The O'Brien Awards lined up to meet their new owner
The end of January marked a celebration of the best of Canadian horse racing. On Friday evening, I was rubbing elbows with thoroughbreds finest at the Sovereign Awards in Toronto. A day later I was fortunate to be invited to the O'Brien Awards in Mississauga honouring the best of the best of Standardbred racing.
For the first time ever, two females found themselves as nominees for Trainer of the Year. Tracy Brainard made a huge splash at Mohawk and Woodbine in 2009 while also winning races in the U.S. Brainard earned over $10M in North America, while memorably notching the Confederation Cup, Tattersalls and Fan Hanover.
Trainer Tracy Brainard with Josh Marks
Casie Coleman had a tremendous 2009 campaign winning 162 races in Canada and another 114 south of the border. Coleman's stable was led by the two-year-old pacer Sportswriter who won the O'Brien award for 2YO Pacing Colt thanks to seven victories in eight starts including a world record mile in the Metro Pace.
It was fitting that Coleman and Sportswriter would team once again for another victory.
Casie Coleman scored an historic O'Brien Award for Top Trainer
Hosts for the evening were track announcer Ken Middleton and aspiring track announcer Dawn Lupul. The two traded several hilarious verbal barbs over the course of the evening with Lupul landing most of the punches until such point as Middleton sneakily passed over the chore of announcing Older Pacing Mare to Lupul. Zing!
The entertaining pair kept the festivities moving at a perky pace for an appreciative audience.
Dawn Lupul gets the answers from Casie Coleman
The audience clapped loudly for several winners as the night progressed. Cam Fella Award winner Ross Galbraith was cheered to and from the stage by all in attendance - as well, the connections of Well Said received quite the loud chorus during their announcement as winners of the O'Brien for Three-Year-Old Colt Pacer.
A black-tie affair...
There was a wee bit of controversy as the O'Brien Awards committee ruled not to award a winner in the category of Three-Year-Old pacing fillies (Not Enough and Yellow Diamond) as both were owned by the suspended Bulletproof Enterprises.
Still, that cloud of controversy could not stop the patrons of pacing and trotting from celebrating.
O'Brien Award - Are you havin' a laugh!
Driver Jody Jamieson had a record setting 2009 campaign with an incredible 3,322 drives of which he won 787 races. Earnings of more than $11M topped the charts for all Canadian drivers. Jamieson's accomplishments were noticed across North America and the likable linesman became the first Canadian driver to win the Harness Tracks of America's Driver of the Year Award while driving nearly exclusively in Canadian races - an award Jamieson would share with Dave Palone.
Jody Jamieson brought a large cheering section up on stage
Jamieson's charming young daughter Hailey drew a huge laugh from the crowd when she requested the microphone from Middleton to announce that, "My dad's the champ!"
The 'champ" showed great class in requesting a round of applause for his fellow nominee Brad Forward who had a great season which included representing Canada in the World Driving Championship held in Norway.
*As an aside - one of the joys of owning a website is reviewing all the ways a reader finds your homepage. One odd reader landed here at TripleDeadHeat via a Google search for the phrase, "Jody Jamieson's bald head".
If anyone can shed some light on the logic behind that search, please send me an email.
As you can see below, Jamieson's stylish chapeau more than took care of that issue on Saturday night.
A tip 'o the cap from top driver Jody Jamieson
Three-year-old trotting sensation Muscle Hill won his division and ended the evening by taking home the Horse of the Year trophy. The son of Muscles Yankee was a perfect 12 for 12 on the campaign with major victories in the Canadian Trotting Classic and the Breeders Crown.
Thanks for the thrills Muscle Hill - the big colt has retired to stallion duty at Southwind Farm in New Jersey.
Muscle Hill proved to be very strong in 2009
Lupul had the goods on co-host Ken Middleton for most of the evening
Hec Cloutier was an easy winner of the O'Brien Award for best dressed male
Sportswriter Perry Lefko making the obvious choice
The dessert was fantastic
This sculpture was the ice-ing on the cake
All in all, it was a remarkably enjoyable evening. I'm especially glad I wore a different suit on Saturday than I did on Friday as Woodbine's Sandy Hawley, Nick Eaves and Glenn Crouter also double dipped on award tour weekend.
A full list of O'Brien Award winners is posted on the Standardbred Canada website.
BTW - If you're a fan of standardbred photography, check out the website of the talented Matt Waples. The up-and-coming photographer won a Sovereign Award in 2008 for a photo of Charles Fipke planting a kiss on the nose of Queen's Plate winner Not Bourbon. An O'Brien Award for photography looms likely in the near future.
* * *
While Canadian horsemen busied themselves with food and drink, the equine stars were earning their keep.
Roger Attfield's Palladio was a brilliant second in the Sunshine Millions Classic won by Bold Chieftain. Palladio trailed the field early and then made a rousing middle of the track run in the stretch to get up for place under jockey Mike Smith.
Palladio just misses by a neck in the Sunshine Millions Classic
The Brian Lynch trained Amazing led the field for much of the Sunshine Millions Distaff under Elvis Trujillo but faded late to finish fourth beaten just six lengths.
The race of the day had to be the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream Park. Track announcer Larry Collmus declared it a match race deep in the stretch as This Ones For Phil narrowly prevailed over Pashito The Che. It's a finish well worth watching.
This Ones For Phil prevails in the Sunshine Millions Sprint
Be sure to check out the SnowBirds tab at the top of the page to keep track of the entries and results of your favourite local trainers. Tino Attard, Josie Carroll, Malcolm Pierce and many others are hitting the board at tracks all over the U.S. Take advantage of your knowledge of Woodbine horses and trainers with a sneaky punt.
One Woodbine horse who will be on everyone's radar for the Queen's Plate in 2010 is Sam-Son Farm's Hotep. The now three-year-old colt has been training and racing at the Fair Grounds for trainer Mark Frostad and on Monday afternoon won an Allowance race in impressive fashion. Here's a report by Bob Fortus of The Times-Pacayune.
With an authoritative victory in a two-turn allowance race Monday at the Fair Grounds, Hotep put his name in the conversation about 3-year-olds who might wind up in the Louisiana Derby.
Trainer Mark Frostad said he’ll wait to see how Hotep comes out of the race before deciding the next race for Hotep. Frostad said late Monday that he’s not ruling out the Risen Star, which will be run Feb. 20.
Whether Hotep runs in that race on not, the Louisiana Derby is a possible target for him, Frostad said.
Hotep hops to victory at Fair Grounds
Be sure to check in daily on the Woodbine News and SnowBirds tabs. They will be updated regularly throughout the day whether I post a new blog or not.
Congratulations to all the award winners across Canada!