Hanover Raceway fans were treated to an outstanding night of harness racing on the half-mile oval’s annual Balanced Image program Saturday.
Warming up the crowd for the Balanced Image Final were four Grassroots divisions of two-year-old pacing colts and geldings and it was local colt Sauble Play who kicked things off with a victory in the first $18,800 split.
Starting from Post 3 Sauble Play and driver Stephen Byron fired directly to the front and led the field of eight through fractions of :28.1, :58.4 and 1:28. Forever Fav closed hard in the stretch, but fan favourite Sauble Play kept a neck in front to secure the 1:58 victory. Thisishowwedoit rounded out the top three.
“Probably being local helped him,” said Byron with a chuckle. “He raced good. It’s only the second time I drove him, but he sure got around the half-mile real well and they were quite happy with him.”
Byron crafted the win for trainer Larry Hall and his Sauble Hill Farms of Tara, Ontario. The win was the homebred son of Shadow Play and Noble Duchess’ second in Grassroots action this season and gives him a total of 108 points, good enough for third spot in the division standings with one regular season event remaining, on September 11 at Woodbine Mohawk Park. The top 20 point earners advance to the Grassroots Semi-Final at Woodbine Mohawk Park on September 20.
The second division saw Carlisimo post his first Ontario Sires Stakes victory and equal the track record for two-year-old pacing colts with a 1:56.3 score. In rein to Brett MacDonald, the fan favourite got away third from Post 2 and watched Excaliber Seelster and DA Delightful battle to a :27.3 opening quarter. Excaliber Seelster emerged on top and took the field to a :56.4 half and a 1:26.3 three-quarters, but Carlisimo was on the move around the final turn and powered down the stretch to a one and one-quarter length victory. Excaliber Seelster settled for second and Village Champ was another length back in third.
“He raced tough. At the head of the lane I didn’t know if he was going to get by that one on the front, but he dug in,” said trainer James Dean, who conditions Carlisimo for Reginald MacPherson of Stratford, PEI. “We tried the Golds at Grand River (Aug. 15), but they’re just too tough for him, so we’re pretty happy with him tonight.”
The mile, which matched the 1:56.3 clocked by Grinning Breed in a Grassroots event in August 2007, was a new personal best for Carlisimo, who was also a winner at Exhibition Park on July 2. The son of Shadow Play and 2010 three-year-old pacing filly Grassroots Champion Putnam Mackenzie was a $13,000 purchase out of the 2017 Atlantic Classic Yearling Sale and has banked $21,186 through six starts.
Fan favourite Moonshine Kisses took the third Grassroots division with a gate-to-wire effort from Post 4, sailing under the wire two and one-quarter lengths ahead of Gamblingterror and Ys Sunshine in 1:58.2. J Bradley Harris piloted the Sunshine Beach son to the win for trainer Mark Steacy and owners Katherine Steacy of Lansdowne, Shawn Steacy of Guelph, Ontario, Diane Bertrand and Robert Gilhespy of Edmonton, Alberta.
“He trained down nicely and his first couple starts looked good, but the next two not as good,” said Steacy of the colt’s early season results. “He looked back to normal tonight, so we hope he can finish his season off nicely in the Grassroots.”
An $18,000 purchase out of the London Selected Yearling Sale, Moonshine Kisses finished fourth and second in the first two Grassroots events of the season, then logged a fifth in an August 7 overnight event, all at Woodbine Mohawk Park. In the August 14 Grassroots event at Georgian Downs he was edged out of the top three in the stretch, settling for fourth. Saturday’s victory bumps him into the top 10 with 91 points.
The pacing colts and geldings wrapped things up with a flourish as Sports Hero stripped three-fifths of a second off the track record with a commanding 1:56 performance in the last division. The son of Sportswriter and driver Paul Mackenzie finished eight lengths ahead of Boys Turn and Taragon.
“We’ve been high on him all along. He’s had some tough luck so hopefully everything is turning around,” said trainer Blake Macintosh. “I’ve sort of been a little disappointed with the way he was finishing and so we changed his bridle up so he could see the horses more, and I think he responded good to that tonight.”
The win was Sports Hero’s second in Grassroots action, the colt was also victorious in the July 13 season opener at Woodbine Mohawk Park. In his other two Grassroots appearances he finished second and fourth, so Saturday’s win puts him atop the division standings with 133 points.
A half-brother to 2012 three-year-old pacing filly Super Final champion Mach A Wish, Sports Hero was a $60,000 purchase at last fall’s Lexington Selected Yearling Sale and he may be stepping up to tougher competition for his next start.
“I like the colt. He’s kept eligible to the Metro and everything. I don’t know if he’s that type of horse, but he’s a nice big horse,” said the trainer. “We’ve taken it easy on him just trying to get him to come around to where we wanted him, and he’s getting there, he’s getting to the way I want him.
“I imagine he’ll probably try the Champlain next week and then we’ll go from there,” Macintosh continued. “We’ll see; we’ll figure it out.”
Macintosh conditions Sports Hero for 30 Plus Stable of Trenton, 3 Hero Stables of Cambridge and Touch Stone Farms of Guelph, Ontario.
In addition to the Grassroots performances from the freshman pacing colts and geldings, Hanover fans were also treated to thrilling finishes in the Walker Memorial Trot and the Balanced Image Trot final.
Vesuvio Bi closed from seventh to claim the $10,000 Walker Memorial Trot in 1:59.1, reeling in favourite Twofourroadie and Irish Thunder. Scott Coulter engineered the win aboard the Manofmanymissions son for trainer Martin Lachance and his Lachance Racing Stable of Millstone Township, New Jersey and Dan Mogridge of Hillsdale, Ontario. The win was the former Grassroots winner’s sixth in his four-year-old campaign.
Heavy favourite Dream Nation powered up the outside from Post 6 to capture the $53,800 Balanced Image Final for two-year-old trotters in 2:00.4. Fillies Royal Rhythm and Blue Magic were second and third. Tyler Moore piloted the Archangel gelding to his fifth win in six starts for trainer Jacques Dupont and owners Les Ecuries Dorleans Inc. of Repentigny, Ecurie CSL of Sorel-Tracy, Gestion C Levesque 2005inc of St-Hyacinthe and Marc Camirand of Montreal, Quebec. The two-time Gold Series winner boosted his earnings over $100,000 with the victory.