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Milestone years land Walker and Young in Championships
Whether they reach the winner’s circle in Saturday night’s Grassroots Championships at Woodbine Mohawk Park or not, Scott Young and Julie Walker have already had milestone years in the Ontario Sires Stakes program. While not met with great fanfare, their achievements have been deeply meaningful for two people who never dreamed of doing anything other than driving and training Standardbred racehorses.
“I’ve been committed to be a driver my whole life; it’s all I ever wanted to do,” said Young, who won more Ontario Sires Stakes races this season than in his eight previous years in the provincial program, including a Grassroots Semi-Final victory with two-year-old trotting filly Rebellious Lady.
“It was awesome, especially to win with Rebellious Lady, because she’s been good all year. So for her to just keep going in the right direction, that was pretty cool,” said the 26-year-old of his first post-season win. “Any time you can win a Sires Stakes of some sort, let alone be in a Semi-Final or Grassroots Final, it’s always good.”
The Guelph resident will steer Rebellious Lady from Post 2 in the first of eight $50,000 Grassroots Finals on Saturday’s program. The filly is trained by his father Bob Young and owned by Hugh Fitzpatrick, also of Guelph. In seven starts the daughter of Angus Hall and Radical Missy has tallied two wins, one second and one third for earnings of $28,754. She captured last Thursday’s Semi-Final in a personal best 1:59.1.
“I was very happy with her last week, she raced tough first over again,” said Young about the filly. “I’m just looking for her to behave, and I can see her definitely hitting the board on the weekend.
“If everything goes right, hopefully she can even be a Gold filly at three,” added the reinsman, whose OSS victories to date have all come in the Grassroots program. “She’s very long, she’s got great manners, great gait and very pleasurable to drive, so if she grows up next year and fills out and everything it wouldn’t surprise me if she even could be a Gold filly.”
Young will also compete in the second Grassroots Final, steering two-year-old trotting gelding Lariat Seelster from Post 7 for his father and partners Robert Deveau of Toronto, Frank Chiaravalloti of Downsview and Jaftica Stable of Guelph. The son of Kadabra and Ladycane squeaked into the final with a fifth-place result in last week’s Semi-Final, but had won two straight over the Woodbine Mohawk Park oval prior to that outing.
“Larry had a rough outside trip last week, but that comes with the nine-hole sometimes. He actually hasn’t been drawing very good all year,” noted Young, who returns to the gelding’s race bike on Saturday for the first time since July 31, replacing Roger Mayotte. “But it looks like there’s quite a bit of speed in that race, so hopefully maybe work out some kind of trip and, you know, I think he’s good enough to go with them, he’s just going to need them to maybe battle a little bit up front and pick up some pieces.
“Larry is a very, very big colt. He’s learning to go speed. I think Larry is going to be a very, very nice three-year-old and an even better four-year-old and an even better five-year-old,” the reinsman added. “I think he’s just going to get better with age.”
Julie Walker has the same opinion about two-year-old trotting filly At Will, who won the other Semi-Final on Sept. 20. The daughter of Kadabra and Excuse My Face returns to Woodbine Mohawk Park for Saturday’s final riding a two-race win streak over the Campbellville oval and recorded a personal best 1:58.1 in the Semi-Final, but Walker is most excited about her long-term prospects.
“This whole year has just been building up to her three-year-old year. She’s never been pushed this year,” the trainer explained. “That’s all I kept thinking was how — I’ve been raised, you know with the Walker family, to have old horses and teach them how to be racehorses — so I am really excited for her three-year-old year.”
At Will’s Semi-Final victory pushed Walker’s 2018 win tally to 21, the first time the 35-year-old has recorded more than 20 wins since hanging up her solo shingle in 2012, and marked her first victory in the OSS post-season after a trio of runner-up results with Oaklea Uptown, Massive Muscles and Rubber Duck.
“It doesn’t seem like a big year when you look at guys like Mark Steacy and Bob McIntosh, but I believe with At Will’s win the other night I went over 20 wins,” Walker noted. “I think I have 21 wins now, and that’s actually the highest for me, which, like I said, doesn’t seem like a lot, but at least it’s progression.
“It’s always just been, for me, to get them in there has been special,” the Carlisle resident added. “I’ve never had a heavy favourite, I don’t think, like At Will.”
Whether the filly and driver Sylvain Filion can find the winner’s circle from Post 7 or not, At Will has already given Walker and her co-owners Layhoon Chan Brunner of Etobicoke and Ron Piers of Georgetown a special ride this summer.
“It’s kind of a nice story. Fred Brunner came to us, it must have been five, six years ago, and asked us to take care of the mare. He didn’t think she was going to have very many more foals so he said, money aside, who would you breed to? And I said well, no doubt, Kadabra, and the mare actually caught, which was unbelievable, and then threw out a filly on top of that,” recalled Walker. “Fred was living with cancer, he was very sick for quite a while, and he gave us 20 per cent of the mare along with Ron Piers got 20 per cent. He actually passed away in June and he would have been very happy to see her as big and strong and as good as she’s doing.”
While At Will has met and exceeded her owners’ hopes and expectations, their other Championship entrant, three-year-old trotting ridgling Takter, has enjoyed a more turbulent ride through the provincial program. The son of Johnny William and Toss Up snuck into the Semi-Final with just three Grassroots points and rode his first interference-free trip in a month to a fourth-place finish and a berth in Saturday’s final, where Filion will steer him from Post 3.
“It’s been a disappointing year for him, because he came out really strong,” said Walker. “We’ve always thought he was better than what he has been showing, and I am just hoping that comes back at the right time. He did race better to get into the final than he has, he’s still going to be a long shot, we know that, but he’s there and he’s better than he has been.”
Walker and Young are clear-eyed about the chances of capping off their milestone seasons with a Grassroots Championship, acknowledging that the competition is fierce in all three divisions, but both are content in the knowledge that their efforts earned them a place on the starting gate among the province’s best human and equine athletes.
Saturday’s $400,000 Grassroots Championship gets under way at 7:10 pm, with the province’s best squaring off over the Woodbine Mohawk Park oval in Races 1 through 3, and 5 through 9. Complete entries are available at Grassroots Championship entries — Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018.