Trot Insider takes a look back on past editions of the North America Cup through the eyes of this year's drivers, who recalled the first Cup they remember watching.
Ten drivers competing in the $1 million Pepsi North America Cup on Saturday, Sept. 11 at Woodbine Mohawk Park have all taken different paths in their careers to get to the 38th edition. The Canadian classic has produced many memorable moments over the years, including the following races which served as their introduction to the event.
What was the first North America Cup you remember watching and what was memorable to you about that race and/or your experience watching it?
Doug McNair: "Probably when I watched my dad's horse Run To The Bank finish third in '98 (won by Straight Path). I was only nine I think and that was the first horse I ever jogged so it was definitely exciting for me to see him race in such a big race," he said, adding, "The one that sticks out the most was Somebeachsomewhere. I remember being in the grandstand, it was full, watching the best horse to ever live."
McNair will be searching for his first North America Cup victory with inside starter Jimmy Connor B, who is one of two horses in the field trained by his father Gregg. The 31-year-old Guelph, Ont. reinsman, who has driven in four of the last five editions, made his first start in 2016 and posted his best result in 2018 aboard fourth-place finisher Stay Hungry. Jody and Carl Jamieson are the only father-son, trainer-driver combination to win the Cup to date with Up The Credit in 2011.
James MacDonald: "I don’t think it was the first one I watched but the first one I saw live was Tell All (in 2007). It was a gigantic crowd and it was electric at the track. I was there with a lot of family and friends and we were cheering Jody on. It was a really fun night!"
MacDonald, 35, picks up the drive on the Gregg McNair-trained Bettor Sun, who drew post two. The Guelph, Ont. resident, who watched his brother Mark win the coveted Cup in 2010 with Sportswriter, made his debut in the race last year with seventh-place finisher Captain Barbossa.
David Miller: "I drove a horse called Falcons Future in 1994 in the North America Cup and that was my first drive ever in the race. There was no simulcasting back then so before that I had never really watched the North America Cup. I had heard of the race, but I never watched it. It was in the old paddock there at Woodbine and I can remember going through the tunnel."
Two-time North America Cup champion Miller, 56, will drive elimination winner Perfect Sting from post three for trainer Joe Holloway in his 20th Cup appearance. Miller earned his previous victories in back-to-back years courtesy of the Casie Coleman-trained Betting Line (2016) and Fear The Dragon (2017) from the Brian Brown stable. Based in New Jersey, the Hall of Fame reinsman boasts the most career driving wins in the field with 13,449. The oldest driver to win the Cup was William ‘Bud’ Fritz, who was 54 years old when he guided Apaches Fame to victory in the 1990 edition.
Jody Jamieson: "Jate Lobell and Frugal Gourmet in a photo (1987). 'Jate' had won almost everything and 'Frugal' gave him all he could handle."
Two-time North America Cup champion Jamieson will drive 9-5 favourite Bulldog Hanover, who will leave from post four after winning the faster elimination for trainer Jack Darling. The 44-year-old Guelph, Ont. resident made his first appearance in the Cup in 2006 and earned his first victory the following year with Tell All for trainer Blair Burgess. He also won the 2011 edition with Up The Credit, trained by his father Carl.
Sylvain Filion: "The first N.A. Cup that I watched was live at Greenwood in 1988. Runnymede Lobell, with my dad in the bike, won by open lengths. What a thrill it was. The entire family and a bunch of friends were there. We celebrated until the sunrise."
Filion will drive Whichwaytothebeach from post five for trainer Brett Pelling. The 52-year-old Milton, Ont. resident made his first of six appearances in the North America Cup in 1999 driving runner-up Goliath Bayama for his father Yves to a runner-up finish, 1-1/2 lengths behind favourite The Panderosa.
Trevor Henry: "I watched Apaches Fame win the (1990) Cup from Hanover Raceway when I was a kid and just thought it was great to see Bud Fritz from a small town win a big race like that. Anything is possible."
Henry will drive Desperate Man from post six, the winningest post position in Cup history on a seven-eighths-mile track, for trainer Kathy Cecchin. From three prior starts in the Cup, the Arthur, Ont. reinsman's best finish was fourth in the 2017 edition with Classic Pro. Henry, 50, made his first Cup start in 2016.
Scott Zeron: "It was 2000 and Gallo Blue Chip. I was 11 years old so my memory isn’t great but I just remember his dominance as a horse. Living in Canada, it was always cool seeing these high caliber horses travel north for the big races."
Zeron will drive post seven starter Simon Says Hanover, one of three Tony Alagna trainees in the field. He made his Cup debut a decade ago as the youngest driver at the time to compete in the final at age 22, finishing 10th with 77-1 longshot Dutch Richman. The Ontario native, now residing in New York, has made six starts since, winning his latest in 2019 with Captain Crunch in a stakes record 1:47.2.
Andrew McCarthy: "Somebeachsomewhere (2008). I remember hearing the roar of the crowd the whole mile. Literally from start to finish. An epic horse winning an epic race. Goosebumps!"
McCarthy will drive the Alagna-trained Abuckabett Hanover from post eight. The 35-year-old Australian native, who is now based in New Jersey, will be making just his second start in the North America Cup. He finished fourth with 135-1 longshot Aflame Hanover in the 2019 edition.
Dexter Dunn: "It probably would have been a replay of Somebeachsomewhere, that would be the first one I can remember. I was pretty young at the time, but he was such a great horse."
Dunn, 32, will drive the third Alagna trainee, Rockyroad Hanover, who will leave from post position nine. The New Zealand native relocated to the U.S. midway through the 2018 season and drove in his first North America Cup the following year, finishing second with Bettors Wish, three-quarters of a length behind Captain Crunch.
Yannick Gingras: "I never really watched it and I don't know why. I'd say winning with Tall Dark Stranger (2020) is my first memory. I forgot all the rest of them!" he said with a laugh.
Gingras, the reigning North America Cup champion, will drive Southwind Gendry from the outside post 10 for trainer Ron Burke. The 42-year-old Quebec native, who is based in New Jersey, won his ninth Cup appearance last year with Tall Dark Stranger, a decade after making his debut in the race and ending a streak of out-of-the-money results including three consecutive 10th place finishes. Post 10 has not produced a winner in the last 27 editions that the race has been contested on a seven-eighths mile track.
To view complete entries for Saturday's stakes-packed North America Cup card at Woodbine Mohawk Park and complimentary past performance pages, click on the following links: Saturday Entries -- Program Pages (courtesy TrackIT).