The 2012 Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots season wrapped up on a rainy Saturday night at Grand River Raceway with eight $100,000 Championships and it was the father-son team of trainer Gregg McNair and driver Doug McNair who stole the show.
Doug McNair won half of the eight Championships, including three with his father's trainees.
"He's had a great year," said Doug McNair of his father's 2012 season. "I think he's going to take the OSS title. He had nice horses here today and some good post positions and that makes a huge difference on a half-mile track."
Trot Insider has provided recaps of all eight $100,000 finals below.
Two-Year-Old Filly Pace
Cams Macharena and driver Doug McNair kicked off the Grassroots Championships with a 1:57.1 triumph over the sloppy track rated two seconds slow for her proud connections.
McNair pulled the 2-5 favourite from the pocket early and took over command at the opening quarter. They were challenged by Twilight Seelster (Mike Horner) until drawing off around the final turn to win by two and three-quarter lengths. Twilight Seelster settled for second while early leader Miss Coco Luck (James MacDonald) came in third.
The homebred daughter of Mach Three and Cams Valentine was greeted by a crowd of her cheering connections in the winner's circle, including trainer Tony O'Sullivan and Ohio owners Chris Arold, Kenneth Kohut, and Michael Drury.
"We owned her dam Cams Valentine and bred her a few times and had some luck," said Arold in the trackside tent following the victory, adding that his trip to Canada has been awesome. "I couldn't be happier!"
"I've been in [harness racing] for 12 years and the highs and the lows will kill you, but this is a high," added Kohut. "We love Canada!"
"We're partying tonight at The Ranch!" shouted an excited Drury.
Cams Macharena has won half of her eight career starts, including two Grassroots divisions on Aug. 15 at Flamboro Downs and Sept. 9 at Rideau Carleton Raceway. The lion's share of the Championship purse pushed her bankroll to $87,580.
Cams Macharena's connections are pointing her towards the Jugette next year.
Three-Year-Old Filly Trot
Dancehall Mistress stayed flat to capture the second Grassroots Championship in 1:58.2 with Trevor Henry in the sulky.
With the inside post advantage, 8-5 favourite Can I Say (Garrett Whelan) won an early three-horse tussle for the lead while the challenging Amber Kadabra (Sylvain Filion) made a break along with Majic Trend (Stephen Byron) and Fiorentina (Scott Coulter) from outer posts. Meanwhile, 2-1 second choice Dancehall Mistress left from between the outside breakers and settled into fourth until the half-way point where she was sent first over to wear down the leader. She did just that and drew off to a three and a half length victory down the stretch. Cool Creek Breeze (Mario Baillargeon) finished second and Can I Say wound up third.
The Angus Hall-Benns Riverdance filly is trained by Brad Maxwell and owned by the David Goodrow Stable of Cambridge, Ont., Douglas Millard of Woodstock, Ont., the P G Van Camp Stables of Port Perry, Ont. and Glenn Tarver of Scarborough, Ont.
"It's the first Grassroots Championship that we've had. It's wonderful," said co-owner Paul Van Camp, who went on to credit the filly's trotting hopples for keeping her steady amidst the breakers. "We tried her in the Golds and she couldn't quite compete with Miss Paris and likes of them and she was three-for-three in the Grassroots and a close second in the [Semifinal] so we won kind of for fun tonight."
Dancehall Mistress has now won four of her 12 starts this year to earn over $100,000 in purses. Her Grassroots wins including divisions on June 23 at Flamboro, Aug. 10 at Mohawk Racetrack, and Sept. 8 at Hanover Raceway.
Two-Year-Old Colt Pace
Driven by Randy Waples, Panpero Firpo followed his David Menary stablemate Panongahela (Robert Shepherd) three-wide down the backstretch and then rallied off his cover in the stretch to prevail by one and three-quarter lengths in 1:56. The pacesetting Duc Dorleans (Stephane Brosseau) finished second over Panongahela.
