Maritime harness racing champion Maple Leaf Spirit will make her seventh start in Ontario Saturday evening in the second leg of the Lifetime Dream Trotting Series at Woodbine.
Before making the trek to Ontario, the homebred daughter of Meadowagogo-Maple Leaf Legacy never finished worse than second in 27 lifetime starts for trainer/driver Ralph Annear, who co-owned the bay with Steven Sorrie of Montague, P.E.I.
In November, the multiple stakes winner made the move, changing barns and ownership. Steve Charlton now trains the mare and he praises Annear, a 73-year-old horseman, for developing Maple Leaf Spirit into such a nice racehorse.
"Ralph Annear did a fantastic job with her," Charlton said. "She came here [ready] like an aged horse. She was three, but she was acting like she was five, just a sweetheart to have in the barn."
After relocating and a handful of disappointing finishes, the four-year-old mare is starting to adapt to her new environment, producing her first victory for her new connections, owners Larocque Racing Stb Inc. of Thornhill and Tatum MacNeil of Orangeville.
"She raced very well," said the conditioner, of her winning effort in the first leg of the Lifetime Dream. "It was the second start with the bridle change and it seems to work, so I was very pleased. She can only get better from here."
Maple Leaf Spirit won her most recent outing on January 5 in a new lifetime mark of 1:56.2 in gate-to-wire fashion. At tracks like Charlottetown Driving Park and Summerside Raceway, she would get an easy lead, but couldn't use her front-end tactics when she first stepped foot on the Toronto oval.
"The first few starts she was giving it up awful quick," Charlton said. "That's why we changed the bridle. I closed her up. She used to wear a Kant See Back [bridle]. Down home she would go to the front and nobody could challenge her. She would get everything her own way then when she came here, there is more speed and the type of racing is different."
With Chris Christoforou in the bike, the mare will leave post two in the first of two divisions each worth $35,000. But, Charlton admits that drawing in with the Frank O'Reilly-trained Sashay will make it toughto win.
"Sashay is the one to beat," said the Clifford resident. "Other than her, I think she is as good as the rest, but I think we are racing for second money. But it's a horse race, so you never know."
The $75,000 final, for four and five-year-old trotting mares in 2012, who are non-winners of $200,000 lifetime as of midnight, October 31,2011, is slated for Monday, January 23.
Also on the docket Saturday evening is round two of the Willowdale Pacing Series, for four-year-olds. First race post time is 7:10 p.m.
Ashley Mayotte - WEG Communications