In the midst of a career year, trainer Nick Gallucci has major contenders in two of Canadian harness racing's most lucrative events on the nation's richest card this season.
Not only does the 34-year-old Gallucci have elimination winner Prohibition Legal in the $500,500 Shes A Great Lady Final on Saturday (Sept. 25) at Woodbine Mohawk Park, he'll also send out Betterhavemymoney in the $824,000 Metro Pace and the emerging Powertrain in the $157,000 Ontario Sires Stakes Gold division to be contested on the Grand Circuit stakes-stacked undercard. Gallucci conditions that homebred trio for owner George Millar of Stouffville, Ont.
The $3 million card at Mohawk on Saturday also features the $1 million Mohawk Million, the $240,000 Milton Pace for older pacing mares and the $157,975 Simcoe for three-year-old trotters. And it's cards like these that trainers like Gallucci strive to compete on with those younger horses that carry the hopes and aspirations of their connections.
"You're always dreaming to have horses in those races. For years, I know George felt the same way all along, hoping he could breed one that could be competitive in the Shes A Great Lady or the Metro. And this year, it looks like we've got a really good chance," Gallucci told Trot Insider. "Ever since these two started racing, you're aiming for the higher-end events like these two races, and it keeps the drive going, keeps you getting up in the morning and keeps your work ethic on point so you can do your best to have them as good as you can for these nights. Definitely very excited."
Two-year-old pacing filly Prohibition Legal has yet to taste defeat in six seasonal starts for Gallucci and Millar, and that unbeaten rookie will face another unbeaten pacing filly by the name of Niki Hill in the $500,500 Shes A Great Lady Final. Oddsmakers have sided with Niki Hill, perfect in four this year, and assigned 8-5 morning line odds while Prohibition Legal is the second choice at 4-1. James MacDonald will drive the daughter of Big Jim - Catch A Wish as he has in all of her previous appearances.
Gallucci admitted that Prohibition Legal has her work cut out for her on Saturday, but noted that his filly really hasn't been fully tested as of yet.
"Her lines are kind of underwhelming for showing what kind of horse she really is, because she's not going to do it on her own. It's when she gets tested that you see that extra gear. I know she's going to get tested Saturday, so I guess we'll see what kind of horse she is at that point."
While the past performances show a lot of 1's in the racelines, Gallucci doesn't think that Prohibition Legal needs to control a race to be at her best, lending to the trainer's assertion that the best Prohibition Legal has yet to see stakes action.
"She's able to race her any way you want. She's pretty explosive off the helmet, and she's handled herself on the lead well the last three races. I don't think that's the ideal trip for her, but in situations when you're the something-to-five favourite, you've got to make them beat you," stated Gallucci. "But I don't think she's going to be favoured Saturday, so, it's up to James, but he can race her any way he wants. I can't really say enough about her; she's just been the perfect horse so far.
"For an eighth of a mile, I think this one...there's not too many that can pace with her for an eighth."
The 2021 Shes A Great Lady Final is slated for the sixth race on Saturday night. One race later in the seventh, Gallucci will send out the top money earner in the 2021 Metro Pace field of 12 with Battle of Waterloo champ Betterhavemymoney. The son of Betterthancheddar - Whosluckierthanme sports a 4-1-1 record from seven outings, not missing a cheque for $288,162 in earnings.
Last in action on Sept. 4 in Ontario Sires Stakes Gold series action at Mohawk, Betterhavemymoney has drawn post five in the Metro and adds Lasix for the first time this year. While the colt's performances to this point have been stellar, Gallucci has no reason to expect anything less from his stakes winner this Saturday after a three-week rest.
"I think it's going to be to his benefit. He started off the year really well, winning his first four races, but he really got stretched out in the Battle of Waterloo. I think it took the horse a little while to recover from that. He had some health issues, then came back. He raced well when he finished second in the Nassagaweya. It was a really big turnaround after, but then, some of those same health issues cropped up again, and that last race I wasn't really happy with.
"After that, we got everything cleaned up, and I added him to the Lasix program. I think that's going to benefit him a lot, and I think having the extra time to get his lungs cleaned out and getting him healthy is only going to benefit him. So, we trained him up really good last week; James [MacDonald] was happy with him. And I actually trained him [Tuesday] — I could see the weather was not going to be the best — and he trained phenomenally; I couldn't have asked for him to train any better. He was acting like when he was going into those first four races, like very relaxed. And when I asked him to go; he was very responsive, he responded really well. It's a pretty amazing weekend coming."
