The Best Two-Year-Old I've Ever Been Involved With Was...

TROT reached out to a number of trainers, drivers and breeders, and asked them to tell us the name of, and the story behind, the best two-year-old they’ve ever been associated with. A few of the lucky ones had a bit of trouble narrowing it down to just one, but in the end we learned some very interesting stories that we share with you here. Compiled by John Rallis & Dan Fisher.

For the fourth straight year, in what has become a popular staple of our Twos In Training Issue, we’ve asked a number of participants to share with us the name of the best two-year-old that they’ve ever been involved with, as well as a story and a memory or two from behind the scenes about that same horse. Once again this year, our interviewees didn’t disappoint, and we thank them all for taking part.


I’ve driven a handful of talented two-year-olds, but for me, the best one has to be Pebble Beach.

I first got to drive him at the qualifiers at Magical Acres in Chesterfield. Just like he did for Noel [Daley], he gave me the impression then that he had a lot of speed, and that he’d be a really good horse. At that point you just hope that when they show up at the races that they’ll be able to carry through with it, and he showed just that.

Noel is such a down-to-earth person, who is also very realistic. He knows when he has a good horse on his hands. Even after the first start at Northfield, in an Ohio Sires Stakes event [with Ronnie Wrenn Jr. in the bike], things didn’t really go his way, but that didn’t deter our opinion of him. The start after, I raced him at The Meadowlands and he bounced back in a big way. He won easily in [1]:51.1, with a last quarter in 26.4… He was dynamite. Like I said, the speed was there from the word go.

He had such a good attitude that he could do it any which way - whether it be off the pace or on the lead. I think it’s important to teach horses to race off a helmet early on, to let them settle, and then gradually get them to race on the lead. Not every horse can do it effectively both ways, but for Pebble Beach it didn’t matter.

For him, he’ll always hold a special place for me, because he provided me with two of the most memorable wins in my career, and they both came in Canada when he was a three-year-old. Him giving me my first North America Cup title was so cool. You fast-forward a few months and he was able to give me my first Breeders Crown victory as well. That was pretty sweet too. He was so good on both nights, but the Breeders Crown night he found a different gear, winning in [1]:48.1. He loved racing at Mohawk… he was undefeated there.

I can’t wait until I get to sit behind some of his babies, and I’m hoping they’re just as fast and well mannered as he was. He was a pleasure to sit behind.  By John Rallis

JENNA MCNIVEN: Twinbrook Farms.

For me it’s Twin B Joe Fresh. We bought the mare [Fresh Breeze] in-foal, in Harrisburg. I had her marked in my catalogue but we kind of fell in love with a two-year-old Western Ideal filly, and we were only planning on bringing one horse home, so we had basically stopped looking at mares. But I was walking by Preferred [Equine] and they had a bunch of mares out and lined up… one of them caught my eye so I went over to look at her. She was big, and shiny, and good looking… it was Fresh Breeze, and I already had her marked in my book. So I called my dad and we followed her over to the ring. At that point, her dam hadn’t really produced much, but in the family there was a world champion from every other dam [American Ideal, Life Sign, and so on]. I think that we only threw one bid on her and got her for just $21,000. We figured that we couldn’t go wrong for that! So we bought her, and we still had enough to buy the Western Ideal filly, the next day, for $85,000.

She [Fresh Breeze] was in-foal to Roll With Joe, so to be honest, we were just hoping that we might get our $21,000 back from the first foal, and then go from there. We were thrilled when she came out though because she was a big, strong filly and you couldn’t really fault her. She never did anything wrong. She was so big and strong… Francis [boyfriend, Dumouchel] even used to joke that we had a broodmare turned out with all of the yearling fillies, because she was so big (laughing). She had a huge chest on her and was even kind of fat.

After we bring them in as yearlings to work with them [in August], they all still go out for an hour every day. We have six turnout paddocks that are each about 300 feet long, where they go and run around together. Well, on four different occasions, Joe Fresh actually broke the big gate to her turnout paddock. The first time, we heard a big crash, so I went out, and the gate was broken and she was loose. I figured that she must have spooked at something and gone through it, right? She did it another time, and I was like, ‘What is she doing?’ Then the third time I actually saw her do it… they were all just running down the fence line, like they do, and they can all just pull themselves up and stop really quickly. Well she was just so big and powerful and fast, that she couldn’t pull herself up, and she just crashed through it (laughing). She did it four times! That’s when I realized that she just had so much more power than the rest of them. One day when I was walking her in she spooked, and when she stood up on her hind legs she literally picked me right up off the ground… that’s when I started thinking that she was really kind of special, in regard to how strong she was.    

