Milton, ON — Tall Dark Stranger will have an opportunity to make history following a game performance to win one of two eliminations for the 37th Pepsi North America Cup on Saturday (Aug. 22) night at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
A pair of C$50,000 eliminations were contested to determine the field for next Saturday’s C$1-million final.
Top-ranked Tall Dark Stranger (Yannick Gingras) fought off rivals from all directions to win the first elimination, while Captain Kirk (Bob McClure) surged to victory in the second elimination.
Nancy Takter trainee Tall Dark Stranger will now have an opportunity to become the first horse to ever win the Metro Pace and Breeders Crown at age two and then return to win the Pepsi North America Cup at age three.
The hard-fought first elimination saw Tall Dark Stranger parked around the first turn while making his way towards the front. Odds On Osiris (Sylvain Filion) fired out to the lead and forced the speedy Tattoo Artist (McClure) into the two-hole. The opening-quarter was paced in :26.1.
Tall Dark Stranger promptly cleared to the lead in the second quarter and led the field up to the half in :55.
Beaumond Hanover angled out from fourth going to the half, appearing to try and flush out Tattoo Artist, who remained along the wood. ‘Beaumond’ made the grind the first-up to the leader’s wheel at three-quarters with Capt Midnight (Doug McNair) second-over, Beach Blanket Book (James MacDonald) and Captain Barbossa (Louis Phillipe-Roy) third and fourth-over, respectively.
Tall Dark Stranger turned the field for home off three-quarters in 1:22.1.
The stretch battle saw all starters in the hunt to create a finish where first through seventh was separated by just 2-1/2 lengths.
Tall Dark Stranger held off the charging Capt Midnight by a head to win in 1:48.4. Odds On Osiris came up the rail to finish third by half a length. Captain Barbossa split between rivals to finish fourth. Tattoo Artist was trying to find room up the inside and just edged out Beaumond Hanover (Jody Jamieson) for the fifth and final spot in the final.
“It was definitely closer than I liked,” admitted Gingras following Tall Dark Stranger’s win. “The horse just refused to lose, he’s a winner. Halfway down the stretch I thought he’d definitely be beat, and he just kept putting his nose in front.”
The hard-fought victory came despite an equipment issue for Tall Dark Stranger.
“The ear-plugs got stuck,” said Gingras. “I tried to kick it with my foot and they wouldn’t come out and then I grabbed it with my hand and I grabbed it so hard the whole thing came back to me, but the ear-plugs are still in his ears.”
A son of Bettors Delight, Tall Dark Stranger has now won five of six this season and earned C$505,131 for owners Crawford Farms Racing, Marvin Katz, Caviart Farms and Howard Taylor. The winner of C$1.4 million lifetime now has 13 trips to the winner’s circle during his racing career.
Trainer Takter won last year’s Cup with Captain Crunch and will be searching next Saturday for the repeat. Tall Dark Stranger will look to become the first Metro Pace winner to come back and win the Cup since Captaintreacherous completed the feat in 2013.
A $2 win ticket on Tall Dark Stranger paid $2.50.
Captain Kirk powered home strongly to pick off Allywag Hanover in the second elimination.
Allywag Hanover (Roy) left hard and claimed the front just ahead of a :25.4 opening-quarter. Roy slowed things down in the second quarter to grab a soft :55.3 half.
Captain Kirk and driver Bob McClure moved out from fifth in the second quarter and started moving first-up.
Allywag Hanover and Roy took off in the third-quarter going :26.3 to create the separation of a couple-lengths at three-quarters in 1:22.1. Captain Kirk remained first-up and still three-lengths from the lead.
In the stretch, Allywag Hanover couldn’t go the distance and watched Captain Kirk power by late with a :25.4 final-quarter to win by three-quarters of a length in 1:49.3. Mayhem Hanover (McNair) crossed the line third, while Moneyman Hill (Jonathan Drury) and Denali Seelster (Trevor Henry) completed the top-five.
“We didn’t get away as good as I wanted, but when Louis (Roy) really backed down that second-quarter which kind of helped me,” said McClure of the winning-trip. “He got to mosey his way up around the front without doing too much work…when we straightened away, I kicked the plugs and he just dug and dug and dug. He’s a classy horse.”
Trained by Tony Alagna, Captain Kirk now has two wins in six starts this season and C$119,274 earned. The son of Captaintreacherous increased his career numbers to three wins and C$194,280 earned for owners Brittany Farms, Marvin Katz, Brad Grant and Captain Kirk Racing.
Captain Kirk entered the Cup eliminations off a third-place finish in the Cane Pace. His prior start was a career-best 1:48.3 victory in the Geers Stakes, a race in which he defeated first elimination winner Tall Dark Stranger.
A $2 win ticket on Captain Kirk returned $5.
The elimination winners earned their connections the right to select their post for next week’s final. Tall Dark Stranger won the draw to choose first and selected post-four, while Captain Kirk selected post-three.
Velocity Rukkus won the draw to be the first also eligible, while Beaumond Hanover is the second also-eligible.
The post-position draw will be completed on Monday evening. Hall of Fame driver and former Cup winner Steve Condren (1989, Goalie Jeff) will join Race Secretary Scott McKelvie to assist with the draw. Jason Portuondo will host the draw, which can be seen on the ‘Woodbine Racing Live’ simulcast starting at 6 p.m.
The $1-million Pepsi North America Cup headlines a $2-million card next Saturday (August 29). Post time is set for 6:30 p.m.