A break at the start of the Mohawk Million put T C I, in rein to David Miller, behind the eight-ball. But that was only the beginning of what would be a drama-filled fourth edition of the unique two-year-old trotting event headlining Saturday's stakes action at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
It was expected the finish of the Million could produce one of its most exciting chapters to date. It was the start, however, that changed the complexion of the race and set the table for a compelling climax.
T C I, who had earned the golden ticket for his connections (the other nine slots for the Million are purchased for $100,000 per entry) after his win in the William Wellwood Memorial, broke stride at the outset, leaving the lifetime winner of eight of nine starts with plenty of work to do.
Tactical Strike (Gino Toscani), at 171-1, and 163-1 Top Mast (Travis Cullen), both Desiree Jones trainees, got away first and second, respectively, into the first turn, with the former taking the field through an opening quarter in :27.2. T C I, favoured at 4-5, sat 10th, 15 lengths back of the leader. The Peaceful Way Stakes-winning filly, Drawn Impression (Louis-Philippe Roy), was fifth but went off stride and was distanced.
The longshot duo continued to the set the tone through a half in :57.1, followed by Allegiant (Scott Zeron) and Show Me (Andy Miller), as T C I and Miller moved into eighth along the backstretch.
Tactical Strike was still calling the shots after three-quarters in 1:26.1, as Security Protected (Tim Tetrick) ratcheted up the pressure to the outside. Top Mast remained third, followed by Griff (James MacDonald), while Tennessee Tom (Chris Page) started to roll down the lane, picking off rivals with every stride and then taking over the proceedings.
Once an afterthought, T C I then arrived on the scene, fourth and charging at Mark McKelvie’s stretch call, and loomed a major threat to the new leader, who dug in gamely, but couldn’t stave off the improbable winner.
T C I crossed the line a 1-1/4-length winner over his stablemate Tennessee Tom in a time of 1:54.3 for trainer Ron Burke. Allegiant was third and Top Mast was fourth with Griff rounding out the top five finish order.
“We added a mini bit to him and scoring down he was fussing with it hanging out of line and I just think that made him mad and he did that,” said Miller. “At the quarter, I was like, ‘Ah, we’ve got the Breeders Crown still and then I got him out in the flow, but he was running in so much around the last turn he wasn’t making up any ground. As soon as he got into the straightaway, I said, ‘Oh, he’s going to win.’”
Mickey Burke was equally shocked by the early events he watched unfold.
“My heart stopped,” said the assistant trainer and brother of Ron Burke. “You just don’t expect it, and when it happened, you’re like, ‘Oh no.’ And it’s all you can do, watch the race and see what happens. He just put on a phenomenal effort. Fortunately, the race set up for someone coming from behind. With his talent, he was able to do it. I give the colt a lot of credit.”
While a break in stride was a first for the son of Cantab Hall-Nicoles Promise, co-owned by Burke, Hatfield Stables, Knox Services Inc., and Weaver Bruscemi LLC, displaying heart and grit is nothing new for the bay colt, who now has more than $1.2 million in earnings.
After a second to launch his career this July at The Meadowlands, T C I reeled off eight straight winner’s circle trips heading into the million-dollar race, including his three-quarter-length triumph in the $620,000 William Wellwood on Aug. 26.
Tonight’s win, no doubt, is his most remarkable.
“Well, it’s unbelievable, that should be history-making because that was just wonderful,” said co-owner Bud Hatfield, of the horse named for vacation destination Turks and Caicos Islands. “I thought it was over, quite honestly, but that horse is special. That horse is really special. Dave did a great job and you really got to give Ronnie Burke credit.”
Bred by Concord Stud Farm, T C I was purchased for $150,000 (Hip No. 55) as a yearling at the 2022 Standardbred Horse Sale.
He paid $3.80 for the win.
The 1-2 finish in the Mohawk Million capped off a huge night for the Burke stable, which also won the preceding $660,000 Canadian Trotting Classic for three-year-olds with Celebrity Bambino.
To view Saturday's harness racing results, click the following link: Saturday Results - Woodbine Mohawk Park.
(With files from Woodbine)