophomore tests thus far, the three-year-old son of Art Major faces his toughest test to date in Saturday's third and final North America Cup elim. While it's the only nine-horse field, there's an apparent depth in those nine pacers. From the rail out, the competition includes 2017 Dan Patch Award winner Lost In Time (PP1, Scott Zeron), seasonally unbeaten Lather Up (PP2, Montrell Teague) and Indiana invader Shnitzledosomethin (PP5, Peter Wrenn).

Throw in New York Sire Stakes star Hitman Hill (PP6, Brett Miller) and a hard-closing dark horse in St Lads Neptune (PP7, Jody Jamieson) to the inside of Courtly Choice and the stage is set for one surefire sophomore slugfest this Saturday.

"That's a deep nine-horse field, for sure," trainer and co-owner Blake MacIntosh admitted to Trot Insider on Tuesday. "That's a tough bunch and we drew the outside... s#!t happens. But it doesn't matter, we'd have to beat them anyway. No big deal."

Perhaps that easy-going yet professional attitude emanating from MacIntosh is rubbing off on his sophomore star. As a two-year-old, Courtly Choice had the speed to compete with the best in harness racing but he lacked the right attitude, according to his conditioner.

"He set the track record at Saratoga [1:53.1h], and then he got tortured his next start at Vernon. Then he got a little pouty for a little bit, and then raced good, then just raced OK. He wasn’t a very mature two-year-old; he was sort of worried about everything else but racing. He always had the talent and the speed; he just didn’t put his mind to it.

Courtly Choice, winning at Saratoga in 2017

"Now this year he seems to have matured a lot, and put his mind to it and really settled down and not worried about everything that’s walking by and wanting to talk to them, scream at them, yell at them. He’s a bit more of a gentleman this year than he was last year."

It's that promise of talent that prompted MacIntosh to invest in the Winbak Farm-bred yearling son of Art Major from the Camtastic mare Lady Ashlee Ann. She's produced two millionaires -- Ashlees Big Guy and O'Brien Award winner Betterthancheddar. MacIntosh's knowledge of Betterthancheddar and his progress as a racehorse certainly provided him with some sage insight into the potential nature of Courtly Choice.

"I knew he had it -— or I thought he had it. I just hoped he would mature into a nice horse. Betterthancheddar wasn’t really a two-year-old —- he had health problems ­­—- but he was sort of immature as a two-year-old, too. So I just figure the family always usually got better with age, and for him to do what he did at two, he should be that much better at three."

Fortunately for MacIntosh, his owners have allowed him to bring Courtly Choice along at his own pace. MacIntosh co-owns the colt with Touch Stone Farms, Daniel Plouffe and Joe Thomson's Hutt Racing Stable.

"Joe’s never pressured me. I’ve had horses for him for five years and, if anything, he’s more laid back than any owner I’ve ever had. He gives them more time than any owner you’ll ever have. There’s no pressure ever from him. Mr. and Mrs. Thomson are just amazing like that: they’re very patient with their horses, they love their horses, and they let you do whatever you need to do and what’s best for the horse."

Courtly Choice - May 19, 2018

That patience appears to be paying off. In two starts as a three-year-old, Courtly Choice boasts a pair of wins and has closed each mile with ferocity. In fact, all four of his on-track appearances in 2018 have boasted final quarters in the 26-second range. And that most recent mile in 1:48.4 -- a Vernon Downs track record -- was possibly slowed by a break in stride leaving the gate.

"He hasn’t really been challenged yet. Leaving out there he made a break, but Dave [Miller] hadn’t driven him before, and he just tapped him on the bum there and he didn’t really pace forward... he’s a bit lazy. He gave him a bit of a harder tap the next time, sort of goosed himself, and that’s why he made the break. He’s still a little green; he’s learning more every time he goes out there, and getting better and better. I’m really happy with him.

"He recovered pretty quickly... he probably lost two or three lengths and then came back on and just kept marching to the front."