There were a number of people from New York that looked at her at the sale, but her sire might not have been the most popular at the time. Chris Ryder did come and look at her a bunch of times though, so we were pretty sure he liked her. He ended up giving $65,000 for her, so we were thrilled. She was Kentucky-eligible as well, so we thought that probably helped boost her price, but he told us afterwards that didn’t really matter to him. He just really liked her.

The next one out of the mare [Twin B Roulette] brought $110,000, and then this past fall, Twin B Fresh Bet [then named Twin B Euchre] sold for $500,000. That was really incredible for our family. I walked him to the ring, my mom was sitting with the auctioneer, and my dad and the others watched from off to the side. My dad didn’t return to our consignment for a few extra minutes afterwards… we’re pretty sure that he went for a little cry somewhere. By Dan Fisher


Recency bias would have me saying that Captains Quarters is the best two-year-old I’ve ever sat behind - and I say that because of not only what he accomplished, but because I went with him from before the baby races, right through the end of his season. Not only that, but he did extremely well.

However, from my early impressions of Bulldog Hanover - which wasn’t the greatest of judgements (laughing) - to what he showed just a few starts later, I’d have to say that was the best two-year-old I’ve ever sat behind.

When Bulldog qualified at the end of June, I liked him, but I didn’t know just how good he’d be, truthfully. I remember we raced against Lawless Shadow in his first career start, in an OSS Grassroots leg at Mohawk. I left out, Bob [McClure] re-moved to make front, and they outsprinted us to the line in a mile that went in [1]:52.4. I’ll be honest, I really thought he should’ve won that race that day, but he didn’t… whatever.

He won his second start in another Grassroots leg, but in late August, Jack [Darling] decided to try him in a [OSS] Gold leg. At the time, I was Dave Menary’s main guy, and he had another colt that I qualified who I really liked. Honestly, Dave’s colt [Saratoga Blue Chip] seemed like a monster, and I couldn’t say that about Bulldog just yet. So I let Jack know I was sticking with Dave’s, and he listed Randy Waples to qualify him just before the Gold. He [Bulldog] crushed by open lengths in [1]:56 that morning.

Fast-forward to race night, and Waples doesn’t show up to drive, so Jack puts Trevor [Henry] down to drive Bulldog. He had the nine-hole, got away towards the back and they still won easily. I was shocked by the manner in how he did it, but I was really happy for Jack.

That same night, Trevor won the other OSS Gold Leg with Desperate Man, who was trained by John Cecchin. Because of Trevor’s relationship with John and his wife Kathy, Jack was under the impression that he’d stick with their colt over his - which turned out to be a pretty good decision.

I remember seeing Jack in the paddock after the race and I said to him, ‘Congratulations’. He made sure to stick it to me by saying, ‘Well, Jody, you picked the wrong horse again’.

Jack always loved to remind me when I picked the wrong one (laughing). A few moments later, he said to me ‘Do you want to come drive a good horse now, or what?’

I didn’t make that mistake again (laughing). By John Rallis


At TheStable we’ve been associated with a number of nice two-year-olds, but no champions to date. We set a World Record with White Tiger at two, and were just beat in the PASS finals in back-to-back years with White Tiger and Lawmaker. We won the Matron with Threepointbluechip at two, and the Bluegrass and International Stallion Stakes [in 2023] with Pick Pocket. We also sold Swandre The Giant and Una Madonna for $1 million each at two, but we haven’t won any divisional honours.

I’d have to go with Threepointbluechip, and the story behind him is pretty cool too. He’s a horse that really did put us on the map in a number of ways. He was the first expensive horse that we bought [$115,000 US] so that showed people in the industry that we were trending in the right direction. And for him to go out and do the things he did on the track - it might not have come with a fairytale ending, but in a way it was a bit of a fairytale for us.

