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Part 3: Road to the Ontario Sires Stakes

"They were both strong gaited, so that’s going to serve them great going forward."
Through this four-part series Ontario Racing is charting the journey of two of Ontario Sired trotters acquired by trainer John Bax at the 2017 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. Follow Magical Journey (Kadabra – Some Like It Lindy) and Radical Roy (Royalty For Life – Radical Janey) along the path their connections hope will lead them to the 2018 Ontario Sires Stakes.

Part One: From Lexington to Campbellville
Part Two: Building a Racehorse
Part Four: Joining the 30 Per Cent 

Pressure and expectations

The tempo in a barn where young horses are developed changes in spring. Once the warm weather arrives training sessions start to intensify, owners drop by to see how their horses are progressing, and every effort is made to maximize each horse’s potential.

As Magical Journey and Radical Roy continued their march toward a two minute mile Joe Parkinson and Don Allensen travelled to Campbellville to lend a hand with training miles. Parkinson trains two horses of his own at his Sharon farm and Wyoming, Ontario resident Allensen has been actively involved in the care of his horses for almost four decades.

Since the late 1980s Allensen has owned both young horses and claimers, first with trainer Peter Core and in the last 10 years with Bax, and while Radical Roy was solid when the long-time owner stepped into the race bike he knows there is no guarantee that the gelding will recoup his $20,000 US purchase price.

“It’s a crap shoot, it’s just like everything else, you can buy the best bred one and pay big money and then you can buy, like Riveting Rosie we paid $17,000 for her, she made $900,000,” said Allensen, putting Riveting Rosie at the top of his list of favourite horses, which also includes B Cor Timgo and Image Control, two trotters from the mid-1990s he owned in partnership with Peter and Raymond Core and Daniel Diebold.

Parkinson also owned a share of Muscle Mass daughter Riveting Rosie, who earned $973,336 between 2013 and 2015 and was a two-time winner of the Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final, however she does not top his list.

“Northern Bailey would be the one for me, because my dad finally had a good horse after 20 years in the business, just before he died, so he was the one that kind of made it for us,” said Parkinson, whose father Brian bought his first horse with Bax in the early 1990s. “I’ve had more good luck in the business and good memories than most people who spend ten times the money we’ve spent and that’s all the credit to John, that’s nothing I did other than just being smart enough to tag along with him for the last 20 years.

“My father has been gone for 15 years, and John’s not really my horse trainer, he’s almost like my dad,” Parkinson continued.  “We’ve become very close over the years, I spend a lot of time with him.”

Parkinson took his tours behind Magical Journey at Woodbine Mohawk Park once the geldings were ready for serious training miles and, like Allensen, while the youngster was solid he knows there are no guarantees of success.

“He does it pretty easy right now, we’ll see when we need him to go in 1:58 or 1:57, but he’s doing everything you ask of him right now fairly easily,” said Parkinson. “He’s got the ability, he’s got the physical tools, it looks like he has the mental; we’ll just have to see when they turn for home, when we need that last couple of seconds, whether he can do it or not, that’s all.”

Through their weekly trips to Woodbine Mohawk Park Radical Roy and Magical Journey proceeded steadily from 2:10 miles to 2:07 and then 2:05, at which point John and Matt Bax felt it was time to qualify the pair. On June 15 the trotters made the trip to the Campbellville oval for the fourth of eight qualifying sessions scheduled exclusively for two-year-olds, joined by about 60 of their colt and gelding peers.

Matt Bax drives Radical Roy during a May 30 training mile at Woodbine Mohawk Park

Successes and surprises

Up first, Magical Journey was introduced to driver Paul MacDonell and proceeded to line up behind the starting gate at Post 3. The gelding got away fourth and remained in the middle of the pack as White Tiger led the field through fractions of :30.1, 1:00.2 and 1:29. Unfortunately, Magical Journey made a break in the stretch and although he crossed the wire in 2:00.4, well below the required standard of 2:05 on a seven-eighths mile track, the break meant that he had not successfully qualified to appear in a pari-mutuel start. White Tiger would go on to win the race by six lengths in a smart 1:57.4.

Two races later MacDonell took Radical Roy out to the start, lining up behind Post 6. Like his paddock-mate, Radical Roy landed in fourth and stayed there through fractions of :31.3, 1:01.2 and 1:31.3 rung up by Friggun Biggun. Unlike Magical Journey, Roy stayed on gait and hit the wire in 2:02.2, successfully qualifying five and one-half lengths behind winner Final Answer who crossed the line in 2:01.2.

“I liked the way they both moved. They were both strong gaited, so that’s going to serve them great going forward,” said veteran reinsman MacDonell after the qualifiers. “The Kadabra one, Magical Journey, he made a little break coming home so they were going to, I think, just adjust some equipment on him. I don’t think it was too serious of a problem.”

The Baxes and their staff added a left-side line pole to Magical Journey’s equipment list and sent the youngster back to Woodbine Mohawk Park for a second attempt at qualifying. After being delayed from Saturday, June 23 to Monday, June 25 due to a downpour that made the surface unsuitable for qualifying, a group of about 90 colts and geldings once again gathered at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

Drawing the middle of the gate for a second time, MacDonell lined Magical Journey up behind Post 4 and this time the gelding delivered a flawless performance, sitting mid-pack through fractions of :30.4, 1:03 and 1:33.4 and then closing in 28 seconds to finish third in 2:03. Winner Darlington Hall trotted home in 2:01.4.

Paul MacDonell steers Magical Journey to a third-place effort in his second qualifying attempt, on June 25 at Woodbine Mohawk Park

While his paddock-mate went back to step one, Radical Roy was entered in a two-year-old race. On June 26 at Woodbine Mohawk Park he delivered a steady effort from Post 2 that saw him try his hand at leading the charge up the outer lane. Flanked by two other colts at the wire, a photograph determined that Roy had finished fifth, trotting his own mile in 1:59.4. Oh So Pine secured the win with a 1:58.1 effort.

Watch Radical Roy's June 26 race

One week later, on July 2, Magical Journey went postward in his first race. Lining up at Post 1 at Woodbine Mohawk Park, the Kadabra gelding went off stride at the start and did not recover his composure soon enough to be part of the race. He finished well back of the pack in tenth.

Watch Magical Journey's July 2 race

“He seemed to get a little claustrophobic,” explained John Bax. “When all the horses came down on him, he couldn’t handle that, so we’ll have to make some head-gear adjustments.

“I was a little surprised because Magical Journey was so quiet when he started out, it was like we had to chase him to get him going,” the horseman continued. “I thought it would be the other guy that would be the most excitable one, because he’s always a little on edge, and this guy was pretty laid back.”

In spite of the break Magical Journey was not required to go back to the qualifying stage. He is still eligible to compete in the season opening Ontario Sires Stakes event, either Gold at Woodbine Mohawk Park on July 16 or Grassroots at Georgian Downs on July 17. The entry deadline for both events is the morning of July 12.

While he was surprised at the gelding’s reaction, John Bax remains optimistic that the youngster will have an opportunity to reach his potential before the end of the freshman season.

“I think it’s pretty easy to train every horse down to a certain point, and then I find if they have pedigree, the pedigree will kick in and will take you the rest of the way, and as long as a lack of desire or injury doesn’t stop them, they’ll get to fulfill their ability, their potential,” Bax reflected.

“He’s (Magical Journey) got talent, so you just have to work with the rest,” concluded the trainer.

The work required before the July 12 draw date would include finding an equipment solution that limits Magical Journey’s focus area during a race and deciding at which level the geldings would make their debut, Gold or Grassroots.

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