In a race chock full of compelling storylines, this Saturday's Pepsi North America Cup will no doubt have special meaning to Tim Pinske and his family. When this year's $1.5 million classic gets underway, thousands of racing fans will have gathered at Mohawk, while thousands more will be watching their TV sets to take in the 29th edition of the event.
For Pinske, who will be taking in the race from his home in Minnesota, seeing Sweet Lou, the 3/5 morning line favorite, pace home a winner, would provide him with another fond Cup memory.
Pinske's son, Brian, was the conditioner behind Yankee Cruiser, the sire of Sweet Lou, before he passed away suddenly at the age of 38 in November of 2002. The following summer, Yankee Cruiser went on to win the 2003 Pepsi North America Cup in one of the greatest editions of the race.
Yankee Cruiser, widest of all at the top of the stretch, utilized a remarkable late kick to sweep past Allamerican Native and then held off Artesian in the closing strides of the blanket finish.
"That night is one of the greatest nights that could have ever happened to our family,” Pinske said. "We were so emotional that night, it was overwhelming and took a while to set in. It was evident during the interviews we did following the race.”
Some nine years later, Pinske still gets chills when reflecting on the evening.
"We think of Brian every day and we think of ‘Cruiser' every day. When we look back, it's almost like it was meant to happen. I said to my wife this week that ‘Cruiser' continues to take care of us almost a decade after Brian's accident with his success in the stud barn. It's like he's a part of the family.”
Frank Salive, who was the voice of the North America Cup from 1992-2005, remembers the 20th edition fondly.
"It was a very emotional time because of Brian passing,” Salive said. "Yankee Cruiser won from what appeared to be an impossible spot at the top of the stretch. It's a race that I'll never forget calling.”
"I've seen the replay of the win a million times. I have that race pretty much memorized and will always remember Frank giving the call,” Pinske added.
Dean Magee, like Brian, was a native of Illinos, the pilot behind the 1:49.3 winning trip.
"I can hardly speak. I think somebody was watching out for us...Brian. I really wanted to win this race for him. This was for him,” Magee said after the victory in 2003.
"Dean and Brian have been friends for years and to have him win with the horse was extra special. It was tears of joy,” Pinske added.
Pinske, who has trained winners over $5 million, is hoping Sweet Lou can deliver another unforgettable triumph.
"He's just amazing,” Pinske said of Sweet Lou. "There is no other way to describe him. I've been fortunate to see him a few times at The Meadows and he's simply amazing. My blood pressure will likely be up when they line up behind the gate.”
For Pinske and his family, they're hoping a strong start could yield another fantastic finish. (WEG)