TORONTO — A one-eyed colt is giving thoroughbred racing in Canada a boost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mighty Heart captured the $400,000 Prince of Wales Stakes on Tuesday to move to within a victory of claiming the OLG Canadian Triple Crown.
Earlier this month, Mighty Heart emphatically won the $1-million Queen's Plate, going wire-to-wire for a 7 1/2-length decision as a 13/1 longshot.
That leaves Mighty Heart one win short of becoming just the eighth horse to win Canada's Triple Crown and first since Wando in 2003 for trainer Mike Keogh and late owner Gus Schickedanz.
The last remaining hurdle - and arguably the most demanding - for Mighty Heart and jockey Daisuke Fukumoto will be the $400,000 Breeders' Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile turf race that will be run Oct. 24 at Woodbine Racetrack.
When that event rolls around, horse racing could be front-and-centre with a large segment of the Canadian sporting public with the NHL and NBA both having concluded their seasons and the CFL having cancelled the '20 season due to the global pandemic.
"I think it's a boost for racing," said Jim Lawson, the CEO of Woodbine Entertainment. "It puts us in the limelight to promote and market it.
"There continues to be demand for live product. That thirst has been quenched a bit but I think, unfortunately, we're facing high numbers again and people are likely going to be isolating and quarantining again in a much greater way than they have over the course of the past couple of months and racing is in the fortunate position of being able to operate.
"No one likes the cause of it, which is COVID, but I think the good news for racing and people they're going to have something live to watch."
Of course, Mighty Heart's status for the Breeders' remains up in the air and will be determined by how well the horse recovers from his Prince of Wales Stakes win. But for an industry that's been drastically impacted by he COVID-19 pandemic, the prospect of a Triple Crown run has definitely provided a much-needed shot in the arm.
"It's a great story because everyone loves an underdog," said Lawson. "And when you say underdog, here's a horse with one eye that's owned by someone (Larry Cordes) who bred the horse himself and is a very down-to-earth guy.
"I think it's a great story for racing to have a small breeder and owner step up and do this and have a real star. The Plate win was emphatic and impressive and you don't have to look much further than the time in the Plate to know this horse is for real and is the real deal."
Mighty Heart's winning time in the Queen's Plate was 2:01.98, the second-fastest since 1957 when the race was first run at the new Woodbine over its current 1 1/4-mile distance. That effort was second only to Izvestia (2:01 4/5 in 1990).
And this stellar Triple Crown run has been delivered by a horse that lost an eye in a paddock accident with his mother as a foal. And on Tuesday, Mighty Heart showed a tremendous final kick, coming from third off the final turn to register the victory just 17 days after the stunning Plate decision.
What's more, the 6/5 race favourite didn't look like a horse that had expended a lot of energy. Upon taking second, he quickly reeled in Clayton, pulled even with his rival, then took off with Fukumoto hand-riding his mount to the finish line.
The win was Mighty Heart's third in four races. Overall, he has three victories and a third-place finish in six career starts, all coming this year, for $688,003 in earnings.
Winning the Canadian Triple Crown is no easy feat because not only do all three races vary in length, they're also run on different surfaces (Tapeta, dirt and grass). But Mighty Heart's sire, Dramedy, won the 2015 Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes on the grass at Keeneland.
And instead of having to race on different surfaces just 17 days apart, Mighty Heart will now get 25 days to prepare for the Breeders' Stakes. That's the same time that existed last year between the Prince of Wales and Breeders'.
"His sire was essentially a turf horse," Lawson said. "Most horses take the turf and it doesn't look like the distance will be an issue with the way he ran (Tuesday).
"Listen, we could have a Triple Crown winner on our hands and it's really fun for racing and good for racing to promote a star. We need stars, we all want stars in sports and I think this could be racing's time to shine."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published September 30, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press