The lack of on-track action for Betterhavemymoney during the month of September isn't a concern for Gallucci, as he feels the colt is fit and fresh heading into his biggest test of the year — a race that Gallucci feels is a wide-open event, and one of the most hard-to-predict editions of the Metro in recent memory.
"I think having the extra couple of weeks off is going to do him a lot of good. I'm not worried about fitness with him; he was pacing 1:51 in his second lifetime start, and he did that under wraps," said Gallucci. "The last week, last week and a half, he's really turned the corner, and I'm anticipating he'll bounce back to his old self, the way he was racing. Whether that's going to be good enough will be another thing, but I think that's one of the most wide-open Metro fields that I've seen in my experience. In a 12-horse field, but he's very versatile; James can do whatever he wants with him."
Versatility is certainly a trait trainers and drivers admire, and it's something that Gallucci admits has been a work in progress for sophomore pacer Powertrain. The last time he was in action was on the 2021 Pepsi North America Cup undercard, winning a $50,000 Three-Year-Old open pace in a lifetime best 1:48.2 — the fastest mile on a card that also featured older pacers as well as the sport's top sophomores.
Powertrain has drawn post five in Saturday's $155,600 division of the Ontario Sires Stakes Gold series. Pepsi North America Cup winner Desperate Man has post two, with N.A. Cup post time favourite Bulldog Hanover in post six. Both Powertrain and Bulldog hanover come into Saturday's tilt with marks of 1:48.2, the fastest in the field of seven. Regardless of Saturday's outcome, Gallucci is thrilled to have this sophomore in the mix.
"As a young horse he got injured, and to have him at this level is very rewarding and obviously shows what kind of horse he is. It shows his heart and desire to be able to make it this far, and be able to be competitive with those horses. I'm not saying he can beat them, but I think he can — even as quick as they are. With the issues that he's had, he doesn't really have the experience that those horses have, so I think every week, you're going to see him get a little bit better and a little bit more experienced.
"Gradually, I think maybe — who knows, maybe Saturday will be the night — but, I think, over time, he's going to develop into a really nice horse. He's just not really used to being a racehorse; he's probably got half the starts that the other horses have, and he never raced as a two-year-old either. With COVID, not being able to race him the early part of this year kind of affected him mentally, and he just had to jump in and start racing top-calibre horses. You just try and make the best of the situation."
Clearly blessed with speed, Powertrain has also been his own worst enemy at times this summer. With breaks in three of his last four starts prior to that eye-opening open pace score, Gallucci had to reassess the colt's rigging. A successful Sept. 7 qualifier showed he was on the right track, and the Sept. 11 lifetime best performance confirmed it.
"His last start was a big turnaround after we made a couple changes, and he really responded to the changes we've made. He obviously has the ability; it's just a matter of getting a good trip and him having his head in the game. And the rest is up to him until then. It's definitely very rewarding having him in there, as well."
In a previous interview with Gallucci heading into the 2019 Confederation Cup Final, he admitted how excited he was to compete in such a prestigious event that he watched as a kid growing up. Saturday's card, however, evokes a different element of pride as this time it's the horses he watched grow up and develop. To have his hand in that process along with breeder/owner George Millar — who Gallucci feels could be in O'Brien Award contention — makes the journey to nights like Saturday all the more rewarding.
"They're all homebreds. They were all raised in his backyard, which is very amazing for George. He's probably in contention for breeder of the year, I would say," noted Gallucci. "I think the breeders award would mean more to him than anything you could win in a race or money. It's not so much about the money for George, it's always been about having a good horse and having fun doing this. A very amazing year; I'm really happy we're able to do that for him.
"It's going to be a pretty stressful couple of days, but it's like every race: you do everything you can for the horse. The rest is going to be up to the horse and driver. I've done everything I can do, and I tell James all the time, 'My job is the best I could do. It's up to you, now.'"
To view complete entries for Saturday's star-studded card of harness racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park and complimentary past performance pages, click on the following links: Saturday Entries -- Program Pages (courtesy TrackIT).