Woodbine Mohawk Park featured the 2023 Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots finals on Saturday evening (Sept. 30) with each final boasting a $75,000 purse.
Strutting in front of the crowd, favourite Flirty Dancer looked the part, playing to the fans on a balmy September evening at Mohawk. And that was even before her 1:56.2 lifetime-best victory for regular driver Scott Young.
A full field of 10 lined up for the second race, the first of eight $75,000 Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots Championship races on the Saturday night card.
Her Currency was first away from post eight, in line to Jody Jamieson, catch driving for an absent Bob McClure. Leading through fractions of :28, :58.4, and 1:27.2, Her Currency kept ahead of pocket-sitter Birthday Money, who twisted eagerly as she awaited orders from trainer/driver Matt Bax.
Behind the top pair, Paul MacDonell had 20-1 longshot West River Ivory following patiently from third, in stark contrast to her antics before the start. The post 10 starter had briefly reared up as she turned to go behind the gate.
The stretch drive had a flurry of activity, with Birthday Money let loose to chase down Her Currency, first-over West River Ivory continuing down the middle of the track, and Flirty Dancer showing up to the party late.
The 9-5 favourite got up in the final strides, soaring past the three other fillies, with West River Ivory gaining ground for place to her immediate inside. Her Currency held on for show, ahead of fourth-place Birthday Money.
Flirty Dancer extended her win streak to four in a row in the Grassroots final.
Owned by Brian Kleinberg of Madison, N.J.; Richard Beinhauer of Venetia, Pa; and Paul Reid, De Leon Springs, Fl., the filly was bred by Cynthia Graham and William Woolfrey of Warkworth, Ont.
“She’s a complete gem,” said winning driver Scott “The Answer” Young. “I was honoured to pick her up in Sarnia. The first time I ever drove her, I told Paul [trainer, Reid], I hope I can drive her for the rest of the year.”
Flirty Dancer led her OSS division going into the final, previously prevailing in Grassroots legs at Woodbine Mohawk Park (leg #2); Hiawatha Horse Park (leg #4, her first start for Young); Grand River Raceway (leg #5); and the September 21 Grassroots semi-final at Mohawk, in which she had lowered her mark to 1:57.1.
Young credited the championship win to his filly.
“I was worried tonight, I’m not gonna lie. I didn't have her in a very good spot,” he said. “I was hoping to follow ‘Mac’ [Paul MacDonell], and then ended up being third-over. Even the last turn, she wasn’t on the bit huge, but she bailed me out, that’s for sure.”
Flirty Dancer paid $3.80 for the win.
Despite compiling an undefeated record in three Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots preliminary events and finishing second in her semifinal, Dave Menary trainee Bonitas Best Bet provided something of a shock as the fourth favourite, at 6-1, in Saturday night's $75,000 Grassroots series final for two-year-old pacing fillies, using a sustained first-over grind to nail 9-5 favourite and divisional point leader Tribal Dancer in the final 40 yards of a lifetime best 1:51.3 mile.
The All Bets Off-Bonita Beach filly used front-pacing tactics to win all three of her Grassroots prelims — one at Hiawatha Horse Park and her last two at Mohawk — before Betterwithglasses nabbed her in the final yards of a 1:52.2 mile in the September 21 semifinal, but she employed a change of tactics in avenging that defeat.
Betterwithglasses and driver Trevor Henry slingshotted to the lead from post 10, drilling a :12.1 first eighth to clear How Much and Tribal Dancer before rolling uncontested to a :26.3 first quarter.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Drury floated Bonitas Best Bet into a stalking position just off the top trio. Up the backstretch, Jody Jamieson brushed Tribal Dancer from third to the lead, and after a :55.1 half, they began to draw clear from the other nine, only for Bonitas Best Bet to begin her first-over ascent out of fourth midway on the far turn.
