Trainer John Bax and driver Steve Byron teamed up to win three of four $18,000 Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots divisions at Hanover Raceway on Saturday evening (August 6).
The pair had the winning touch right from the start, as Byron piloted Tymal Declan to a gate-to-wire victory in the first division, reaching the finish almost 10 lengths ahead of the field in 2:04.4. Hopeswishesndreams finished second and Tax Savings completed the top three.
“I actually really like her,” said Byron. “She missed the last Grassroots from sickness, and she was really strong tonight. I actually thought that she could get better as the year went on; she’s a nice big mare.”
The win was Tymal Declan’s first. In the July 10 Grassroots event at Georgian Downs, she was fifth, and on July 21 at Mohawk Racetrack, she was fourth. Campbellville, Ont. resident Bax shares ownership of the Kadabra daughter with Anderson Family Stables of Campbellville, Happy Trails Stables of London, Ont., and Gordon Wright of Charlotte, Michigan. The group acquired the filly from the 2015 Harrisburg Yearling Sale for $52,000.
The second Grassroots event went to division point leader Inner Drive, who also led from start to finish, hitting the wire in 2:03.3. Stritch was three and one-half lengths behind the fan favourite in second, while Byron and Bax trainee Windsong Normandie claimed the third spot.
Ross Battin crafted Inner Drive’s third straight Grassroots victory for trainer Bob McIntosh of Windsor, Ont., Dave Boyle of Bowmanville, Ont., and C S X Stables of Liberty Center, Ohio. The homebred daughter of Kadabra and Urge To Splurge boasts a five-race record of three wins and one second for earnings of $30,500.
Byron and Bax were back in the winner’s circle following the third Grassroots division as Parkhill Nocreditcruised around the Hanover Raceway half-mile in 2:06. Hab Faith finished second and fan favourite Man Shes Hot settled for third.
“She gets pretty fired up, but Steve said she was pretty relaxed tonight,” noted Bax.
Off a :30.4 quarter, the filly laid down a 1:05.1 half and then picked up the tempo again for a 1:35.4 three-quarters.
“I don’t know why. She warmed up relaxed, usually she pulls a ton, but for whatever reason she was pretty calm tonight.
“I love her desire, I just wish she was a hand taller, but she sure wants to be a racehorse,” added the horseman, who also bred the daughter of Federal Flex and Harlequin Seelster.
In the first three Grassroots events, Parkhill Nocredit had finished fourth (July 10), third (July 21) and second (July 29), and Saturday’s victory bumps her into third spot in the division standings with 95 points.
Bax shares ownership of the filly with his son Marshall Bax of Hamilton, Ont., and father and son were joined in the winner’s circle by Hanover Raceway’s victorious “Be A Winner” finalist Jim Spence. Spence placed his “Be A Winner” ballot in the box belonging to Parkhill Nocredit, and when the filly emerged victorious, he joined the Baxs in the winner’s circle for a photo and trophy presentation.
The final division saw Byron and Majestic Wanda edge out of the pocket in the stretch and reel in pacesetter Late Shift, getting a head in front to record the 2:03.4 victory. Late Shift settled for second and Hilarious Honey completed the top three.
“I said to somebody before the race, ‘If Steve gets around the track, Steve will be a magician,’” recalled Bax. “She warmed up terrible. She was looking, and going sideways, and running and not paying attention.
“So I wasn’t very optimistic, and I’m thinking, at least I’ve had a real good night and you know, this one, it doesn’t matter what she does, it won’t dampen it,” the trainer continued. “And then she goes ahead and does what she does, and I’m thinking, wow, I must have been a good boy this week, looking up at the stars and they’re all lined up.”
Heading into Saturday’s test, Majestic Wanda had made breaks in both of her previous Grassroots starts and Bax had made the rare decision to add trotting hopples to her equipment. The move, and the winning streak Byron and Bax were enjoying, convinced Hanover Raceway fans, who sent the Majestic Son daughter off as their top choice.
Bax, John Houston of Cobourg, Ont., Ken Ewen of Georgetown, Ont., and Bruce Norris of Caledon East, Ont. offered up $25,000 for Majestic Wanda at the Harrisburg Yearling Sale.
In addition to the trio of Grassroots wins, Byron also appeared in the winner’s circle with pacing colt Rumour Has It Eh after the fifth race, giving the Thornton, Ont. resident four wins on the program.
“It’s one of those nights everything went good — you keep your fingers crossed hoping for those,” said Byron. “I’ve been lucky enough to drive for John and some good trainers; they usually have them set up pretty good for me, I’m lucky that way.
“I actually like driving at this track, it’s one of my favourites in Ontario,” added the reinsman.
Byron and Bax will have an opportunity to replicate their Hanover Raceway success when the two-year-old trotting fillies make their fifth Grassroots start on August 15 at Mohawk Racetrack.
Hanover Raceway does not race next Saturday as the track will host the 152nd annual Hanover Fair on Friday through Sunday. Live racing returns with the Balanced Image eliminations on August 20. Eleven of tonight’s OSS filly trotters are eligible to compete in the Balanced Image Trot. Post time on Saturday, August 20 is 7:15 p.m.
(Standardbred Canada with files from OSS and Hanover Raceway)