McNair has numbers in Ont. Grassroots
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On Saturday night the three-year-olds are headed to Woodbine Mohawk Park for their $160,000 Grassroots Semi-Finals and pacing filly Sports Flix is the only freshman champion with a shot at defending her title.
The task will be a tough one. Sports Flix drew the outside Post 10 in what trainer Gregg McNair calls the tougher of the two pacing filly Semi-Finals. Among the fillies Sports Flix will face is So Much More, who went undefeated in her two regular season Grassroots starts and will leave the gate from post 6.
“She hooked that one tough mare of Donnie Beatson’s (So Much More),” said McNair, who trains the Sportswriter daughter for James Fraleigh. “Just hope she gets qualified for the final and then maybe draw a little bit better there.”
After a somewhat disappointing start to the season — McNair thought she would make the leap to the Gold Series off a strong winter of training, but she finished third and eighth in the first two events — Sports Flix rebounded with wins in the last two Grassroots legs. She recorded a personal best 1:52.2 effort in her Sept. 10 Grassroots division at Woodbine Mohawk Park and McNair said she was sharp in a training mile with stablemates Swift Ally and Kylie Seelster at the Campbellville oval last week.
“When we were training them back she laid over them other two, but they’ve both got better,” said McNair of his pacing filly trio. “We had them into Mohawk there at the end of last week and trained the three of them together, trained them up pretty good and then worked them back again this week. They seem okay.”
Kylie Seelster will line up at post 3 in the same division as Sports Flix, the ninth race on the 7:10 pm program, and Doug McNair will steer her, leaving Sports Flix in the hands of the Ontario Sires Stakes’ leading driver Trevor Henry.
“She’s good and sharp right now, Kylie, and we’re figuring on racing her a bit,” said McNair. “I don’t know for how long because she could possibly even be sold, a couple farms have been interested in her.”
The daughter of Big Jim and Kiddie Cocktail is a half-sister to $865,450 winner Kendall Seelster and McNair’s top two-year-old pacing filly Karma Seelster. She could spend next season as a broodmare rather than a racehorse if the trainer and his co-owners Keith Waples of Durham and Chris Robson of London, ON choose to accept an offer from a breeding farm.
The third member of McNair’s pacing filly trio topped the division standings with a flawless record of four wins in four Grassroots starts. Unraced at two, Swift Ally launched her career in March with four straight victories and is currently on another four-race win streak. The homebred daughter of Big Jim and Claires Apache has not been bested since July 19.
“She hasn’t got the greatest position, but she should get, if things work out good, she should get qualified for the final,” said McNair, who shares ownership of Swift Ally with Ian Fleming. “I’d say that’s the softer division, but there’s a couple nice ones in there too.”
Swift Ally and Doug McNair will start from post 8 in the first $20,000 pacing filly Semi-Final, which goes postward as Race 7. The top five finishers from each Semi-Final will advance to the $50,000 Grassroots Championship at Woodbine Mohawk Park on Oct. 5.
In addition to his pacing filly entry, McNair will also send pacing colt Balder Son after a championship berth from Post 3 in the eleventh race, the last of the eight sophomore Semi-Finals.
“Balder Son, he’s raced pretty consistent all year. I know he didn’t win many, but he hasn’t thrown too many bad starts in,” said McNair. “We had him in there (Mohawk Park) on Tuesday and trained him up, so he should race good. I imagine, if something doesn’t happen there, he’ll probably get qualified for the finals.”
Balder Son wrapped up the Grassroots season ranked 19th in the point standings, finishing second, third, fourth, seventh and ninth in his five appearances. The Betterthancheddar gelding heads into the Semi-Final off a 1:51.1 personal best victory in a Sept. 16 overnight event at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
Roderick Smith of Inverness, NS owns Balder Son and Jody Jamieson will steer the gelding in the Semi-Final. Doug McNair opted for Little Brown Jug elimination winner Fast N First who will start from Post 1.
McNair will also start three horses in Friday’s two-year-old Semi-Final event and the horseman hopes his seven Grassroots starters come up with strong efforts to keep him ahead of Shawn Steacy and Bob McIntosh in the Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) leading trainer race. As of Sept. 26, McNair has 186 points, Steacy 182 and McIntosh 179. Steacy will send out a total of 10 Grassroots Semi-Finalists and McIntosh has eight.
“You’re either chasing them or you can’t get away from them,” said McNair with a chuckle.
In the last 11 years, McIntosh has won the Johnston Cup title five times, Steacy’s father Mark has three victories and McNair earned the honour the other three years. All three operations focus on developing young horses and each trainer has started 20-plus trotters and pacers in the Grassroots and Gold Series this season.
The tight race for top spot will continue in Races 1, 3, 5 through 9, and 11 on Saturday night as the three-year-old trotters and pacers vie for berth in the Grassroots Championships. The sophomore trotting fillies will kick things off at 7:10 pm. (Ontario Sires Stakes)