TORONTO — When Woodbine Entertainment Group CEO Jim Lawson unveiled plans in September for the inaugural US$1-million Mohawk Million, there was never a question in Brad Grant's mind whether to get involved.
On Thursday, the trucking magnate from Milton, Ont., was revealed as one of the nine slot owners for the Sept. 26 race at Woodbine Mohawk Park. The event for two-year-trotters will become Canada's richest harness race.
"First off, I think it's a great event," Grant said. "I think it's good for our industry, it's different.
"I'm a big supporter of Woodbine Mohawk Park being here (in Campbellville, Ont.), being local, and everything they're trying to do to make the racing industry better and more entertaining. The prestige of racing in that kind of event and having a chance to win is exciting. I need a big win at home, I haven't had enough."
Grant, a long-time standardbred owner, has certainly done his share of winning, having led all Woodbine owners in victories since 2016. He has also owned '18 Hambletonian victor Atlanta and Breeders' Crown champion Stay Hungry.
Grant was the 2018 recipient of the United States Harness Writers Association's Humanitarian Award for using the earnings of one of his horses to raise funds for the Humboldt Broncos' bus crash victims. The horse, a pacer ironically named Humboldt, provided $15,000 for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League Assistance Program, which was created to generate funds for those affected by the tragic accident.
"John Campbell tried to get a $1-million race off the ground in the U.S. the last couple of years and it just hasn't taken to fruition," Grant said. "So you've got to give Jessica Buckley (vice-president of standardbred and thoroughbred racing) and the Woodbine Mohawk Park team a lot of credit for stepping up and saying, 'Hey, we'll take a run at it and see how it goes.'"
Campbell, of Ailsa Craig, Ont., has served as the chief executive officer of the Hambletonian Society since retiring as a driver in 2017. The 64-year-old is harness racing's all-time leader in wins (10,667) and a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, U.S. Harness Racing Hall of Fame, Little Brown Jug Hall of Fame and Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.
Grant isn't the only prominent Canadian to pay the US$110,000 entry fee. The others include Serge Godin (Determination Stable), Jim Bullock (Glengate Farms) and breeder/owner John Fielding.
Also purchasing slots were Sweden's Courant Inc., and American-based Diamond Creek Racing, Dreamland Farms, Fashion Farms and owner Jeffrey Snyder.
"Reading the list of players, they're all dedicated to the industry," Grant said. "When people like that believe in it, I definitely think we're going in the right direction."
The final Mohawk Million spot will go to the winner of the $610,000 William Wellwood Memorial on Sept. 12 at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
Each slot can be sold, traded or leased. The purchaser doesn't have to declare a horse for the race until time of entry.
"There's a lot of flexibility, that's what I like about it," Bullock said. "I probably have pieces of about 10 two-year-old trotters in training . . . I bought the slot in the race hoping when we get to September we have one good enough.
"My backup plan would be if I don't have a horse that I think is competitive I'm sure there's going to be somebody out there that to his/her surprise has developed the star of the season and may not be eligible and be looking for a slot."
And if Bullock wants to sell or lease his share, he might not have to look far for a suitable partner. Bullock said his primary conditioner, John Bax, has upwards of 20 two-year-olds in training.
"So if one of mine isn't good enough and he has a star . . . we'll work out a deal and go from there," Bullock said.
But Bullock, of Erin, Ont., also likes the Mohawk Million concept.
"I love seeing them do it just to try something different," he said. "The other thing the race does is give you the flexibility to run a filly in there.
"Often with two year olds, the fillies are faster than the colts."
Lawson praised the slot owners for their commitment in making the race a reality.
"As a racetrack operator and industry leader, we can create the opportunity, but without the investment and commitment from leading owners, this exciting event wouldn't be possible," he said.
Grant said his intention remains to have a horse in the race. But like Bullock, Grant added having flexibility with the slot is an attractive incentive.
"It's a lot of money to put down at this time of year for something that's going to happen in September, especially with two-year-olds," Grant said. "But with the option of being able to sell it if something were to happen, that's good too."
The Mohawk Million will highlight an impressive racing card. Also scheduled that night will be the $850,000 Metro Pace for two-year-old pacers and $550,000 Shes A Great Lady for two-year-old pacing fillies.
The card's total purse will exceed $2.7 million.
"It's going to be a tremendous night of racing, absolutely," Grant said. "You don't get too many opportunities to see the kind of racing you're going to see that night.
"The best of the best in each division should be there. You'll get the best horses, the best drivers and hopefully the biggest crowds."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press