It was during Covid that we bought him… looking back it’s almost surreal, and you think that maybe it wasn’t as bad as we thought it was. But it was that bad. I had been travelling back-and-forth a bunch, and the Harrisburg Sale had been moved to Timonium [Maryland]. I wasn’t of the opinion that the world was going to end, and I was pretty sure that I was going to be in it when it got back to normal (laughing)… I knew that I needed to be there so I made sure it happened. I went down by myself but met up with a group of five or six of our owners there.

I was pretty sure that there was going to be an opportunity for some good purchases, due to the circumstances, so I wanted to get in on it. Early in the sale [Hip #52] I bought a full-sister to Crystal Fashion ($2.4 million) for just $37,000. Her name was Willtowin Hanover and I had her pegged as an $80-$100,000 horse. So now I was walking around the sale thinking I had the world by the arse because I thought I just bought our flagship horse for just $37,000.

I never did have them pull Threepointbluechip out of the stall. This is a brother to Plunge Blue Chip ($1.5 million) and I figured him to be a $200-$300,000 horse. But I did look at him a few times when other people had him out, and I thought if I could somehow get him for $140,000 he would be a steal. But I didn’t think that would ever be possible.

I had kind of separated myself from my group of owners and walked into a tent where you could bid, because I knew that Threepointbluechip was about to sell. He went from $10,000 to $90,000 in increments of ten, quickly - just how you would expect. Then there was a pause and he went to $95,000. And I said ‘Excuse me? Five?’ (laughing). Eventually I bid $105,000, and someone bid $110,000 right away. I thought it was going to take off again but after I bid $115,000 the hammer dropped.

Now, you’ve got to remember that I’ve never bought a six-figure horse in my life at that point, and if I’m going to be completely honest, I’d never spoken to anyone in TheStable specifically about the horse prior to this… no one knew. Not even my wife. My first thought, when the hammer fell, was elation… but then I thought, ‘How the f%$k are you going to pay for him?’ (laughing).

So my group of owners finds me at this point and Marc Treffi says to me, ‘So what’s next?’ And I said, ‘I just bought that Threepointbluchip.’ He looks at the ‘$115,000’ on the board and says, “Ya, good one… sure you did Anthony.’ With that, they bring the slip over for me to sign and Marc says to me, ‘Are you f%$king kidding me?’ (laughing).

Anyway, it’s usually easier to sell an expensive horse to most owners than a cheap one, because people don’t want to miss out. And Tom Grossman [Blue Chip Farms] kept 15% I believe, so we didn’t have too much trouble getting him sold.

As far as his racing career, we started him up in Canada, and James won a few in a row with him… he looked really good doing it. He was fourth in his Breeders Crown elimination but  missed the final, and then we supplemented him into the Matron. Now that was a big gamble because we had to pay $20,000 US to race him in the Matron, and they only went for about $180,000. It was a huge risk but what people don’t know is that it wasn’t really to race in the Matron… we wanted to race him in the Valley Victory a few weeks later, and they were just taking the top-ten money earners. So it really was a huge gamble on our part.

So my brother goes down to drive him, and at that time James MacDonald was not the same James MacDonald that you know now. He had won some big races and done some good in Canada, but he’s not known on the international level at that point. He isn’t James yet.

So James flies down with my wife… Amy goes down because she loves Threepointbluechip. He had never really been raced hard at this point either… James usually just left out a bit, sat with him and sprinted for home. He had bled a bit in his Breeders Crown elim, so we put him on lasix for the Matron… and James actually re-moves him back to the front early - on a Marcus Melander horse that Brian Sears is driving! I’m sitting there in my living room in Guelph, my parents are there, my kids are there, and I’m screaming ‘What the f%$k do you think you’re doing?’ (laughing). He drives him like he’s a 2/5 shot… it was so un-James-like at that time. The horse holds on, and I think if you zoom in on Sears, the look on his face when James comes back around, was unbelievable. The entire storyline of that day was unbelievable (laughing). They hurried through the winner’s circle because they were booked on the last flight home out of Philly, and they barely made it back to the airport in time.

He almost made a break in the Valley Victory but he still ended up fourth. At the end of the season there were a few offers on the horse, and Tom [Grossman] ended up buying up the majority of him and bringing Charles Oliveira of the UFC into the ownership group. It was smart… I believe they were going to market the horse through Charles, and everything was going great, but then sadly, training back at three, the horse broke a foot and everything fell apart.

