McClure reflects on memorable year
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“A lot of replays,” McClure said.
Get your popcorn ready.
McClure enjoyed numerous highlights in 2019, topped by his win with Forbidden Trade in the $1 million Hambletonian Stakes final last August at The Meadowlands.
For the year, McClure won 229 races and a career-best $4.67 million in purses despite missing a month in the spring because of a broken pelvis. He ranked third on the money list among Canadian drivers and saw his earnings increase for the sixth consecutive year.
He is a finalist, for the third time, for Canada’s Driver of the Year. The winner will be announced Feb. 1 at the O’Brien Awards in Ontario.
“Third time’s a charm, hopefully,” said McClure, who is up against defending champ Louis-Philippe Roy.
Regardless of that result, McClure needs to clear space for a trophy. In December, the 29-year-old was named the U.S. Harness Writers Association's Rising Star Award. He will receive his award Feb. 23 at the Dan Patch Awards banquet at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Fla.
McClure is the first Canadian to receive the honor since Scott Zeron in 2012.
“It was certainly a shock and I’m really grateful,” McClure said of the honor. “It shows the significance of the Hambletonian, how much weight it carries with the voters. It’s pretty neat to follow in the footsteps of other Canadians who have won that award.”
McClure drove three O’Brien Award finalists in 2019: Forbidden Trade, older female trotter Emoticon Hanover, and 2-year-old male trotter Port Perry. All three horses were trained by Luc Blais and owned by Determination stable.
There was no question that Forbidden Trade’s upset of Greenshoe in the Hambletonian, harness racing’s premier race for 3-year-old trotters, led the list of memorable moments for McClure.
“I’d say that’s the highlight of anybody’s career if you’re lucky enough to win it,” McClure said.
In addition to winning the Hambletonian, Forbidden Trade and McClure captured the Ontario Sire Stakes championship and were second in the Yonkers Trot and Goodtimes Stakes.
Emoticon Hanover, who retired at the conclusion of her 6-year-old season in 2019, went out a winner with McClure when she won a preferred trot at Woodbine Mohawk Park in December. Port Perry was a two-time winner on the Ontario Sire Stakes circuit and finished second in the series final.
McClure also had multiple OSS victories with 3-year-old female pacer Powerful Chris, 2-year-old male trotter Threefiftytwo, and 2-year-old female pacer Off The Press. Other winners in the series with McClure were 3-year-old male pacer Best In Show, 2-year-old male pacer Examiner Hanover, and 2-year-old female pacer P L Notorious.
“The OSS here is a really great program,” McClure said. “I was the leading money-winner in it, so that shows you drove a lot of nice horses all the way across the whole Ontario circuit. I think that was the biggest part of the year for me. Between Forbidden Trade, Powerful Chris, a whole bunch of real nice (OSS) Gold horses I was lucky enough to drive, I think that’s what made the summer so fun.”
Powerful Chris provided McClure with another memorable night, although not in a win. She finished third, beaten only a neck, in the Fan Hanover Stakes at odds of 54-1. The filly is owned in part by McClure’s grandfather, John.
“That was pretty special,” McClure said. “He never had a horse in a race like that before, so to be that close with some of the top fillies in North America was a lot of fun. It was close to home.”
McClure, who led Canadian drivers in wins in 2016 and 2017, made the move from Canada’s “B” tracks to the main stage of the Woodbine-Mohawk circuit in December 2017.
“Things have happened a lot faster than I think anybody could have predicted,” McClure said. “Obviously, it’s beyond exceeded my expectations. I was lucky enough to pick up Determination, which was a huge boost. They have a lot of quality horses and every time they go to the track they’re going with a shot. It really puts your name out there, puts you on the map. I would attribute a lot of it to that.”
So, what does McClure do in 2020 for an encore?
“I just try to keep improving every year, year to year,” he said. “That’s my biggest goal. I think that will be tough to do this year, to top last year, but I’m excited.” (Ken Weingartner/USTA)