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McCarthy rallies Venerate to victory in inaugural Mohawk Million race

A change of clothes and mindset helped change Andrew McCarthy’s fortunes Saturday night at Mohawk Woodbine Park.

McCarthy rallied Venerate past filly Donna Soprano, the 3/5 favourite, in the deep stretch to capture the inaugural $1.32 million Mohawk Million for two-year-old trotters. Earlier, McCarthy had been disqualified after finishing first in the $455,000 Shes A Great Lady final and failed to seal the deal in the $720,000 Metro Pace with 1/5 favourite Abuckabett Hanover.

“I was having a tough night but thank God I had the ninth race off,” McCarthy said. “I went and changed my colours, I changed my gloves, I changed whatever I could change and got myself in the right mindset.

“I knew he was a very strong horse, I’ve seen that. When I looked up at the eighth pole, I was a long way back.”

McCarthy guided Venerate, the 2/1 second choice, to a winning time of 1:53.2 on a fast track in Canada’s richest harness event since the ’12 Pepsi North America Cup. In August, McCarthy claimed the US$1-million Hambletonian with Ramona Hill, giving him two of North America’s most lucrative races in the same year.

“I definitely dreamed about it,” he said. “My parents put a very can-do attitude in all us boys.

“Heading into all of these races I think I can win them. I want to give myself the best chance, I’m just very fortunate.”

Venerate earned a fourth win in seven attempts to go with two third-place finishes.

Donna Soprano was second, tasting defeat for the first time following five straight wins, On A Streak, at 9/1, was third in the 10-horse field.

It was a historic running as the event is the first million-dollar “buy-in” competition in harness racing history. Nine slots were available for US$110,000 apiece with the 10th and final going to On A Streak after winning the $535,000 William Wellwood Memorial.

Venerate captured the win using the slot originally purchased by Brad Grant, Marvin Katz and partners.

“It makes me look pretty smart, I guess,” said Grant, a long-time standardbred owner and trucking magnate from Milton, Ont. “We really believed in this race when we bought our slot.

“What Woodbine Mohawk has done is something new, I think it’s great. I talked to (trainer) Julie Miller, one quick conversation and we had a deal done . . . I’m happy it worked out for them and very happy it worked out for us.”

Earlier, Doug McNair of Guelph, Ont., took Exploit, a 35/1 longshot, to a stirring victory in the Metro Pace in 1:50.4. McNair had Exploit sitting fourth with a quarter-mile to go but came on down the stretch to give trainer Tony Alagna his third Metro victory.

“He was feeling real good and we were following the best horse in the race I thought,” McNair said following his first Metro title. “He swelled right up in the last turn and kind of surprised me a little bit when he blew them all.

“He raced great.”

But the expectation was that Abuckabett Hanover and McCarthy would deliver Alagna the victory. Abuckabett Hanover looked like a good bet to do so, standing second behind Bayfield Beach with a quarter-mile to go before fading.

Bayfield Beach, driven by Yannick Gingras of Sorel, Que., was second ahead of Lawless Shadow. Abuckabett Hanover was fourth.

Gingras took the $455,000 Shes A Great Lady with 4/5 favourite Caviart Audrey despite being second to McCarthy and Scarlett Hanover in a dramatic five-across photo finish in the race for two-year-old pacers.

Scarlett Hanover, the 5/2 second choice, was relegated to last for interference following a steward’s inquiry. That elevated Caviart Audrey to first, followed by Notorious Pink (3/1) and  Paulas Bet Hanover (64/1).

Gingras captured his third Shes A Great Lady title while trainer Nancy Takter claimed her second. Gingras and Takter teamed up to win the $1-million Pepsi North America Cup on Aug. 29 with favourite Tall Dark Stranger.

Last weekend, Gingras drove both Scarlett Hanover and Caviart Audrey to wins in the respective elimination races before opting to go with Caviart Audrey in Saturday’s final.

Caviart Audrey earned her fifth win in six starts but would be unbeaten if not for a disqualification in her second career start. And the Somebeachsomewhere filly earned her fourth straight victory at Mohawk Park.

Scarlett Hanover came into Saturday’s race having won three straight and the daughter of Bettors Delight was chasing a sixth victory in 10 starts overall.

The field was reduced to nine as Voelz Delight (sickness) was a pre-race scratch.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2020

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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