As we talk at this very moment actually, I’m at Oak Grove and was down to drive the horse today, but we have another one in there that I’ll be driving instead. We still own part of him though, so later today I’m going to see him up close for the first time in about two years.

Threepointbluechip really put us on the map as a player in the major sales, he put us on the racing map with a Grand Circuit win in the Matron, and you’d have to talk to James, but he may have played a role in putting James on the map internationally also. All-in-all I’d have to say that he did more for TheStable than any other horse we’ve ever had. By Dan Fisher


When I was younger, I got the chance to drive some really good two-year-olds in my career, but the horse that comes right to my mind as the best, by far, would be Sweet Lou.

The ‘made for TV’ story would be that we didn’t think Sweet Lou would be as good as he was, but between myself, Ronnie Burke and Mark Weaver, we can honestly tell you that we thought he would be great from the word go. He was that kind of horse, from the way he carried himself and how he was winning races. Everything seemed so easy.

He had, in my opinion, one of the best two-year-old campaigns ever. He won ten races that year,  and set a record in the Breeders Crown final, which stood for 10-15 years I believe. As fast as two-year-olds go now, the fact the record stood for that long was incredible.

I’ve never seen Ronnie so high on a young horse, so early. It’s just a credit to what a great trainer he is, but when we had only been in [1]:56 with the colt, and he said to me with confidence, ‘I think this is the best horse I’ve ever trained’.

When Sweet Lou broke his maiden at The Meadows, I remember Ronnie’s father, Micky, came down to the winner’s circle. I laugh about it to this day because his father never comes down for any winner’s circle photos, but he did for a maiden score that day (laughing). That goes to show what everyone thought about him.

The Breeders Crown final at Woodbine in 2009 was easily my favourite memory sitting behind that colt. The race call from that night was phenomenal, and it still gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it. I remember Sweet Lou and I swooped the field from fifth or sixth, took over the lead and kept going to win in [1]:49 flat [by 7 ½ lengths]. Again, that was a world record performance and he made it look effortless. I think it’s one of the best races any two-year-old in the history of the sport has ever gone. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a two-year-old do what he did that night.

I remember that night, there was some brutal weather in New Jersey, and a handful of the drivers couldn’t make it up to Canada to race, so I picked up the drive on Foiled Again. I finished second, beaten a head, in a mile that was paced in [1]:48.4. That night, I was a part of the two fastest miles on the race card. On a card that consisted of a great deal of talent, Sweet Lou, in my opinion,  was the star of that Breeders Crown. I still light up talking about him.  By John Rallis

ADAM BOWDEN: Owner/Breeder.

Pure Country… in a landslide.

She was undefeated; she was 10-for-10; she won everything, easily, that we put her in. She dominated what ended up being a very, very good group of pacing mares. I want to say that out of that group there were six, seven, maybe eight that went on to be millionaires? I don’t know the exact number but it was an incredible group… L A Delight ($1.7 million), Darlinonthebeach ($1.1 million), Call Me Queen Be ($1.3 million), Blue Moon Stride ($1.2 million), Newborn Sassy ($1.1 million)... It was a really deep group and she dominated them at two.

Creatine was our first homebred that was a great horse. He had won the [Kentucky] Futurity in 2013 and then gone to Europe and came back again… he was five that year. But she was the first great two-year-old that we had.

I remember that Jimmy [Takter] had trained her all the way down, and he kinda keeps everything close to the vest, and I remember that she was ready to qualify and he called and told me that she was either going to be the greatest horse that we ever had or be a throwaway. She had done everything right to that point but I guess he meant that until you see if they actually want to beat other horses in a race you just don’t know.

I think that the more we do this though, the more you can tell a bit earlier on, to some degree at least, whether they have that desire and ability or not. But you do still, in the end, never know for sure until they do it in a race.

We’re actually at Nancy’s [Takter] right now, watching some of our babies train, and as we speak, Pure Country’s third foal [Fusion] just paced by. We think he could be special. He’s by Always B Miki and he just dominated the group he was with. I remember that she was like that… big, strong, mature for two [years-old] and just much better than the other horses she trained down with. Then she went out and went 10-for-10 and won the Breeders Crown at Woodbine at 1/9. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more anxious before a race than that, but she was nine-for-nine at that point… you know, there was just an incredible amount of pressure at that point and luckily she delivered.

