CAMPBELLVILLE, ON — Ontario’s finest trotters and pacers started down the final path to Super Final glory at Mohawk Racetrack Friday evening as they shipped into the retention barn in preparation for Saturday’s $2.4 million showdown.
All 71 entrants will spend Friday night and the hours before their race as guests of the Campbellville oval, a practice required for all major stake events at the Woodbine Entertainment Group racetracks. While some of the contestants, particularly the three-year-olds, have been exposed to the retention barn environment it can pose special concerns for youngsters who have never spent a night away from the familiarity of their own stalls.
Two-year-old trotting colt division leader Meadowview Sunny is among the horses who will be enjoying their first sleep over on Friday night, but trainer Paul Shakes is hoping the talented youngster will take the change in location in stride.
“It’s little concern. He seems to be very good as far as adapting goes, but you never know until you get there,” says Shakes. “I think he’ll be okay, but it will be a little culture shock for all of them.”
Shakes’ son Brad was designated to chaperone the Classic Adam son in the “D” barn while the Stayner resident takes care of the rest of his string on Saturday morning. Once Shakes arrives at Mohawk on Saturday afternoon, final preparations will begin for what the veteran trainer and owner Charles Reid of Orono hope is a successful bid for the division title.
“If everything is fine with him I have all the confidence in the world that he’ll do well,” says Shakes. “The seven-hole doesn’t bother me. If he’s at the top of his game he can leave enough to get himself spotted to get a hole.”
Regular driver Doug Brown will pilot Meadowview Sunny from Post 7 in the second race on the 7:40 pm program and Shakes says he has ironed out the problem that caused the colt to make an uncharacteristic break in the Nov. 2 Gold Final at Flamboro Downs.
“It was the first one he has ever made and it’s not how you want to go into the big race, but we’ve pinned it down to the track, and shoeing maybe,” he explains. “I did change him for that track and it maybe wasn’t the thing to do.
“It was pretty slippy for him in the elimination so I put a little cork on him and as it turned out it was the wrong thing to do because he didn’t accept it. Now everything is back to where it was before. There are no excuses.”
Among the colts that Meadowview Sunny will face Saturday are the second-place point earner Kingdom from Post 5 and the Nov. 2 Gold Final winner Ethen Seelster from Post 2. Ethen Seelster is one of six entries from the Bob McIntosh stable and the Windsor-based trainer believes the freshman trotter is heading into the Super Final at the peak of his season.
“I thought he was on his way to a big latter half of the season, but then he got struck by a virus and had some breathing problems he had to work his way through,” says McIntosh. “Now he’s back feeling sharp and back to himself. He’s really bloomed out and he looks great. I’m looking forward to racing him Saturday night.”
McIntosh trains the son of Balanced Image and Edbars Nanci for his partners Dave Boyle of Bowmanville and CSX Stables of Liberty Center, OH and regular driver Chris Christoforou will be in the race bike Saturday.
Three-year-old trotting colt leader Abbey Road C is another youngster who will be spending his first night away from the comforts of home and trainer Keith Jones says he is not sure what to expect.
“I’ve never been in detention myself with anything, but I think he’ll be okay. Hopefully in a different environment he’ll stay the same,” says the Midhurst resident. “There’s so much sickness going around, that’s the only thing that worries me, that he might catch something in there and not be as sharp.”
Abbey Road C heads into Saturday’s seventh race riding a four race win streak in Ontario Sires Stakes competition and boasts eight wins in the 10 starts since Jones added trotting hopples to his equipment bag. The only flaw in the gelding’s performance over the past three months is a break in stride in a Preferred event at Hiawatha Horse Park on Oct. 17, but the trainer-driver is confident it did not mark a return to the erratic performance fans witnessed during the Incredible Abe son’s early season.
“The track was pretty loose and he didn’t seem to get a hold of it, even warming up,” says Jones. “If he would’ve run in the qualifier (Nov. 5) I would have been worried, but I think he’s pretty tight.”
The colt laid down a snappy 1:56 qualifier at Mohawk on Nov. 5 in preparation for Saturday’s contest and will start from Post 3 in the season finale, which Jones says is the perfect hole for the gifted trotter.
While Jones and his wife Gwen camp out with their protege at Mohawk, owner and breeder George Charlton has opted to stay home in Utopia and watch Abbey Road C on the television broadcast.
“He can see a lot better at home. He sits right in front of the TV,” says Jones. “He didn’t know if his nerves could take it. This is by far the biggest race for any one of us.”
So, in spite of the retention barn, the four-legged member of the Abbey Road C camp may be the calmest one by 7:40 pm Saturday night.