Tribal Dancer, who was 3-1/2 lengths clear at one point, was all-out in upper stretch after hitting three-quarters in 1:22.3, and in the crosshairs of Bonitas Best Bet by the eighth pole. The persistent Bonitas Best Bet wore down Tribal Dancer with 40 yards to go, striking the front and outlasting a bold four-wide rally from stablemate and runner-up Make Out With Me (Tyler Borth) – who was eighth swinging off the home turn – by a mere head. Tribal Dancer finished third.
"She's had such a productive year," said Menary of Bonitas Best Bet, who improved her seasonal record to five wins from 10 starts and upped her earnings to $96,954 for Burke Racing Stable, Frank Baldachino, Weaver Bruscemi, and J&T Silva-Purnel & Libby. "She's such a willing filly and very, very handy. She's been in the right place at the right time, but she can overcome any kind of trip and you can drive her any way you want. She ended the year on a good note; that's a pretty nice lifetime mark."
Bonitas Best Bet paid $15.50 to win.
The two-year-old male Grassroots trotters had a competitive rivalry brewing before their Ontario Sires Stakes championship final.
Semi-final winner and divisional leader Northernchancellor was not favoured from the rail. Neither was Alexander, starting from post four and the number-two male trotter in their OSS points standings going into the big race.
In the end, Grassroots semi-final winner Salem Seelster came through as the even-money favourite for Jody Jamieson, catch-driving for regular pilot Louis-Phillipe Roy.
Hilarious Archie left hard from post six to make front for catch driver Tyler Borth, filling in for the absent Bob McClure. The 36-1 longshot R No Mercy followed from post eight, landing in the pocket behind Borth’s gelding. A three-wide Nzuri trotted on from post 10 for Trevor Henry, gaining ground first-over to press and clear Hilarious Archie past a brisk :27.1 opening panel.
First-over from sixth before the :57.3 half, Salem Seelster never looked back, looking comfortable on the lead through three-quarters in 1:26.2 and 1:53.3 at the wire. Quick-closing R No Mercy and driver Travis Cullen collared Ways N Means in deep stretch for place. Nzuri dropped back to fourth.
In the winner’s circle, Jody Jamieson said Salem Seelster “felt great.” Owned by Determination of Montreal, Que., the gelding was a $110,000 yearling purchase at the 2022 London Classic Yearling Sale.
The beaming driver said Determination-owned horses inspire confidence.
“You know they are going to be good for the most part,” said Jamieson. “It was just awesome to get a chance to drive [Salem Seelster]. I've driven... actually, I'm undefeated with Determination horses in the last two years, so it's pretty fun to get a shot to drive this one. But it's only been two, I'm two for two."
Trained by Luc Blais, Salem Seelster responded perfectly to Jamieson’s confidence.
The winning driver told interviewer John Rallis he had landed the drive after chatting with “Wayne [Hafey], Luc's main man.”
The gelding had been 12th in Grassroots divisional standings before the $75,000 final, which was his third win of the season.
Bred by Seelster Farms of Lucan, Ont., he had previously won leg #3 on Aug. 10 at Woodbine Mohawk Park and edged out Ways N Means in a Sept. 21 Grassroots Semi-Final, lowering his mark to 1:56 flat that race.
Salem Seelster (Muscle Mass–Speak Of The Devil) went a career-best 1:55.3 mile in the Sept. 30 final, living up to Jamieson’s well-informed hopes.
“[Wayne Hafey] explained exactly how [Salem Seelster] would be, and [Salem Seelster] was exactly how he said. Just running in a little bit in the turns and a little choppy-gaited until you got going. High speed and [he’s] got tons of talent. [He] could be anything next year."
Salem Seelster paid $4 for the win.
Pretty Special lived up to her name Saturday evening. The sophomore filly trotter, driven by Chris Christoforou and sent off as the 3-5 favourite, sprinted home in dominating fashion to capture her $75,000 Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots final.
The Resolve-Pretty Crafty sophomore stopped the clock in a lifetime best 1:53.2.
Trained by Camilla Christoforou for owner Brad Grant, Pretty Special entered Saturday’s final off an impressive semi-final victory on Sept. 22, scoring a near four-length tally with a 1:53.3 effort.
