Canada's James MacDonald winning WDC heat 2 on Lucky Lucka.
USA representative Marcus Miller and Canadian local James MacDonald won two heats each on night one of the 2017 World Driving Championships at Calgary’s Century Downs. While Miller sits on top of the points table with 57 and MacDonald is only seven points adrift, Queensland’s Shane Graham stormed into third position, just nine points behind the championship leader.
Miller, the nephew of leading American reinsman Andy Miller, drew first blood with 9yo mare Ashlynn. Miller sat behind the leader Drawing Dead, driven by Shane Graham before taking the lead on the turn and racing away for a comfortable victory.
After the race Miller was excited by the victory and admitted the race went to plan.
“Everything unfolded like we expected and I was able to get the perfect run behind the leader,” Miller said.
“The racetrack is great out here and it was nice to open the series with a winner, I hope it continues throughout the week.”
The second heat was dominated by an aggressive early move by Canada’s James MacDonald, who pushed forward from barrier eight and found the top soon after the start with a 4yo mare named Lucky Lucka. Race broadcaster Murray Slough described the move as “an all-out attack by J-Mac” and after pinching a comfortable quarter in the middle stages, MacDonald kicked away to score a decisive victory.
MacDonald confirmed he had been feeling some pressure going into the series but an early heat win had quelled his nerves.
“That really gets the monkey off my back,” MacDonald said.
“I wouldn’t say the (World Driving Championship) racing is more aggressive than normal, it is just different. There are different racing patterns around the world and you have definitely seen that today so far.”
Australian Shane Graham finished fourth on Mystery Mania and secured important points after a disappointing eighth in heat one.
The third heat was another victory for Team USA as Miller made it two victories in the first three heats. Miller piloted Kavola and secured the run of the race sitting in the one-one until halfway down the back straight when he attacked and went for home.
Kavola looked set for a comfortable victory until the Shane Graham driven Pinkmakesboyswink made a determined run wide on the track on the home bend. Unfortunately for the Australian supporters, Graham’s mare tired into third with Austria’s Gerhard Mayr grabbing second.
Miller was all smiles after his second win of the championships and looked to be enjoying the international competition.
“Racing off the pylons is not something we do a lot here in North America so it isn’t what I am used to but we got the right trip with some cover,” Miller said.
“I knew I had to make my move down the back straight and get to the front because I didn’t want to be off the inside going around that last corner and it all worked out well in the end.”
An aggressive midrace move that saw Sweden’s Bjorn Goop loop the field and take the lead with a lap to go on three-year-old filly Newport Min was arguably the night’s biggest highlight. Goop’s win provided the star reinsman with his first victory on Canadian soil, however he was forced to hold off a late burst from the Shane Graham driven Outlawintriguedbyu.
In a post-race interview Goop described the midrace attack as a ‘European move’ but reigning series champion Dexter Dunn later renamed the manoeuvre as ‘the give and Goop’.
Goop spent the coach trip between the drivers’ Calgary hotel and Century Downs, mapping the races and working out which rival drivers he wanted to follow into each race.
‘Captain Canada’ James MacDonald won his second WDC heat when Barossa Blue Genes overcame a second row draw to win. Shane Graham finished runner up again, this time on 4yo gelding Chief Saratoga while Marcus Miller ensured he would remain the overall leader when he finished third on Gray Zee.
MacDonald’s local knowledge proved vital and his recent trip to Calgary to drive at a lead up meeting on the Century Downs track played an important role in his success.
“I am extremely proud to be representing my country but the series is far from over,” MacDonald said.
“We now head off to Toronto to drive at Mohawk on Monday and Georgian Downs on Tuesday. It is then off to Montreal on Wednesday and we finish up on Prince Edward Island on Friday night. I just want to be close enough coming into the last night to have a shot at the title.”
OVERALL POINTS after 5 heats
Marcus Miller USA 57
James MacDonald CANADA 50
Shane Graham AUSTRALIA 48
Bjorn Goop SWEDEN 43
Gerhard Mayr AUSTRIA 38
Mika Forss FINLAND 34
Dexter Dunn NEW ZEALAND 29
Rik Depuydt BELGIUM 25
Noel Baldacchino MALTA 24
Mark Purdon NEW ZEALAND 21
Eirik Hoitomt NORWAY 16