There were buoyant hugs, joyful tears and no fewer than seven first-time post season winners as the top Grassroots pacers and trotters gathered at Woodbine Mohawk Park on Saturday night for their $480,000 season finale.

“In this business you get lots of sad and disappointing things, but when you have nights like tonight, when a horse that really wasn’t supposed to be here makes a lot of people happy, it’s pretty exciting,” said Uxbridge, ON resident Norm Clements, whose Prince Lee Acres bred three-year-old trotting filly champion P L Opportunity.

In rein to Trevor Henry, P L Opportunity tipped out three-wide coming off the final turn and powered down the stretch to a two and one-half length victory in 1:55.1 for owner/trainer Matt Dupuis of Rockwood, ON. Midnight Miracle and I Da Princess followed the fan favourite into second and third.

The win was the Kadabra daughter’s third straight and her sixth on a season that has been remarkable simply for its existence. If not for the quick thinking of Prince Lee Acres staff in the seconds after her birth, P L Opportunity would not have survived an attack by her mother, P L Indyanaca, a first-time broodmare. After removing the tiny filly from her mother, the Prince Lee Acres team immediately put the call out for a nurse mare and were connected with the owners of a Belgian whose foal had died at birth.

Trevor Henry and Rachel Dupuis. (New Image Media)

“We got her down the next morning and it took about an hour to get little Opportunity attached to the new big Belgian, but they did, and it was the greatest mother that she could ever have, this great big Belgian with this little wee Opportunity running underneath her,” said Clements.  “Matt and Rachel (Dupuis) are almost part of my family, and Matt was very careful with her as a two-year-old because he said she’s not mature and then every race this year she’s got better. So it’s a thrill for me to see Rachel so happy in the winner’s circle, I was so excited.”

Trainer Chantal Mitchell swept the $60,000 trotting colt divisions with two-year-old Armstead Cole and three-year-old The Prince, getting her first Ontario Sires Stakes post season win as an owner with The Prince.

“The biggest thing I had on my mind was the post positions. I knew that they raced super in their Semi-Finals, they both had a great week, they trained up good, they were feeling good, so I was confident that they were ready to perform, it was all going to come down to the trip,” said Mitchell, who sent Armstead Cole, with driver Randy Waples, and The Prince, in rein to Paul MacDonell, into battle from Posts 10 and 9, respectively.

“I am in the same barn as Paul (MacDonell) and Randy (Waples) works for us, so we can joke around, and this week Kris (DiCenzo) said, ‘We’re going to have to see how you two made it into the Hall of Fame with those post positions’,” said Mitchell with a laugh. “And Randy did a masterful drive, getting a second over trip from the 10-hole, I don’t know how it worked out, but it did. And Paul did what he’s been doing with that horse all year. He put him in position, put him where he needed to be to get the job done, and it worked.”

Armstead Cole delivered a personal best 1:56.4, sprinting down the stretch to best Royal Champane and Stonebridge Zeus, while pacesetting favourite The Prince kept a stubborn neck in front of division point leader Sweet Soul David and a charging Mystic to record a 1:54.4 victory.

James “Donny” Armitage, who raised the Johnny William son and taught him his early lessons, and his father Dr. Roly Armitage of Dunrobin share ownership of Armstead Cole with Grant Watson of Ottawa and Sheryl McDiarmid of Greely. The younger Armitage’s emotions overwhelmed him after the win as he thanked his father for introducing him to harness racing and his wife Glenda for all her help getting the quirky Armstead Cole started.

Archangel son The Prince is owned by breeders Daniel Malette and Maurice Lemieux’s Imagine Stable of L’Ange-Gardien, QC and Mitchell, DiCenzo and Rebecca Henderson’s Party Don’t Stop Racing of Waterdown, ON.

Driver Austin Sorrie of Freelton and owner/breeders Daniel Walker and Debora Stokes of Grafton, ON, made their first trip to the OSS championship winner’s circle on Saturday and described the experience as slightly surreal.

“It didn’t feel real at the start of it. It was just… everything was like slow motion when you were walking back to the winner’s circle,” said Sorrie. “It’s a different kind of feeling when you win one of them.”

“I’m sorry, I’m just a little hyped up at the moment, I’m not talking very well,” said Walker with a chuckle. “We’ve been up and down on these (horses).”

Sorrie piloted Cold Creek Queso to a 1:53.2 victory in the $60,000 two-year-old pacing colt final, taking command just after the half and keeping the pedal down on the way to a one and three-quarter length victory over Macho Phil and favourite Dynomites Peak.

Sunderland, ON resident Murray Brethour trains the Betterthancheddar gelding for Walker and Stokes’ Cold Creek Standardbred.

Owner/trainer Ben Wallace had warned his new partner Terry Krawec that there would be ups and downs when they purchased two-year-old pacing filly Day To Party last fall, but the St. Catharines, ON resident embraced the journey and was rewarded with a Grassroots Championship victory when Doug McNair guided the Sportswriter daughter to a 1:52.4 win over favourite Delight Bayama and division point leader Dewitt For Josie.

“They have watched the process of buying a yearling, getting it broke, the pitfalls that you encounter along the way and the possible success, which we had tonight, at the end of the road,” said Puslinch resident Wallace, adding that the Krawec’s have been regular visitors to his barn since they acquired a third of Day To Party last fall. Daniel Plouffe of Bromont, QC owns the other third. “And I am sure they are just shaking their heads in wonderment.”

Trainer Gabriella Sasso got her first Grassroots Championship victory on the very first horse she and husband Jeff Courchesne purchased to launch their stable last fall. In rein to Sylvain Filion, Armor Seelster sprinted by duelling leaders Cantstoplying and Jimmy Connor B to secure the three-year-old pacing colt title with a 1:49.1 personal best.

“I actually looked after him when he was two-year-old, just as a groom, and when his owners put him up for sale after his two-year-old year my husband and I bought him. We didn’t even have a harness, we had nothing, so this was the first horse that we bought that kicked off our stable together,” said Sasso. “So I kind of owe a lot to him. Not only was it our first Grassroots Championship, he was kind of a first for a lot of things for us.”

The Cambridge residents share ownership of the Bettors Delight gelding, who was also victorious in his Semi-Final, with Martwest Racing Stable of Mississauga, ON.

Moneyworth became the first offspring of her sire Encore Encore to win an OSS post season title with a 1:56.1 effort in the two-year-old trotting filly championship. The division point leader, the only one to emerge victorious on the evening, and driver Scott Young swept down the stretch to a two length victory over favourite Portofino and Angelonia. Paul Reid trains the filly for Brian Kleinberg of Madison, NJ.

Cyclone Sister became just the sixth horse to defend their freshman Grassroots title with a 1:52.3 score in the three-year-old pacing filly contest. In rein to driver James MacDonald, the Shadow Play daughter controlled the tempo and hit the wire one length ahead of Shes Got It All and Saulsbrook Olympia. Nick Gallucci trains Cyclone Sister for owner/breeder Millar Farms of Stouffville, ON.

Complete results from Saturday’s race are available here and replays can be viewed on Woodbine Mohawk Park’s YouTube channel.

Next Saturday, Oct. 16 the Ontario Sires Stakes season comes to a close with the $1.8 million Gold Series Super Finals, which will see the top 10 point earners from each division battle over the Woodbine Mohawk Park oval.


Feature Image: P L Opportunity captured the $60,000 three-year-old trotting filly Grassroots Championship at Woodbine Mohawk Park on Saturday, Oct. 9 with a 1:55.1 effort for driver Trevor Henry of Arthur, ON and owner/trainer Matt Dupuis of Rockwood, ON. (New Image Media photo)