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Grassroots stars put Steacy on path to third Johnston Cup
With a 26 point lead in the standings, Mark Steacy has all but locked up his third straight Johnston Cup title as the leading trainer in the Ontario Sires Stakes program.
Among the horses propelling Steacy toward his third honour are the 13 Grassroots competitors set to battle in this week’s Semi-Finals at Woodbine Mohawk Park, six in the two-year-old event on Thursday and seven in Friday’s three-year-old event. Three of those hopefuls lead their division after the five regular season events — two-year-old trotting colt Royale Elite, three-year-old pacing colt Hudson Phil and three-year-old pacing filly Hello Love.
“(Thursday) my best chance, I think, is Freya Seelster,” said the trainer of his two-year-old entries. “She’s been pretty good and really hasn’t done anything wrong up until now, and she drew a good post and all, so I think that she’s probably my best chance.”
Two-year-old pacing filly Freya Seelster will start from Post 1 in the eighth race on Thursday, the first of the two $20,000 pacing filly Semi-Finals. The daughter of former Steacy trainee Sunshine Beach is a perfect two-for-two in Grassroots action and has not missed the top three in five starts. James MacDonald will steer the filly for Katherine Steacy of Lansdowne, Shawn Steacy and Guy Haskell of Guelph, Ontario and Bertrand Gilhespy Stable of Edmonton, Alberta.
Division point leader Royale Elite will also start from Post 1 in the first freshman trotting colt Semi-Final, while Rap Royalty gets Post 1 in the second trotting colt showdown. MacDonald will pilot both youngsters, along with trotting filly Pyrrha from Post 9 in the ninth race and pacing colts Ahi from Post 2 in the tenth race and Moonshine Kisses from Post 10 in Race 12.
On Friday, Steacy believes the stable has serious contenders in every division they have entrants — pacing colt, pacing filly and trotting colt.
“I think in the three-year-olds (Friday) we’ve got a couple chances,” noted the Lansdowne resident. “Hello Love, and if the trotters Jammin Jack and Majestic Fire behave themselves they look pretty good too.”
The horseman is also not counting out three-year-old pacing colt point leader Hudson Phil, who will be hampered by Post 9 in the tenth race.
“He drew bad. I was thinking that he had a real decent shot too, and maybe still does,” said Steacy. “Or maybe get fifth or fourth and make it to the final and redraw again, because he deserves better.”
Hudson Phil went three-for-three in Grassroots action for owner-breeder Hudson Standardbred Stable Inc. of Hudson, Quebec. The Shanghai Phil son also captured the Quebec Breeders Cup Series Final at Hippodrome Trois-Rivieres on Sept. 9. Stablemate Jonathan Quick will start from Post 7 in the other three-year-old pacing colt Semi-Final, which goes postward in Race 4.
A total of three trotting colts from the Steacy barn will be looking to advance to the Sept. 29 Grassroots Championship. Northern Ruler and Jammin Jack will make their bids from Posts 4 and 5 in the first Semi-Final and Majestic Prince will take his shot from Post 4 in the second split. Jonathan Drury will steer Northern Ruler, while MacDonald handles the driving assignment on all the other Steacy trainees.
While Steacy is optimistic about the trotters’ chances now that the entries are complete, he was far less confident last week. All three colts were required to qualify after making breaks in the last regular season Grassroots event, contested over a heavy, rain-soaked Woodbine Mohawk Park oval on Sept. 10. Northern Ruler and Jammin Jack accomplished the task in one shot, touring the Grand River Raceway half-mile in 2:04 and 2:04.1, respectively, on Sept. 12, but Majestic Fire made another error on Sept. 12 and had to try again at Woodbine Mohawk Park the following day. Fortunately the second time was the charm and MacDonald teamed the trotter to a flawless 1:58.4 clocking.
“Since the last qualifier we’ve just been quite easy on them, and hopefully they’ve got it down pat now,” said Steacy ruefully. “Jammin Jack’s always been a little tricky, but Majestic Fire has been pretty good. He’s been pretty safe all along, and all of a sudden he just got out of whack there for two or three starts, right when he needed to be good.
“I think they should fine, and I think they’re just as fast as anything in the division as long as they behave,” the trainer added.
Sophomore pacing fillies Hello Love and stablemate Lady Bubbles sit one-two in the point standings and will start from Posts 5 and 3 in their respective Semi-Finals.
“(Lady Bubbles) is a real trier, she just gives 100 per cent all the time and she seems to always be right there in all these Grassroots,” noted Steacy. “And Hello Love, right now I think she’s as good as she’s been.”
Division leader Hello Love heads into Friday’s Semi-Final on a two-race win streak and has not been worse than second since late July. The Shadow Play daughter is owned by Landmark 10 Racing Stable of Kingston, Ontario, J and T Silva Stables LLC of Long Beach, NY, Bertrand Gilhespy Stable of Edmonton, Alberta and Conrad Leber of Montreal, Quebec.
Steacy said getting each of the 13 trotters and pacers to the Grassroots Semi-Finals has required countless hours of hard work and attention to detail from his first-class staff, along with a healthy dose of racing luck. As the post-season gets under way, the horseman is simply hoping the hard work pays off and there is a bit more luck to be found.
Post time for both the Thursday, Sept. 20 and Friday, Sept. 21 programs at Woodbine Mohawk Park is 7:10 pm. The two-year-old Grassroots Semi-Finalists will compete in Races 2, 3 and 7 through 12 on Thursday while the three-year-olds wage their Friday evening battles in Races 2 through 7, 9 and 10. The top five finishers from each Semi-Final will return to the Campbellville oval for the Sept. 29 Grassroots Championships.
Find complete entries for the Grassroots Semi-Finals at
Two-year-old Semi-Finals Woodbine Mohawk Park Entries — Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018
Three-year-old Semi-Finals Woodbine Mohawk Park Entries — Friday, Sept. 21, 2018