The win was only the second of the season, however, as Pretty Special struggled with breaking issues earlier in the year.
“We got lucky,” the driver said from the winner’s circle. “Camilla figured it out and she got her back going the way she was supposed to go. She was definitely frustrating for a bit, but it's at least nice to see her get this done tonight.”
Those issues appear to be in the rearview mirror. The filly has stayed flat, and outside of a fourth-place finish on Sept. 9, she has hit the board in five of her last six entering the Grassroots final. The connections considered moving to the Gold division but thought better of it.
“We thought about it, but it was one of those things where it was kind of late and she had done well in the Grassroots, and it was probably an easier spot for her,” commented Christoforou. “Like I said, this filly she has tremendous speed for a piece, but she's very erratic and like I said, it's all Camilla on this one. I'm just a passenger.”
The decision to remain in the Grassroots paid dividends Saturday.
Entering the night as one of the divisional points leaders, the Richard Thompson-bred sophomore lined up in post seven for Christoforou.
When the gate folded, the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Famer settled in sixth along the pylons as Northern Charlotte and Paul MacDonnell fired from the outside and led the field to a :26.2 opening panel. Soon, second-choice Smashin Raquets and Travis Cullen brushed to the lead, reaching the half in :55.3.
Christoforou liked what he saw playing out on the front end.
"I was hopeful. You know, she's been firing home pretty good lately and the fractions were to her liking, so you never know, but I wasn't disappointed with the fractions, I'll put it that way,” he explained.
Christoforou moved to the outer flow, picking up the cover of Shiny New Penny as Smashin Raquets led the field through the turn and into the stretch.
When Pretty Special kicked off cover in the lane, she left little doubt of the outcome. Sprinting past the group, the filly easily distanced herself from the competition, making it look easy on the way to a lifetime best performance.
The winning margin was 5-3/4 lengths. Smashin Raquets held on late for second, with Sweet Detrmination third.
Pretty Special paid $3.40 while delivering a “special” win for her connections.
Following a traffic-troubled fifth-place finish in the semi-final round, Century Jamila made sure to control her own destiny in Saturday night's $75,000 Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots final for three-year-old pacing fillies, quarter-moving to the top and outlasting a pair of stout challenges en route to a 1:50.4 lifetime mark.
One of four Shawn Steacy trainees to qualify for the 10-horse final, 6-5 favourite Century Jamila yielded early control to 63-1 outsider Glenboro (Travis Cullen) through a :12 first eighth before driver Sylvain Filion brushed her from the pocket to control a :26.3 quarter.
“I was just hoping to get a clean trip and not get locked in,” said Filion, referring to the confined trips that limited Century Jamila to third- and fifth-place finishes in her previous two outings. "I was just making sure I could give her some racetrack to go, and she did a great job."
After rating a :55.1 half, Century Jamila faced steady but mild pressure from first-over challenger and stablemate Twin B Delight (Scott Young) through the far turn, protecting a one-length lead on the far turn and widening it again to 1-3/4 lengths at three-quarters in 1:23.4 as she found a second wind.
"She felt really good around the last turn," continued Filion. "She swelled up because of that horse on the outside of her."
Century Jamila continued to pace strongly off the home turn, accelerating after dismissing Twin B Delight off the turn.
As the outer tier stalled, Austin Sorrie found room to angle Grandeur Seelster – who was third back along the pegs – into clear sailing to take late aim at the pacesetter, but their late rally came up three-quarters of a length short. Sweetest Belle (Jody Jamieson), who had been buried at the back of the pack, lifted belatedly up the inside to finish third, another length behind.
After not racing as a two-year-old, Century Jamila has banked $138,280 in 19 starts this season for the partnership of K and K Stable, Landmark 115 Racing Stable and A K Malik Stable, winning eight of them.
In Grassroots action alone, the Bettors Delight-Exotic Pleasure filly won four of her five preliminary legs – including all three of her Woodbine appearances.
Century Jamila returned $4.60 to win.