Creatine won [the Breeders Crown] later that night too, as did Divine Caroline in the three-year-old-filly pace. We bred all three, and it was the first time a breeder won three [Crowns] in one night. It was quite a night!

But she [Pure Country] was our first Breeders Crown winner. At that point she was really the epitome of what we were trying to create. She delivered, and we were able to say, ‘Good, we’re definitely on the right track’.  By Dan Fisher


For me, the answer has to be Sports Column.

Right from the start, he caught my eye with how awesome looking of a horse he was. He was black, with white feet and he was stunning. Obviously, that doesn’t translate to success on the racetrack, but he looked the part and I was hoping he would turn out to be a good horse.

Training down he did everything right, like a lot of horses do before hitting the racetrack, but you still never know until they reach the races. I listed Greek [Chris Christoforou] to drive him, because he and Sports Column, both had really big noses. They were a perfect match for one another in more ways than one (laughing).

Greek being Greek, I remember he was very conservative with him in his debut. He went off as the race favourite and paced home in a blistering :26.2 to finish second by a neck. It was an incredible effort that caught not only my eye, but Greek’s. When he got off the racebike and handed me the lines, he said ‘You have a really good horse’. Coming from Chris, who had sat behind so many great horses, I felt really good about that. The next start I tried him in a [OSS] Gold and he got the job done in [1]:52.1. Greek was right, I had a good one.

I raced a lot at the B-tracks growing up, so The Battle of Waterloo was a race I’ve always wanted to win. I finished second in it a couple of times, but Sports Column was the horse who made winning it a reality. That was my first signature stakes victory, and I’ll never forget it. My family was out there celebrating with me and I’ll remember that day forever.

Sports Column won another [OSS] Gold in the following start but then was scratched out of the Champlain Stakes due to lameness. He missed the rest of the year, including the [OSS] Super Final and the Breeders Crown, because of that, which really sucked.

Regardless, he had a great two-year-old campaign. He was no worse than second in six starts and made over $200,000. Like most Sportswriters, he showed talent and speed from the start… he carried that through. I know I’ve had more talented horses in my training career, but Sports Column will always be my favourite. By John Rallis

RICK ZERON: Trainer/Driver.

Mass Production was a really nice Muscle Mass two-year-old that I had. I bought him out of the Standardbred Canada Yearling Sale at Flamboro for $32,000 and trained him myself. He was just a really nice horse from the start; to put the harness on; to train down; I knew in April that he was going to be a really good colt. He was a big, growthy colt though, and he got a little weary as we trained him down, so we threw a pair of hopples on him sometime in May. That gave him the confidence to stretch right out when he trotted and he ended up winning the O’Brien Award as Two-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year.

He won the [two-year-old] OSS Super Final by six or eight lengths in 1:54.4. As a three-year-old though, he finished second in the final of the Goodtimes, and unfortunately he strained a tendon that day. I blame that on myself though… I was pinned-in coming out of the final turn, and I think I moved him a bit too sharply when I moved three-wide and he stretched his tendon. He trotted home in :26.4 that day and just got beat in :52 and change… Scott [Zeron] actually beat me with International Moni.

He must have had a weakness there though because he bowed the other tendon a year later. But he came back at age five and won in 1:51.4 after missing a year-and-a-half.

I liked him so much though, I kept him around. After I did all the work on him but realized he wasn’t going to make it back again, I called Josey [Shetler] up at the Amish… I send a few of the babies up to them to break. I called him and I said, ‘I have a really nice trotter here… I don’t want to race him anymore but I need to find him a good home’. He said he’d take a look at him, and when I took him up he said ‘My good Lord this is a gorgeous horse’. Ever since, he [Mass Production] has been taking Josey and his wife to church every Sunday. They said he doesn’t even tie him up when they go into church. They just leave him there and when they come out, the horse is still standing there. I swear to God.

