Down the Backstretch: Voting gets underway for O'Brien Awards

Nicholas
Nicholas Oakes
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P.E.I.'s Paul MacKenzie, William Andrews among nominees

The 2014 edition of the O'Brien Awards banquet is set for Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Delta Prince Edward and P.E.I. Convention Centre and voting to select the finalists in each category is now taking place.

In the horsemanship award category, Charlottetown native Paul MacKenzie is one of three nominees against Jim Marino from British Columbia and Kelly Hoerdt from Alberta. Hoerdt was runner-up for this award last year to Island winner Marc Campbell. MacKenzie has been racing in Ontario since 1987 and boasts 7,808 career driving wins and $44,455,514 in purse earnings. As a trainer, MacKenzie has 880 victories and $4,667,057 earned.

The driver has been a mainstay on the Ontario B track circuit since his arrival, and has won more races at Flamboro Downs than anyone in the history of the Dundas, Ont., track. He is currently recovering from an injury Oct. 27 at Grand River Raceway in Elora, Ont., and is out of action.

In the Armstrong Bros. breeder of the year category, William Andrew's Meridian Farms is one of three nominees against Ontario breeders Seelster Farms and Robert MacIntosh stables. Andrew is an Island native who moved to Alberta to work in the oil business, and now runs two breeding operations under the Meridian Farms name in High River, Alta., and Milton. In 2013, Meridians Farms bred the winners of 238 races with earnings of $1,102,089, in addition to standing a number of stallions at each location.

These two awards have the top-three finalists decided by a panel within Standardbred Canada, while the majority of the other awards are open to receive votes for any horse.

The awards will feature the inauguration of the Future Star Award for a trainer or driver under the age of thirty who is showing promise in Canadian Harness Racing.

The criteria for the award states a horseperson must be within their first three full-time years as a trainer or driver, with full-time defined as either 75 or more starts as a trainer or 150 or more starts as a driver.

These criteria narrow down the field to 26 horse people in the country including a number of Islanders. Eligible to receive votes are Mark McKinnon and Stephen Quinn of Charlottetown, Charlottetown native Tyler Moore who is now racing in Ontario, Stratford native Patrick Shepherd, who trains a stable of 15 in Ontario, and Cornwall's Jonah Moase. Shepherd is a strong contender to receive the award, along with Corey Johnson of Ontario and Travis Cullen of Alberta.

Tickets for the O'Brien Awards are now on sale for $125 each, down from the usual $200 when the awards are hosted in Ontario.

P.E.I. scene

Racing at the Charlottetown Driving Park was cancelled Sunday afternoon due to some winter complications, with the card being held this Sunday instead as the half-miler sees its last week of two race cards.

Including this weekend, there are six cards left in 2013 and driver Marc Campbell looks to have drawn away in the drivers' standings.

The Winsloe resident has 110 wins on the year, well ahead of Brodie MacPhee in second with 74, followed by Jason Hughes with 61.

It is likely Campbell will come close to his 130 win mark he set last season, but 20 wins in six cards may be too much ground to overcome. Overall, Campbell has 165 wins in the Maritimes this year, putting him 14th in Canada for overall dash wins.

It is unusual for a Maritime driver to be that close to the top 10, but due to the lack of race dates in Ontario this year, those drivers have not been racking up the wins they are accustomed to.

In the Charlottetown training standings, Jackie Matheson has an insurmountable lead with 51 trips to the winner's circle, with Kenny Arsenault in second with 29 and Stephen Quinn third with 28.

Island harness racing was saddened to hear of the passing of Pans O Silver this past weekend.

The 12-year-old son of Pans To Reason-Silverwood Diane has 50 lifetime wins to his credit as well as $82,462 in purse earnings. The pacer took his mark of 1:55.3 on July 24, 2008, in an 11-length romp for driver Brodie MacPhee in one of his many gritty performances that earned him the right to be called one of the toughest Maritime- breds of all-time.

Who's hot

Brodie MacPhee has stamped himself as one of the top three drivers in the Maritimes this season, but his old man proved Saturday he could still get the job done.

Brian MacPhee posted three winners on the Charlottetown afternoon card winning with No Pan Intended for trainer Harold Hill, Zanzibar for trainer Paul Morrison and Painted Desert out of the Trevor Hicken stable. The Clyde River native has 1,720 lifetime wins to his credit and $2.4 million in purses.

Nicholas Oakes' column appears in The Guardian each Friday. He can be reached at nicholasoakes@hotmail.com.

Boxe(s):

Nick's picks

Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Charlottetown Driving Park:

Race 1 - Mr MacLeod

Race 2 - Braveheart De Vie

Race 3 - Majian Chester

Race 4 - JJ Jaguar

Race 5 - Rash B Havior

Race 6 - Milliondollarfeeln

Race 7 - General Luckypercy

Race 8 - JK Special

Race 9 - Life Savior

Race 10 - PC Shockwave

Race 11 - Pinner

Race 12 - Mach Vegas

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Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Charlottetown Driving Park:

Race 1 - Aahm A Cammi

Race 2 - Miracle Matts

Race 3 - Duchess Killean

Race 4 - Zip The Lip

Race 5 - Shock The Rock

Race 6 - Life At Hickory

Race 7 - Cambest Kisser

Race 8 - Hot Shot Dragon

Race 9 - City Girl Hanover

Race 10 - Block Party

Race 11 - Camcun

Organizations: Meridians Farms, Delta Prince Edward and P.E.I. Convention Centre, Ontario B Armstrong Bros.

Geographic location: Ontario, Charlottetown, Alberta Iceland British Columbia Charlottetown Driving Park Elora High River Stratford Winsloe Canada Clyde River

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