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From Grassroots To Grand Stage

Published: August 17, 2019 2:01 pm ET

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Many Ontario-bred horses over the years have competed and found success in the Grassroots program such as last year’s frosh champion Century Farroh, who recently bounced from that springboard into Grand Circuit company. Another graduate of the OSS Grassroots program is making a 'pretty' similar jump to Grand Circuit action as a four-year-old.

Pretty Handsome, trained by Andrew McCabe, thrived on the Grassroots circuit at two and three, winning the $50,000 finals both years. His success convinced McCabe to even try Gold competition twice, but without success.

Now four, Pretty Handsome has rebounded on transition to the aged ranks, with his prolific record in the Preferred class at Flamboro and London warranting a try in the $188,500 Confederation Cup. He gets another shot against Grand Circuit foes in Sunday's $200,000 Prix d'Été at Hippodrome 3R. Four of the eight horses in the Prix d'Été are Ontario-sired with two -- Pretty Handsome and Casimir Richie P -- competing primarily in OSS Grassroots events in 2018.

“The Ontario Sires Stakes program is strong. We’re gaining headway every year on the states whereas you couldn’t even compare the two in years past,” said McCabe, who, at 36, has managed his own operation for the last eight years. “We believed [Pretty Handsome's] potential was always there. Definitely late in his three-year-old year he found another gear. The addition of Lasix really seemed to help him.

“We did attempt the Gold with him...he was really starting to peak at that point, however he got sick and bled on us. He’s always been an allergy-type horse and, with the addition of Lasix especially, it kind of helped to clear the allergies as well as the bleeding.”

McCabe began working in racing as a hand for Paul Taylor, who trained all of the horses for Pretty Handsome’s owner Glenview Livestock. The ownership group looked to shift their base closer to Mohawk, which prompted the Clinton-based horseman to move. As a trainer, McCabe has already accrued $2.6 million in purses with Pretty Handsome’s 2019 campaign accounting for nearly a fourth of his seasonal earnings.

“[Pretty Handsome’s] been kind of banging around in Ontario B-tracks,” McCabe said. “He seems to excel on a half so we just kind of pointed him in that direction. He seems to be on track to maybe make a hundred [thousand dollars] this year. [But] there’s such a huge divide -- if you’re just a notch below those Jimmy Freights and Courtly Choices -- they’ll make a million and you may make a hundred.”

Pretty Handsome will start from post 2 in the $200,000 Prix D’Ête on Sunday, Aug. 18 at Hippodrome 3R — a half-mile oval. It will be the richest purse McCabe has ever competed for and also the toughest field he’s faced to date with millionaires This Is The Plan and Jimmy Freight starting outside of him.

“A lot of it’s all still a relatively new experience for me. I’ve definitely haven’t had one show up in the Prix D’Ete or the Confederation Cup, even though we didn’t get any money. It’s still nice to be a part of the dance even if you don’t take home the prize money. I hope to build on it and move forward with it. There’s a lot to be said about the luck of the draw.”

McCabe only staked Pretty Handsome to two races this year, with the Prix D’Ête being his final engagement.

“He finished off his three-year-old year quite well and was racing in the Preferred at Flamboro, winning in [1]:53 in the winter time. They were decent miles, so we paid him into the Confederation Cup and the Prix d'Été,” McCabe said. “We just picked two races. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not delusional—I know he’s not a Jimmy Freight, he’s a notch below those. But a half-mile track is a great equalizer and there’s a luck of the draw which fortunately worked our way.”

Racing begins at 1:00 p.m. (EDT) Sunday at Hippodrome 3R. The Prix d'Été is race 11 on the card. The Prix d'Été field with final drivers and morning line odds is as follows:

1-Hitman Hill-Jonathan Drury-Hunter Oakes-7/2
2-Pretty Handsome-Trevor Henry-Andrew McCabe-6/1
3-Done Well-Bob McClure-Ron Burke-5/2
4-This Is The Plan-Dan Dube-Ron Burke-5/2
5-The Downtown Bus-Doug McNair-Jeff Gillis-4/1
6-Jimmy Freight-Louis-Philippe Roy-Richard Moreau-3/1
7-Turbo Hill-Hunter Oakes-Hunter Oakes-7/2
8-Casimir Richie P-Sylvain Filion-Dr. Ian Moore-5/1

To view entries for Sunday's card, click the following link: Sunday Entries - Hippodrome 3R.

(A Trot Insider Exclusive by Ray Cotolo)

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