(Atlantic Post Calls editor Fred MacDonald and his wife Gail are in Sweden all this week, May 24 - 31) to take in all the excitement of the 2019 World Driving Championship, and to cheer on son James MacDonald as he defends his 2017 World Driving Championship title. The race finale will be held Friday, May 31)
The Elitlopp, the greatest race in Europe for trotters, took place last Sunday afternoon at the majestic Solvalla racetrack in Stockholm, and it was everything it was billed up to be. Despite showers on and off throughout the 12 race program, Solvalla was packed with 30,000 or so trot fans from across the world for a race that has like our own Gold Cup and Saucer evolved into an “Event” where citizens make their annual visit to the race-track. Like PEI race fans, the Swedes love their horses and that is evident wherever you go in Sweden.
The 2019 Elitlopp was not a great race to watch, as elimination winner Ready Express was scratched lame while making this final start of his illustrious career. The winner, Dijon, a French bred horse, was in control throughout the mile rated in 1:53 on the off track and he earned the biggest slice of the 3,000,000 Krona (420,765.00 Canadian Dollars) purse. The Swedes are in a constant battle with France over bragging rights regarding the better breeding program, so seeing the French bred win the most prestigious race in Europe in Stockholm was hard to take. To make matters worse for the Swedes, a few days earlier, arch-rivals Finland knocked Team Sweden out of the World Hockey Championships, another bitter pill to swallow for the Stockholm faithful.
What is interesting to know is that the Sweden trot organizers have allowed top USA and Canadian breds to become part of the Swedish registry, which will in time help them overtake France in the breeding business. The Europeans know that the top bred mares from North America will produce big speed and crossed with top European trot stallions should result in a superior trotter. Interestingly, the Elitlopp winner Dijon is out of a mare by Cocktail Jet whose family traces back to Cassin Hanover, one of the best maternal families in North America. For a brief period of time, France breeders allowed a few outside mares into their registry but that loophole has been closed. Nevertheless, it is a perfect example of breeding speed from across the Atlantic to durability and endurance in Europe.
PEI’s Jim Whalen Among the Trot Crowd
There was a big contingent of trot fans on hand from across the world including Summerside’s Jim Whalen who has been a major player in Ontario for the past thirty years. Jim and a group that had been to Charlottetown for the 2017 World Driving Championship got together for informal discussions on the state of the harness racing game in other jurisdictions. England and Ireland are seeing great growth in their breeding programs with horses like Doonbeg; in fact, there are also 19 yearlings in Ireland by the hot USA sire Sweet Lou and all are expected to stay home and race in their own stake programs. Australia and New Zealand are seeing their live attendance reduced due to the popularity of stay at home wagering. It is an issue of concern for everyone.
Jim Whalen said it best when he spoke about racing on Prince Edward Island, “We on PEI have it the best of any harness racing jurisdiction, we are in Harness Racing paradise, and don’t know it”. The feeling among all those that have been to PEI for the Gold Cup and Saucer is that the Elitlopp, the Hambletonian, the Gold Cup and Saucer, the Jug, the North America Cup and The Meadowlands Pace are among the great events on everyone’s must see list. Being a province or state or country that hosts one of these great events is indeed something to be proud of.
World Driving Championship Underway
The World Driving Championships are now underway in Sweden and after four races at Solvalla, PEI’s James MacDonald is sitting in third place at 38 points, just four back of the leader. The action now switches to four other tracks in Sweden but none as cathedral like as Solvalla. Yannick Gingras is representing the USA in the competition, as is Doug McNair from Ontario. James is the defending champion in the event which is contested every two years. He was invited and has accepted to race later this year in Great Britain.