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MacDonald Hoping For Sweet Homecoming

Published: August 28, 2013 6:27 pm ET

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Mark MacDonald joked that he almost got lost last weekend when he returned to Ontario’s Mohawk Racetrack for the first time since November 2011, but once there, the former Canadian driving champion had no trouble finding his way to the winner’s circle.

A native of Prince Edward Island, the 34-year-old MacDonald moved to New York prior to the start of the 2012 campaign and had raced only in the U.S. prior to heading to Mohawk for the eliminations of the Canadian Pacing Derby and Shes A Great Lady stakes.

MacDonald finished second with Bahama Blue in her Shes A Great Lady elim and followed up two races later by winning with Bolt The Duer in his Canadian Pacing Derby elim. MacDonald and Bolt The Duer will start Saturday’s $651,000 Canadian Pacing Derby final from post two, one spot inside of fellow elimination winner A Rocknroll Dance in the field of 10 older male pacers.

“That was fun,” MacDonald said. “I only had a couple drives, but I made the best of it. It was a good night.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re going when you have a horse like Bolt The Duer, but of course it was fun to go back home and drive a horse like that.”

As for finding his way around his old stomping grounds, MacDonald said with a laugh, “I almost took the wrong exit. But I’ll be alright this weekend.”

MacDonald has won 5,192 races in his career and was Canada’s Driver of the Year in 2005 and 2006. He also was the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Rising Star Award winner in 2005. He has enjoyed some of his most memorable racing moments in Canada, including winning the 2010 North America Cup and 2009 Metro Pace with Sportswriter, both at Mohawk, and two Breeders Crown triumphs.

“Mohawk is place where I raced for a long time and I have a lot of friends there and my brothers [Anthony and James] are up there,” MacDonald said. “It’s a great place to go to.

“It would be very special to win there.”

Bolt The Duer will give MacDonald a good chance to win. He won his Canadian Pacing Derby elimination by three and a quarter lengths over Sweet Lou in 1:48.1. One week earlier, he equalled the fastest mile ever paced on a half-mile track when he captured the $275,000 Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial in 1:49 at Saratoga Raceway.

“He was freaky good at Saratoga,” MacDonald said. “That was great. He cut the mile himself, and it was kind of a cool night with a little bit of a headwind. If that was an afternoon race on a track like Delaware [Ohio], I don’t know what kind of mile it would have been. It might have been [1]:48 or sub-[1]:48.”

Bolt The Duer has won four of 11 races this year and earned over $490,000 for trainer Pete Foley and owner John Como Jr.’s All Star Racing.

In addition to winning the Gerrity, the four-year-old horse won the $200,000 Dan Patch Invitational at Hoosier Park in May. He was second in the William R. Haughton Memorial and the U.S. Pacing Championship.

Last year, he won the $500,000 Delvin Miller Adios, $415,820 Messenger Stakes, $250,000 Kentucky Sire Stakes Championship and $130,000 Cleveland Classic. His time of 1:47.4 in the Adios is the fastest ever on a five-eighths of a mile oval – and he matched that world record time this year at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.

For his career, Bolt The Duer has won 19 of 38 races, finished second on eight occasions, and earned $1.6 million.

“He’s an any [size]-track horse and that’s what makes him great,” MacDonald said. “Every once in a while a special horse comes along like him. He’s got a flawless gait and covers the ground real nice. He’s a handful around other horses, but on the racetrack and driving-wise, he’s just the ultimate professional. He does everything right.

“With his gait and his attitude and his professionalism you can put him on any size track. He knows what he’s there to do. He shows up every week.”

Bolt The Duer raced only eight times as a two-year-old, winning six, and developed slowly into the horse he is today.

“Pete Foley has done a great job with him,” MacDonald said. “He was a very nice three-year-old, but he was really green. He had some issues last year because he was sick, but other than that I’ve never seen him get tired. Sometimes he would just get lost out there, but now he’s able to put it all together.

“It’s been a work in progress to get him to where he could be ultra-good and you could race him any way you want. He seems to be there now.”

Bolt The Duer faces a tough field in the Canadian Pacing Derby. A Rocknroll Dance won his elim by a neck over fast-closing Clear Vision in a Canadian-record 1:47.3. One week earlier, A Rocknroll Dance won an Invitational at Pocono Downs in 1:47.4 to equal the world record.

North America’s leading trainer Ron Burke has four horses in the final: Sweet Lou, Clear Vision, Foiled Again and Atochia. Last year, Foiled Again won the Canadian Pacing Derby and in the process became the richest pacer in North American harness racing history.

“There will be a lot of speed, I’m sure, but with these races you just never really know how it will go,” MacDonald said. “I’m sure a few guys will be really aggressive. Hopefully we can be in the right spot.”

Saturday’s card also includes the $683,000 Metro Pace for two-year-old male pacers and the $451,000 Shes A Great Lady for two-year-old filly pacers.

Here is a look at the field for the Canadian Pacing Derby in post position order:

1. Sweet Lou, Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke
2. Bolt The Duer, Mark MacDonald, Pete Foley
3. A Rocknroll Dance, Tim Tetrick, Jim Mulinix
4. Clear Vision, Brett Miller, Burke
5. Foiled Again, Ron Pierce, Burke
6. Aracache Hanover, Doug McNair, Gregg McNair
7. Heston Blue Chip, Jim Morrill Jr., Linda Toscano
8. Pet Rock, David Miller, Virgil Morgan Jr.
9. Atochia, Scott Zeron, Burke
10. Dapper Dude, John Campbell, Bob McIntosh


This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit www.ustrotting.com.

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