Last fall, Shawn Steacy capped off his first season as head trainer of the Steacy family’s harness racing operation with a runner-up finish in the Johnston Cup point standings, 15 points behind four-time winner Gregg McNair. This season, the Brantford, Ont. resident turned the tables on McNair, holding a narrow lead through the postseason to earn his first Ontario Sires Stakes training title.
“It’s extremely satisfying. We’ve had it before a couple times over the last few years but, you know, first time in my name. It’s a feather in the cap to get it so quickly after the stable was put in my name,” said the 34-year-old trainer, whose father, Mark Steacy, earned the Johnston Cup title in 2016, 2017 and 2018. “It seems like every year we kind of have the lead going into the last night and Gregg is just breathing down our neck, nipping at our heels, trying to steal it away from us. There’s nobody I have more respect for than Gregg, so that’s satisfying, too.”
Steacy sent out 33 different horses in the 2020 Ontario Sires Stakes program for a total of 123 starts, 12 wins, 19 seconds, 12 thirds and $372,367 in provincial earnings. His 252 points put him three ahead of McNair, who finished with 249 points from 108 starts. Among the Steacy stable stalwarts were three-year-old trotting filly Moana (by Muscle Mass), who was a three-time winner in the Grassroots program, and three-year-old pacing filly Mary Kat (Bettors Delight) and trotting colt Remember Titans (E L Titan), who scored two Grassroots wins apiece.
“We never really had that one ‘killer’ kind of horse, we just had a large group of good horses. They kind of picked away and picked away all year, compared to maybe some other stables that took big chunks of the pie all at once,” said Steacy. “They had a couple really flashy horses, where we just had the lunch pail team.”
While this year’s three-year-olds will move on to new endeavours on the racetrack or in the breeding shed next season, Steacy is looking forward to racing the group that made their OSS debut this summer, along with a few of their peers who did not see any racing action.
“I think we’re going to be very strong in our three-year-old department next year for the Ontario Sires Stakes. I think there’s a bunch of horses that didn’t make it as far as we were hoping they would,” said Steacy. “There’s one filly in particular, if she is able to be back and ready in time, called Great Dane and I think she’s a pretty special horse. There are a couple others, there’s a Bettors Delight colt that never made the races, but she’s kind of one that stands out.”
Muscle Mass filly Great Dane made two starts at the Gold Series level in July, finishing second and fourth, before her season was cut short due to injury.
At present there are about 15 yearlings learning their early lessons in hopes of competing in the 2021 OSS program and Steacy expects a few more to join the ranks after the last yearling sale, which takes place the first week of November. All of the horses will benefit from the expertise of the stable’s caretakers and support staff.
“There’s so many that play a role,” said Steacy. “All of our staff I’m super proud of. Late nights, early mornings, they go hard through the summer. People don’t talk about the hard work, behind the scenes stuff, that they do every night. As a team they are fantastic. We had a couple blacksmiths this year that were really essential to helping us out with problem situations, too. It was just a good overall team.”
With help from staff and the new crop of Ontario-sired youngsters, Steacy will be looking forward to another Johnston Cup battle with McNair once the 2021 OSS season gets underway next May.
The Johnston Cup was established in 1993 in memory of Bruce Johnston, the publisher of The Canadian Sportsman. The ‘Cup’ is presented annually to the leading trainer in the Ontario Sires Stakes program based on a point system that awards one point for each OSS start, Grassroots and Gold Series, plus an additional four points for each win, three points for each second and two points for each third. Complete 2020 Johnston Cup point standings can be found here.