When the two-year-old pacing colts turned for home in their $75,000 Grassroots Championship on Saturday night, Aaron Waxman was pretty confident he was going to be visiting the Woodbine Mohawk Park winner’s circle.
“I knew he had a big shot to keep fighting,” said Waxman of Enforcer, the Big Jim-Rough N Ready colt he co-owns with Alan Alber of Thornhill, Ont. and David Jarvis of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “Especially once T H Mcmurry wasn’t there because I thought that was the only horse that was legitimately better than him, but he’s had his ups and downs through the year, so once he wasn’t there I knew he could maybe fight the rest of them off.”
Sent off as the heavy favourite, T H Mcmurry never got into the mix from post two, while Enforcer and driver Chris Christoforou fired out of post five and led the field of 10 freshman to a :27 opening quarter.
Heading for the :55.3 half, Unrivaled Hanover took command, and Vis A Vis Bluechip started the attack up the outer lane, shuffling Enforcer back to third, positions the three colts held through the 1:22.4 three-quarters.
Turning for home, Christoforou swung Enforcer out from behind the pacesetter and the pair, joined by D A Mcdreamy up the inside, duelled to a thrilling finish that saw Enforcer prevail by a head in a 1:50.2 personal best.
Unrivaled Hanover finished second and Stonebridge Thrill was elevated from fourth to third when D A Mcdreamy was ruled to have been inside two consecutive pylons.
“He’s kept improving and he’s a horse that never gives up. I think maybe he missed a cheque once all year and he’s always right there and he always fights right to the wire,” said Carlisle, Ont. resident Waxman. “He’s been a nice horse, kind of a borderline Grassroots or Gold type, and Gregg [McNair] was smart, I probably would have pushed in the other direction and been chasing, but Gregg and Chris [Matthews] kind of said, ‘Let’s get him some confidence and drop down here.’ And it obviously worked out well.”
Guelph, Ont. resident Gregg McNair trains Enforcer and his second in command Chris Matthews, also of Guelph, offered some guidance to driver Christoforou before the race.
“He's a bit of a lazy guy and Chris Matthews, the assistant trainer, told me, he said, 'If you think he's done, he's not. He'll give you a little more if you keep pushing.' So, we kept pushing and he got there," said Christoforou, who was making his second appearance of the night in the Grassroots Championship winner’s circle.
The Campbellville, Ont. resident also captured the three-year-old trotting filly final with Pretty Special.
Saturday’s win was the second of the season for Enforcer, with the first coming in the Grassroots season opener on July 14 at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
After battling the top-level colts through July and August, adding a second and two thirds to his record, he returned to the Grassroots level for the Sept. 7 leg at Woodbine Mohawk Park and finished second, good enough for tenth spot in the point standings and a berth in last week’s Semi-Final, where he finished fourth behind T H Mcmurry.
Saturday’s win boosted the colt’s record to two wins, three seconds and two thirds for earnings of $94,410.
Enforcer paid $37.30 for the win.
Longshot Kinnder Thinktwice and Sylvain Filion, sent off at odds of 25-1, tracked down favourite New Rules late in the lane to spring the upset in Saturday’s $75,000 Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots final for sophomore trotting colts.
Trained by Tyler Moore, the Wheeling N Dealin-Majestic Joy colt tripped the timer in 1:53.3, a new lifetime mark, and returned $52.40 to his backers.
"It's very great. It's been a while since I've really trained anything, so it's very exciting,” the conditioner said of his first training win at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
The victory capped off a whirlwind few weeks for Moore, who received the colt earlier this month. With 11 starts to his credit, Kinnder Thinktwice had managed a single victory for owner Michael Hall. Moving to Moore, son of Dr. Ian Moore, the sophomore raced fourth in the semi-final last week with Filion in the bike for the first time.
"The owner Michael [Hall], I think he has a couple here right now with my dad. They've had a bit of a relationship over the last couple of years, so he had called my dad and asked for him to take him and he kind of has too many, so he offered him up to me, I guess,” Moore said after the win. “I've actually never spoken to Michael, but anyway I've only had the horse for barely two weeks I think, but obviously, he's been great and we really enjoy having him. He's a pleasure in the barn and he's obviously a really nice horse. I was really surprised tonight, but he certainly strutted his stuff."