"Both colts have been really good all along," said Menary after the victory. "Panongahela has shown a real quick turn of foot, but the conditions tonight maybe helped the big colt [Panpero Firpo] and hurt the little colt."
After starting out competing in the Gold Series with little luck, Panpero Firpo dropped to the Grassroots level where he reeled off four consecutive victories prior to his Championship score. He won divisions on Aug. 22 at Sudbury Downs, Sept. 3 at Dresden Raceway, Sept. 11 at Georgian Downs, and his Semifinal last week at Grand River. Now six-for-11 in his young career, Panpero Firpo has banked over $120,000.
The No Pan Intended-Pangoon colt is owned and bred by Ohio's Peter Pan Stables Inc.
Two-Year-Old Filly Trot
Princess Lilly delivered on her 1-2 pari-mutuel promise with a dominant four and a half lenghth victory in 2:00 in the following Championship for Team Baillargeon.
With Mario Baillargeon in the sulky, the Muscle Mass-Golden Goose filly swept up from fifth at the half and wore down the leading Orderingin (Sylvain Filion) down the backstretch before drawing off from the field for her fifth straight triumph. Orderingin stayed for second while Armstead Kyra (Paul MacDonell) rounded out the top three finishers.
Princess Lilly's five-win streak includes multiple track records and a combined winning margin of 22-1/2 lengths.
Tonight she earned her sixth win in eight starts this year. Among her victories are Grassroots divisions on Aug. 7 at Georgian, Sept. 14 at Rideau Carleton Raceway, and her Semifinal last week. She also swept the Balanced Image Filly Trot at Hanover in early September.
Trainer Ben Baillargeon is hoping the talented filly will continue to improve and be able to step up into the Gold ranks as a sophomore.
"I think this winter she'll gain more maturity and she'll get smarter next year," he said after her winning Championship effort. "I got her late and she had issues breaking at the gate. Finally we got her to Georgian Downs -- this was the third Grassroots -- and she won easy there. There was one more Gold left, but I couldn't take the risk of going in the Gold and missing; then I wouldn't have had enough points for the Grassroots. So I said I think Grassroots will be enough for her this year and she finished the year with over $100,000 so we're very happy with her."
Princess Lilly is owned by Les Ecuries Piramidan of Gatineau, Que.
Two-Year-Old Colt Trot
Team McNair took the spotlight in the following Championship as Gregg McNair trainee Buddy Hally cruised to a two and a quarter length victory in 2:01.3 bringing Doug McNair back to the winner's circle.
Second choice Buddy Hally took over the lead ahead of Time Passes D (Randy Waples) after an opening panel which saw multiple colts make breaks, including the winner's stablemate and early leader Kennel Buddy (Trevor Henry). Buddy Hally then opened up on the field down the backstretch to secure his third win in eight career starts. Time Passes D finished second and favourite Gotta Secret (Sylvain Filion) advanced first over to show.
"We had to worry about that horse of Sylvain's again tonight," said Doug McNair of divisional point leader Gotta Secret, who came on to defeat his mount in the Semifinal last week. "But tonight I kept after him all the way down the stretch and he held them all off."
The Angus Hall-Credibility colt started his career on the East Coast with a victory in the Callbeck Stakes and chalked up one more win in an Aug. 24 Grassroots division at Rideau Carleton after moving to the McNair stable. Having only missed one paycheque in his career, Buddy Hally has banked more than $82,000 in purses.
He is owned by his Guelph, Ont. trainer along with Howmac Farms Ltd. of North Wiltshire, P.E.I., Reginald MacPherson of Stratford, P.E.I., and Wayne MacRae of Fall River, N.S.
"He'll get turned out until the middle of January and we'll start back with him and qualify around the end of April or the first of May," said Gregg McNair.
Three-Year-Old Filly Pace
Heavy 1-5 favourite Jet Speed awarded the McNairs another Championship trophy with a 1:55.2 gate-to-wire winning effort in the following race.
