By Ken Weingartner, USTA Media — James MacDonald is enjoying a career year and hopes to keep the good times rolling when he visits The Meadowlands for Saturday’s stakes-ladened card featuring TVG Series championships for pacers and trotters as well as the Fall Four for 2-year-olds.
MacDonald is the leading driver in Canada, where he is No. 1 in both purses and wins, with C$6.39 million and 248, respectively. He holds a C$1.5 million advantage over second-place Sylvain Filion in earnings and 17-win edge over Colin Kelly as he attempts to become only the third driver to top Canada in both categories in a dozen years.
His earnings are already a lifetime high by more than a million dollars and his victory total is the third best in his 13-year career. His triumphs include the Maple Leaf Trot with Lindy The Great, the Battle of Waterloo with Betterhavemymoney, a Matron Stakes with Threepointbluechip, and Champlain Stakes with Silver Label and Adare Castle. In addition, he won three Ontario Sire Stakes championship and 18 Ontario Sire Stakes Gold divisions.
“As things have kind of slowed down a bit, I’ve had a little more time to reflect on it, and it’s been a dream come true,” the 35-year-old MacDonald said about his campaign. “I always kind of set goals for myself, but in the back of my head, there is always the ultimate goal — you want to be the top driver in Canada. You want to make the most money, win the most stakes races.
“This year, I’ve been able to drive some really great horses and for so many great owners and trainers. Every time I go behind the gate, it seems like I’ve got a good shot to win. I’m really thankful for the great year I’ve had, for sure.
“Any of these guys up here if they get the right horses to drive are going to do well and win lots of races. When you’re hot like this, you win the ones you’re supposed to, but then you fall into some other ones that maybe you normally wouldn’t because your confidence is so high. It’s just like a hockey player or a baseball player; when you’re feeling it, you’re feeling it. Even if I’ve had a bad night, the next night has been amazing. I’ve been able to avoid the big slump.
“It’s been a terrific year, there’s just no other way to put it.”
On Saturday, MacDonald will drive Threepointbluechip in the $413,600 Valley Victory Stakes for 2-year-old male trotters and Gia’s Surreal in the $175,000 TVG Series championship for female pacers.
Threepointbluechip, owned by TheStable.ca group co-founded by MacDonald’s brother Anthony, heads to the Valley Victory off his triumph as a $20,000 supplemental entry in the Matron at Dover Downs. The colt, racing for trainer Jim King Jr. in the U.S., won by a half-length over Slay in a career-best-equaling 1:55.
A son of Walner out of Dunk The Donato, Threepointbluechip is a half-brother to millionaire world-record-holder Plunge Blue Chip. He has won three of six races and $103,845 since beginning his career in late August.
“Anthony did such a great job with this horse,” MacDonald said. “He always kind of looked the part, but he was real immature. He was physically ready to qualify in June, but mentally he wasn’t there. He made breaks, and even when he stayed trotting, he was looking for ways out of it. Anthony gave him some more time and brought him back and it’s really paying off for him. Now, every time he’s on the track his ears are up and he wants to go. I expect good things from him.”
The six-horse Valley Victory field also includes Kindergarten Classic Series winner and Breeders Crown runner-up Fast As The Wind.
In the TVG Series championship for female pacers, MacDonald will drive Gia’s Surreal for trainer/co-owner Jim Graham against a group that includes Breeders Crown champ Rocknificent and multiple Grand Circuit stakes winner Lyons Sentinel.
Gia’s Surreal, by So Surreal out of Nancy Irene, has won seven of 28 races this year and $226,264. She is owned by Graham, Edward Peron, Lee Winters, and Thomas Mariano. MacDonald took over as the mare’s driver after Bob McClure suffered a broken arm in an accident earlier this month.
MacDonald and Gia’s Surreal teamed for back-to-back wins in the fillies-and-mares preferred at Woodbine Mohawk Park in their most recent outings. Earlier this season, the 5-year-old finished second to Rocknificent in the Allerage Farms Mare Pace and third behind Lyons Sentinel and Rocknificent in the Milton Stakes.
“I would much rather be going to drive Threepointbluechip and watching my buddy Bob drive her, but I’m happy to fill in while he’s out and hopefully he’s back in no time,” MacDonald said. “She’s just a good mare. She’s coming in brave. We’ll see what happens.
“I’m just happy to be there competing on the biggest stage and hopefully I can have some luck and finish the year off with a bang.”
Overall, Saturday’s stakes action at the Big M features six horses ranked in the sport’s Top 10: Niki Hill, Bella Bellini, Lyons Sentinel, Venerable, Allywag Hanover, and Atlanta. Three-year-old Bella Bellini, a Breeders Crown champion, is facing older foes in the TVG Series final for female trotters.
Other Breeders Crown winners in action will be Felicityshagwell S, Joviality S, Niki Hill, Ocean Rock, and Rocknificent.
Racing begins at 6:20 p.m. (EST). For complete entries, click here.