Kinnder Thinktwice drew post six in the Grassroots final while the heavy favourite, New Rules, was not so fortunate.
Entering the race with back-to-back wins, the Marcel Barrieau trainee drew the outside post for Saturday night’s contest.
When the gate folded, driver Austin Sorrie looked to be forwardly placed, but could not find a spot along the rail and was forced to move to the top through fractions of :26.3 and :56.1, shuffling Deadline Hall to second.
Filion, by comparison, sat along the pylons in sixth until Like Chaos and Trevor Henry moved from fifth, grabbing the live cover.
Racing out of the turn (1:25.3), New Rules maintained the lead. However, after being stung early, he was no match for a hard-charging Kinnder Thinktwice. Flying on the outside, the longshot won by half a length at the wire. The Great Reset trotted third.
It was the second Grassroots win of the night for Filion, who scored earlier on the program with Century Jamila.
His thoughts on the colt after the race?
"Very happy,” Moore said, of Filion’s reaction. “I wasn't sure what to expect. I really didn't get time to do much with him [Kinnder Thinktwice] and I had no idea what he was really going to provide us with and when he raced last week, I was very impressed, and I was just hoping for a similar result. He really threw it all out there and he was amazing, and I was really impressed tonight again."
Bred by Denitza Petrova, Kinnder Thinktwice scored the biggest purse win of his career. He nearly doubled his career earnings with the victory, the fourth in 20 lifetime starts.
Off the strength of three preliminary-round scores and a decisive 1:51 semi-final win, 1-5 favourite Winmebak and catch-driver Scott Young had all the answers to stave off a late challenge from Palladium Hanover in Saturday's $75,000 Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots final for three-year-old male pacers to conclude the OSS action.
Young elected to avoid the cavalry charge to the first turn, easing Winmebak to sixth while Troubles A Brewin, Mufferaw Joe and Santana Hanover stampeded to a :12 first furlong.
Santana Hanover (Sylvain Filion) won the :25.3 first-quarter battle, only to be shuffled to third up the backstretch as Palladium Hanover (Travis Cullen) launched a middle move out of fourth.
Palladium Hanover cleared for control before the :54 half-mile split but gave way to Winmebak – who was towed into striking range by Palladium Hanover's middle move – shortly after the race’s midpoint.
“There was a guy on the outside of me in the first turn and I was like, 'Might as well try and take matters into my own hands now,'” said Young, who had won the two-year-old filly trot final with Flirty Dancer earlier in the program.
Winmebak maintained a stout pace through the far turn, evading pressure from Artsalive – who was left uncovered – past three-quarters in 1:22 and trying to separate himself from the field turning for home.
The Shadow Play-Winbak Speedi gelding got that separation from all but one rival: Palladium Hanover, who pulled the pocket with three-sixteenths to go and made for a thrilling stretch duel between the two semi-final winners.
Although he didn't respond to Cullen's imploring at first, Palladium Hanover posed an intensifying threat through the final eighth. Winmebak remained resolute and held his ground to win by a diminishing head in 1:50.4. Palladium Hanover was a game second; Ahi Sunshine (Jonathan Drury) lifted off fourth-over cover to finish third, 2-1/4 lengths in arrears.
"When [Palladium Hanover] came, he kind of came out with authority and I said, 'Well, leave it to me to get this one beat,'" said Young, concerned by his late challenger. "But he held on.
"He was parked a long way and I tried to give him a little bit of a breather, and he fought one off late and bailed me out."
Nick Gallucci trains Winmebak, an 11-time winner from 19 starts with $170,738 in career earnings, for Millar Farms.
Winmebak paid $2.60 to win.
To view the results from Saturday's card of harness racing, click the following link: Saturday Results - Woodbine Mohawk Park.
(with files from Ontario Racing)