Heading into the North America Cup elims, Courtly Choice will march to the front for a training mile at Woodbine Mohawk Park on Wednesday morning and then jog the other days. And if there's more anticipation for this race than others, it's not just because it's the richest race for three-year-olds: it's a rare Grand Circuit stop mapped out for Courtly Choice in 2018.

"We race a lot on the New York Sire Stakes; it’s a good circuit. That and Ontario are the two best circuits," stated MacIntosh. "I wanted to pay him into the Cup, but I didn’t want to overstake him in case he didn’t mature into what I thought he’d be. I paid him into the Breeders Crown because he was eligible, and it’s at the end of the year. We paid him into Lexington last year, and this year we never paid him into Lexington, because you’ve got so many stake payments as it is, and you’ve got to watch it.

"If everything goes right, he goes to the Hempt at Pocono, and then from there he’s got a New York Sire Stakes and then he’s got the Empire Breeders Classic. After that, pretty much just New York Sire Stakes and Breeders Crown. I didn’t pay him in the [Meadowlands] Pace or the Jug, because the NYSS Super Finals are the same night as the Jug, so it wasn’t going to work out."

MacIntosh wasn't surprised to see three divisions for the Somebeachsomewhere or the North America Cup, given that the glamour boy group doesn't have a horse that he feels has shown he's head and shoulders above the rest.

"Nothing against anybody else, but there’s no real standout, no dominant horse that people are scared of. With [Lost In Time and Stay Hungry] getting beat down at Pocono that night, everybody sort of thought to take a chance. Why not? I don’t blame them."

In fact, MacIntosh decided to enter another horse in the N.A. Cup elims, Rootin Tootin. He'll head to the gate in the first $50,000 elim from post seven with driver Mark MacDonald and face nine rivals. MacIntosh also co-owns Rootin Tootin with Stuart McIntosh, Fred Brayford and Robert Mac Neil.

"That's another tough bunch, not an easy race either, and another one I wish we would have drawn the inside a bit more as his game is more up front and chasing the pace," said MacIntosh. "We'll see what happens; he's a game little guy and he gives you his all every time.

"He got caught a little too far back last time and got taken out of the race around the last turn. Dave's horse (American Vision) kind of stopped on him, he had to three-wide early."

In addition to his 'Cup' contenders, MacIntosh will send out a pair of distaffers in hopes of competing on the June 16 undercard. Pacing filly Ubettorgo Go (PP1, Mark MacDonald) is set to compete in the second of two $35,000 Fan Hanover eliminations and pacing mare Clear Idea (PP7, M. MacDonald) will go postward in the first of two $35,000 Roses Are Red elims.

Ubettergo Go, winning at Tioga Downs

Giving him a sweep of the sophomore speed badges thus far, Ubettergo Go is the fastest three-year-old pacing filly of 2018 by virtue of her 1:50f mile at Tioga Downs on June 3. She's an Art Major filly co-owned by MacIntosh along with Tony Basile, Reg Petitpas and Ozzie Mackay.

"We hit [Youaremycandygirl] and what looks like probably the tougher of the two divisions," surmised MacIntosh. "If Go Go is right and on her game, she'll give them all they can handle. Her and Candygirl will likely have to battle all year in the NYSS, and they'll have to battle on Saturday."

Clear Idea may only have one win in 12 seasonal starts but she hasn't missed a cheque in her last 10 starts while racing against Open and Preferred competition for MacIntosh and co-owner Hutt Racing.

"Clear is a game little filly who doesn't miss the top three that often. I expect her to advance to the final and make us some money."

Having solid contenders for some of harness racing's most sought-after events is a dream for any participant, and the enormity of the evening isn't lost on MacIntosh.

"I've never had this many talented horses to be able to do this, and it's an honour. Let's just hope everything goes right, things work out in our favour and we have four racing next Saturday."

To view the harness racing entries for Saturday at Woodbine Mohawk Park, click the following link: Saturday Entries – Woodbine Mohawk Park.

To access a free, printable program for Woodbine Mohawk Park’s Saturday card of racing, courtesy of TrackIT, click here.

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