Trois-Rivieres, QC — The second annual Ben Hur Cup, matching talented young drivers Doug McNair and “hometown hero” Louis Philippe Roy, produced an outstanding contest enjoyed by all concerned on Sunday afternoon (June 23) at Hippodrome Trois-Rivieres. McNair had a spectacular day, but edging out the tenacious Roy by only three points, 56-53.
The Ben Hur tournament format helps to ensure close competition, but it’s almost hard to believe that McNair could put up a 7-4-2-0-1 scoresheet and go into the last race with the morning line projection saying he should tie for the title. But Roy stayed near him through the competition with a 7-2-2-2-1 tally, and only four points behind “turning for home,” but in the final race Roy finished third and McNair fourth, enabling the Ontarian to join Sylvain Filion as a Coupe Ben Hur winner, with Roy second, for the second straight year.
McNair’s quartet of wins at 3R was almost matched on the card by Roy’s three, as Roy won a race outside the competition, and neither driver put a hoof wrong the entire day, displaying their sulky craftsmanship and showing why they are two of the young stars of the game.
The card also featured second-round action in the Quebec-Plus series for province-bred pacers 4-years-old and older, aiming for spots in their C$30,000 Championship races on July 14. Mares went in two C$6,500 sections to open the card, while the males had one C$6,500 divisions in this second prelim.
YS Tallia, divisional Q-bred champion in 2017, recorded her second straight series victory as the heaviest of favorites, this week with Louis Philippe Roy in the sulky for trainer Michel Allard and owner Yves Sarrazin. Last week the Western Ideal mare YS Tallia went 1:54.3 for the fastest local mile of the year; Sunday, after an early move to the top, she lowered that clocking a tick to 1:54.2; still on her horizon, just a further tick away, is the divisional track record of 1:54.1—which is held by YS Tallia’s full sister, My Tallia Ideal.
In the second cut for the distaffs, the Big Jim mare Lune Bleu, second to YS Tallia in the first leg, took early control from the pole for driver Stephane Gendron, the track’s winningest driver this year, then faced an outside challenge to the three-quarters from race favorite Miss Rockadali. That foe continued to press Lune Bleu through the lane and then pocket sitter All You Can Dream entered the fray up the rail, but Lune Bleu persevered and won by a neck in 1:56.1, a lifetime best, for trainer Maxime Velaye and owner Guy Corbeil.
The Q-bred series for older performers was before this year restricted to 2-5-year-olds; Atomic Million AM won his division in 2014 (3YO), 2015 (4YO), and 2016 (5YO), but his loss (fifth) as a 2-year-old prevented from being the only “sweeper.” This year, with the change in age eligibility, the Million Dollar Cam gelding Atomic Million AM can become the first horse to win four Championships, and his second straight preliminary win came in 1:55.1 Sunday. This was a Cup race, and Doug McNair blasted out in :26.4 with the winner, putting favored McKinney and Roy in behind him. Controlling the pace from there, Atomic Million AM held off first a hard raw challenge by Majo Lou Beka, then a late charge from 2016 Quebec champion HP Patriote by a length for owner/trainer Alain Martin; McKinney (2014) stayed for third and completed a Trifecta of former champions.
The big card also featured a C$4,500 preferred handicap event on each gait, both races counting in the Coupe. The trotting event was taken by the favored Angus Hall mare Talbotcreek Suzie, who went out right to the lead for McNair, then had her task made easier when early challenger Missionoftheheart broke at the start, leaving Rocky Boy and Roy in the pocket. Talbotcreek Suzie moderated the pace, then picked it up when the plucky Ice O Late pressured her the last half, winning in 2:00.1 by a half-length; Rocky Boy, who had a left rear bandage come unwrapped early in the race, was in tight between horses in early stretch and could do no better than third. Yves Tessier conditions the talented mare for owner Francois Morin.
The preferred handicap pace was a capturing of the spirit of competition of the day. McNair got Rainbow Palace right to the lead; Roy got away midpack with cover with Hooter Shooter, then went three-wide before the quarter up to uncovered position and fought with Hooter Shooter from the half onward. There was virtually no separation between the top two from off the third turn, with the rest of the field halfway back to Montreal; in the stretch battle between the two pairs, favored Hooter Shooter, despite the” impossible” trip, got the better of his rival by 1-1/4 lengths, the Badlands Hanover gelding winning for the third time, and second straight in this class, in 1:56.2 for trainer/owner Marc Andre Simoneau.