I also got to drive Bee A Magician. As a two-year-old she was just a natural. I was never supposed to drive her, you know. The only reason I got the drive is because they wanted my son to drive her. They asked Scott to drive her and he couldn’t go up to Kawartha for her first stakes race so I got the drive… I had driven for Nifty [Norman] many times before that. The rest was kinda history. She was such a natural. The only thing that Nifty ever told me was that he didn’t want her on the front end. He said I could drive her any way that I wanted, but he wanted to see her charging, coming for home. I said ‘OK’, and my good f%$king lord, when she charged for home! Holy f%$k! She just loved her work. Oh God, she loved to race.  By Dan Fisher

TIM TWADDLE: Trainer/Driver.

Going back to my early days, when I was a second trainer for John Burns, I got the chance to drive Hardie Hanover, and she was very fast.

She was a great, big gorgeous filly, but she was fussy. If she didn’t want to go or didn’t like something, she’d let go of the bit and go offstride. That was her only downfall.

I remember the first time I qualified her; I was very pleased with the effort, but I can’t say that some of the connections were (laughing).

John Ferguson and Keith Waples were both part owners of the filly, and both were so different in terms of how they approached the ownership side. Keith never said a word… You wouldn’t even know he was involved. John [Ferguson], on the other hand, had some pressure on him needing this filly to perform, so I think he was hoping for an eye-catching qualifier on paper right away.

Hardie Hanover got up for second that morning and was beaten by six lengths. Like I said, it was a really good effort. When I was coming off the track with her, I saw John look disgusted, and I remember him saying to me ‘She was no good, wasn’t she?’

He could not have been any more wrong, but there were people disappointed with her because she didn’t win in [1]:55 by open lengths.

I know he was under pressure, but my job was to make sure this filly stayed sharp, and everyone who worked with her on a daily basis did an excellent job in doing just that. She was good -  and I knew it - but I wasn’t going to kink her right from the get go. No way.

She wasn’t an easy filly to drive because of her quirks, and driving for John Burns wasn’t always the easiest (laughing). You could always feel the pressure lining up behind the gate with that filly, or any other horse for Burnsie, but I did my best.

We won a handful of races [going 9-for-15 at age two] and she was such a layover at times that the race office wanted to make some races she was a part of, non-betting races.

I remember John Campbell was lobbying for the drive in her three-year-old campaign. He’d call John and say ‘Burnsie, I don’t have one in that class, let me drive your filly’.

There was an elimination for a three-year-old filly stakes event at The Meadowlands where they did list John to drive. It was a seven-horse field and all she needed to do was finish top-five to make the final. Hardie jumped it off at the start though and didn’t qualify. It just goes to show that despite the talent, not just anyone could drive her. She just didn’t get along with John that evening, and the week after, in the consolation, they flew me out, and we scored in [1]:52.

It’s funny that we’re talking about this filly today. Just yesterday, somebody posted some Larry Lederman race calls on Facebook, and the first one to pop-up was when I drove Hardie Hanover in the $382,900 Three Diamonds final at Garden State Raceway for two-year-old pacing fillies. John Campbell had me pinned-in, and when he catapulted to a big lead and I shook loose, it took me an eighth [of a mile] to get her going in full gear… I was just a step too late and finished second to him [beaten just a neck].

Those were some fun times. By John Rallis


I think most people, if not all, would know the answer to that question for me, and it’s definitely Big Jim.

He was always such a great horse to train from the start, and was so well mannered, but nobody, including myself, thought he’d have the two-year-old year that he did.

Sylvain [Filion] qualified the horse and drove him in his first pari-mutuel start, and he finished third, beaten half-a-length. We had a blind bridle on him that night and when he cleared halfway down the lane - he was super green - two horses, one on either side of him, ended up passing him. So we put a Kant See Back bridle on him the next start and he was much better.

Sylvain was doing the driving for Determination at the time so he booked off him for one of their colts in the following start, which was understandable for a variety of reasons. By that point, I knew he’d be a good horse, but I didn’t know he’d be that kind of horse, so I wanted to make sure I could get a driver who I knew would commit to the colt all summer. So I got Phil [Hudon]. It was a perfect match.

Big Jim rattled off wins in the Dream Maker, Nassagaweya, Champlain, and Breeders Crown, but my favourite one of them all was his victory in the Governor’s Cup. It further solidified just how good of a colt he was.

There were eleven horses entered to race in the Governor’s Cup, and because we were the highest money earner we were going to receive a bye. At this point, it was November, and he had been going since June, all throughout the summer, so I felt like not having to race in the elimination was perfect for us. Jim [Carr], our owner, felt like picking our post was of the utmost importance and he wasn’t necessarily wrong, but I was more keen on giving him a little bit of a break, which is what we did.