Jet Speed established the lead from post one and turned back all challengers to win by two lengths. First over rival Machet Rocket (Dan Clements) settled for second while 73-1 longshot Driving Miss Deo (Anthony MacDonald) finished third after rallying three-wide off cover around the final turn.
The Jeremes Jet-Star Siren filly was purchased by Bryan Lawrence of Hanover, Ont. and Mike Foerster of Elmira, Ont. at the end of August and moved into the McNair stable at that point. She has won six of her 17 seasonal starts, including an Aug. 16 Grassroots division at Kawartha Downs for her former connections and her Semifinal last week to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes in OSS action for her new owners. Her 2012 bankroll climbed to nearly $130,000 with her victory tonight.
"I think she had to be second for us to be clear, so it ended up she got some extra there," noted Gregg McNair of the profit margin of the recently purchased filly.
While Buddy Hally's season has come to a close, McNair said Jet Speed will likely race again.
"I imagine Jet Speed will probably race at Woodbine," he said.
Three-Year-Old Colt Trot
Northern Escort made his move down the backstretch and edged by the pacesetting Summer Indian (Stephen Byron) to win his Championship in 1:58.1 with Sylvain Filion in the sulky.
Filion settled the even-money favourite into the pocket behind second choice Summer Indian and went head-to-head with his front-stepping foe as they approached the third quarter mark. Northern Escort gained the upper hand into the stretch to prevail by one length while Oaklea Uptown (Scott Coulter) came in third off a three-hole trip.
"He's a really nice horse," said Filion after the victory. "I think they are going to shut him down for this year and wait on him for next year."
Justin Filion trains the Kadabra-Tease Please colt, who is a winner of eight races in 18 seasonal starts and $167,760 in earnings, for Les Ecuries JYJ Inc. of St-Andre-D'Argenteuil, Que. Among his wins are three OSS races, including a Gold elimination on May 18 at Western Fair Raceway and recent back-to-back Grassroots divisions on Aug. 19 at Clinton and Sept. 4 at Georgian.
Three-Year-Old Colt Pace
Divisional leader Lucky Jet completed a big night for the McNairs as he got up in the final strides to win the last Championship of the night in 1:54.3.
Doug McNair fired 4-5 favourite Lucky Jet off the gate from post seven and settled into the two-hole behind leader Espen De Vie (Paul MacKenzie). With the outer flow beginning to roll down the backstretch, McNair was able to manoeuvre his colt onto the back of first up So Take That (Trevor Henry), who eventually took over the lead and then broke stride. In Commando (Randy Waples) rolled three-wide from behind and swept to command down the stretch, but Lucky Jet kicked into high-gear down and collared that foe at the wire for his fourth consecutive triumph. Trailer Modern Xhibit (Anthony MacDonald) came on for third.
"I was actually planning on taking him off the gate, but the gate has been funny all night; the outside horses can get out there if you have one that leave," said the winning reinsman after the victory. "Mine can really leave and I snapped him out of there and got him into it. Past the half there I thought we were in trouble when I saw the five horse [Espen De Vie] was leading at 55-1. [Lucky Jet] should have never won from the position I had him in going into the last turn, but he overcame a tough post position I think.
"He's a great-gaited horse," added Doug McNair. "You can jerk him inside or jerk him outside. He runs in a bit on the turns, but he's definitely a powerful horse and he showed it tonight."
The Jeremes Jet-My Metallica colt is trained by Gregg McNair for owners Thomas Harmer of Illinois, Michelle Crawford of New York, and Edward Kollross of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Lucky Jet has won half of his 18 starts this year while banking $146,725. He won three regular season Grassroots races, including divisions on June 10 at Clinton, Aug. 27 at Mohawk, and Sept. 6 at Hiawatha Horse Park, along with his Semifinal last week.
To view Saturday's harness racing results, click on the following link: Saturday Results - Grand River Raceway.