They come from a place where older trotters reign supreme, where harness racing still makes the front pages of newspapers, where betting shops are on every street corner.
They come from a place where horses have more Facebook followers, where racetracks spend more on glitzy marketing campaigns, where citizens are more aware of the sport.
When Sweden’s Commander Crowe, one of the best Scandanavian trotters that ever raced; and France’s Rapide Lebel, one of the top French trotters of all time, came to Canada – Canadian racing fans didn’t waver.
Leading up to the race, I was reminded of the locker room scene from the epic sports movie, Rudy. Notre Dame’s coach, played by Dan Devine, stands in front of a room of young football players and pronounces: “You know what you have to do. Remember, no one, and I mean no one, comes into our house and pushes us around.”
Our hero is San Pail.
In 2009 they were chirping. “Sure he can win the Open at Woodbine,” they said. “But he’ll never beat Lucky Jim.” And then he beat the favoured Lucky Jim in 2009 and 2010, taking the Maple Leaf Trot two years in a row.
This spring, there was a new hot horse. “He’ll never be able to beat Arch Madness,” they chanted. “Not a chance.” And then he beat Arch Madness, taking the Maple Leaf Trot a third straight year.
But the critics were unrelenting. “They’re protecting him,” they jeered. “Sure he can win if they keep him in Canada his whole career. That’s his home track.” So they shipped him to The Meadowlands and he won the Nat Ray. And they shipped him to Vernon and he won the Credit Winner. And they shipped him to Lexington and he won the Allerage.
So, now the best from Europe come to Canada to race against our San Pail. And they compete in an epic battle of the world’s best. And once again, the Canadian comes out on top in the winner’s circle, surrounded by hundreds of well-wishers.
But the naysayers persevere. “Rapide Lebel had a tough trip.” “He arrived only days earlier from overseas.” “If the race were only a little longer...”
Weeks later, some American racing journalists even took San Pail off their top spot in the race for Horse of the Year, instead choosing two-year-old filly trotter, Check Me Out.
What I see is a Canadian superstar that always races his heart out. What I see is a horse that gives me chills. What I see is an animal that inspires me and everyone I know who cares about this sport.
As Canadians, I think we sometimes thrive as the underdogs. Not respected and not taken seriously. But like San Pail, we go out and we take care of business, week in and week out. And no one comes onto our track and pushes us around.
From all of us at Trot Magazine, have a happy holiday and a wonderful New Year!