So, of course, Big Jim drew the nine-hole in the final and Jim was huffing and puffing all week (laughing). All I heard from him non-stop was, ‘I told you we should’ve raced him in the elimination’, but I was adamant we’d be okay. I mean, there’s no guarantee we’d have won the elimination anyways (laughing).

He trained well leading up to it. I remember Phil only had two other drives that night and he was sitting around for several races in between, waiting for the race with Big Jim.

I wanted Phil to be even more confident than ever in that horse that night, so I told him that we’d go two trips with him warming up, and that I wanted him to go the second trip. I insisted, ‘This horse is good tonight, and I want you to know that’.

Phil put Big Jim in play from the nine-hole and was able to go by the race favourite, Shadyshark Hanover, in the stretch, to score in [1]:49.1. At the time, that win was a record mile for two-year-old pacers, which was broken a year later by Sweet Lou in the Breeders Crown final in [1]:49 flat.

I’m not trying to sound cocky about it, and I know it’s always easy to say after the fact, but I didn’t think where we drew in that race mattered. I didn’t think he’d get beat that night… I was never so confident in the horse as I was that night. From the week that he had, I just thought he was in for a big mile, and it showed. Everything worked out. By John Rallis


That would definitely have to be On A Streak.

He took me places in my career that I’ve never been to, and I haven’t been back to yet. I hope to get back there someday and drive in those kinds of races again.

Honestly, it was the right place, right time for me in terms of picking up that drive. I made my way onto the Mohawk circuit in the winter of 2019 and had a good, early go at it.  Luc Blais and Determination had Bobby [McClure] driving their horses and they had a vicious couple of years. The year after Forbidden Trade [won the Hambletonian] they had a lot of quality two-year-olds, which is a common occurrence for them. Luc had asked Bob who they thought would be trustworthy enough to drive the doubles and he threw out my name. I mean, even if they were doubles, they were still second or third best in the group they were in, which says a lot.

Macho Martini was Luc’s best trotting colt that year and Bob was the regular behind him. I finished second to him with On A Streak three times in a row. But when the William Welwood [Memorial] came about, I flipped the tables that night.

Going into the Wellwood I had my game plan as to what I wanted to do. I had the two-hole, so I wanted to push out of there and have Bobby or Yannick [Gingras] cover me up. I got away third and re-moved, but nobody covered me up. The first three-eighths of that race went exactly how I thought it would, except for me being left along on the lead. I’d never put On A Streak on the front before then, so I really wasn’t sure how he’d respond with horses coming right at him. You couldn’t really see it, but I was growling at him, and chasing him a little bit, even to go a second quarter in thirty seconds. He was looking around, not paying attention, and I had to keep him at task.

Yannick eventually came first-up, and when he came, he came with authority with his colt  [odds-on favourite Southwind Tyrion]. I put the gaiting pole against him [On A Streak] and popped the plugs, and it was a stretch drive I’ll never forget.

Southwind Tyrion got to my breast collar, and halfway down the lane he was still only to my breast collar. On top of the fact that he was driving a good colt, I don’t think many expected me to fend off Yannick. There was nobody I wanted to beat more than Yannick that night (laughing).

On A Streak just missed beating Yannick’s colt [by a nose] the week before in the elimination, but truthfully, I thought that mine was as good, if not better than his. For me, I felt like [Macho] Martini was the best colt going into that race, it just wasn’t his night.

When I held Southwind Tyrion off to win by a head, I remember after the wire, Bobby yelled over in excitement, saying, ‘My Man!’ He was super-pumped to see me get the win, and for Determination as well.

I wanted to beat Yannick so badly that night, to prove that I could go with those guys. Give me the horsepower and I can go with those guys baby (laughing).

Honestly, it was such a crazy two weeks. I won the Wellwood, and that earned us a berth into the inaugural Mohawk Million. I finished third in that race, but we were up against a couple of quality trotters in Donna Soprano and the eventual winner, Venerate. It’s a moment I’ll never forget, and I was grateful to the connections for trusting me that evening. By John Rallis

 This feature originally appeared in the May issue of TROT Magazine. Subscribe to TROT today by clicking the banner below.

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