07/14/2011 12:36PM

Canadian entries have eyes on Meadowlands Pace

Michael Burns
Betterthancheddar trainer Casie Coleman is several Canadians with a shot at the winner's circle on Saturday.

There is a reasonable chance you may hear a loud cheer coming from the backstretch as the pacers head down the stretch in the $1 million Meadowlands Pace on Saturday. Forty percent of the field in the prestigious final has roots a few hundred miles in that direction, over the border in Canada.

Year after year owners and trainers ship down from Canada to find success and 2011 is no different. Trainer Blair Burgess has won a pair of Paces with Frugal Gourmet (1987) and Real Desire (2001).

R. Peter Heffering took home two Pace trophies as the owner of Precious Bunny (1991) and Day In A Life (1998), and he holds the title on current contender Foreclosure N.

The biggest Canadian attraction in the final is probable post time favorite Big Jim. Trained and owned by Ontario residents James Dean and James Carr respectively, Big Jim is Canadian through and through.

Big Jim was the toast of the industry coming into 2011. He lived up to expectations early on with a victory in the $400,000 New Jersey Classic. Then he began showing some kinks in his armor. He was placed on the engine in consecutive starts and each time weakened a bit in the lane and had to settle for minor awards.

Coming off a good third in the $1.5 million North America Cup, Big Jim was anointed favorite status in his elimination and the big colt delivered with an early brush and held under a mild drive.

“He was a little grabby at the quarter so I kind of had to move him,” said regular pilot and Rockwood, Ontario resident Phil Hudon.“Hopefully we’ll get him more relaxed in his next start.”

Owner Carr brought his usual contingent of kids into the winner’s circle.

“I just try to promote racing,” said Carr, who admitted he was 99 percent sure Big Jim would return as a 4-year-old. ”I figure if I get the kids coming here, they will bring their parents. It works and we need more people at the races.” Maybe when can learn something from these Canadians, eh.

Carr is proud of his roots and speaks highly of Canadian horsemen and their abilities.

“I think some of the better horsemen are from Canada, eh. Carl Jamieson is one of the finest trainers up there; Mark Steacy is good; of course Casie Coleman is good. ‘Friday’ (James Dean) is great with young horses. He doesn’t have the stable to start out with that a lot of other people have. He had two 2-year-olds for me and he got them both to the races, and both got stake records. I think we in Canada have the finest trainers and some of the best drivers, too. Jody (Jamieson) is no slouch and even Phil (Hudon), I get a lot of slack for not using a top catch-driver. But Phil has done everything I’ve ever asked from him,” said Carr.

When discussing the Canadian contenders one must also include Betterthancheddar. He is owned by Steve Calhoun and West Wins Stable, of Chatham and Cambridge, Ontario respectively. His trainer is one of the top conditioners in the game – Casie Coleman, who trains in Cambridge as well.

Betterthancheddar, tied as the third fastest 3-year-old pacer of the year (1:49.2), grinded first over and finished third in his elimination.

“I thought he raced well. He went uncovered a long way and hung in there,” said driver David Miller. “I tried to get him out of there (leave the gate strong) and he threw a couple of steps in right off the gate, which cost him getting away a little better.

“Turning for home he was still digging in and he dug in all the way to the wire.”

In addition to the Canadian-owned angle mentioned above, Foreclosure N is sent out by the Mark Steacy barn, which resides in Lansdowne, Ontario.

“We’ve been lucky enough to have some good horses; Majestic Son, Hana Hanover, Stylish Artist. We’ve been able to bring them down here for other big races at times and have done well. Hopefully this guy is just next in line,” said Steacy’s son, Shawn.

Foreclosure N finished a willing second in his elimination and kicked home with a strong 26-second final quarter. He was driven by Meadowlands regular Tim Tetrick, who touted the horse’s handiness and work ethic after the elimination. Tetrick has captured two of the last four Pace finals.

Rounding out the quartet of northern interests is Bestofbest Hanover. Both owner L Ecurie Triple P Inc and trainer Daniel Martin list Quebec as their residence.

Bestofbest Hanover saved all the ground, faced some traffic and easily snuck into the final by finishing fifth. He will be a longshot come Saturday’s final.

While Canadian conditioners and owners have captured many Pace wins, drivers from our neighbor to the north have had little success. Stats don’t lie (at least not this time). Trevor Ritchie was the last Canadian regular to score in the pace, and that was 24 years ago!

“I have found that I am better off using an American driver when I come down here with my horses, because then I’m more in the ‘in-click’ as opposed to using a Canadian driver,” said Coleman. “I use Mark MacDonald on everything. I love using Mark MacDonald. He just doesn’t get the favors here.”

While drivers from the Great White North have had their troubles, prominent Canadian accomplishments go beyond just owners and trainers. Popular Canadian superstar Somebeachsomewhere holds the record for the fastest half (:51.4) and three-quarter (1:19.1) times in the history of the Pace. His dad, Mach Three, won the Pace in 2002 and stands stud at Tara Hills in Port Perry, Ontario. Presidential Ball (1993) also resides at the same residence. Artistic Fella (2006) stands at Seelster Farms in Ontario.

Those are some impressive standardbreds. With a quartet of Canadian horses on the gate for the Meadowlands Pace final, you have to like their odds of adding a name to the list.

More on the Meadowlands Pace:
Big Jim installed as Meadowlands Pace favorite
Meadowlands Pace string ends at 30 years for John Campbell
Betterthancheddar looks to buck trend at Meadowlands Pace
Meadowlands Pace Past Performances for every horse compliments of TrackMaster