Shadow Play overcomes the odds for a heroic Jug triumph
story by Howie Trainor
One of the most memorable Little Brown Jug victories occurred on a sun-drenched Thursday afternoon in Delaware, Ohio, exactly one decade ago. It is the story of a courageous horse, masterful driver, quick-thinking trainer, and skillful blacksmith delivering in a pressure-packed situation.
At the center was Shadow Play, a handsome son of The Panderosa – Matt’s Filly, who grabbed the $551,225 pacing classic in straight heats with a gutsy performance before 50,000 fans, and the dramatic turn of events in the Jug Barn between heats made it more memorable.
Shadow Play had an all-Canadian ownership group that included trainer Dr. Ian Moore, a Prince Edward Island veterinarian who had moved to Ontario; R G McGroup (Ron and Gail McLellan of Bathurst, New Brunswick); and hockey legend Serge Savard of Saint-Bruno, Quebec.
The drama occurred after Shadow Play won the $58,797 first elimination in a stakes record-equaling mile of 1:50 for driver David Miller. He left from the four-hole, tipped near three-quarters, and threw a 26.1 final quarter at the field.
Miller would later say that his horse earned respect with that performance. Brian Sears drove Badlands Nitro in the elimination and said Shadow Play “went a tremendous mile; that final in 26 (seconds) was something else.”
Shadow Play had a noticeable limp when he walked back to his stall, and Moore’s initial diagnosis was that the “likely cause was a foot separation in his wall on the left front foot.” He informed the Jug Barn steward, Chip Hastings, who contacted paddock blacksmith Eric Wilt.
Wilt installed leather pads under both front aluminum shoes and left an open portion where Moore thought the problem was located.
“We soaked him in warm water . . . and that was pretty well all we could do,” he said.
As the minutes to parade time for the final ticked down, Moore told Hastings that they wanted to race. A racing commission veterinarian had examined the horse and said there was no serious injury and, after Miller scored him, gave final approval.
Miller went from “being in the clouds to my jaw dropping on the ground within a half hour” once he learned Shadow Play was lame following the elimination win. He went to the Jug Barn, where Moore told him Shadow Play was “a little lame after the first heat” and then explained what he was doing about it.
The next time Miller saw the horse was when Moore handed him the lines in the paddock and said, “If he takes one lame step, bring him back.” Moore hoped the foot would not be a problem and it wasn’t.
“I wasn’t going to do anything that hurt the horse.”
Miller said he “stepped him out and it seemed like the problem was worked out. I scored him down and he seemed fine. Eric (Wilt) did a great thing and got him to the races.”
Shadow Play left from the rail and was never headed in the final, winning by 6¼ lengths in 1:50.1, with the two-heat time of 3:40.1 setting a world record for a two-heat race. Dave Palone, who finished second with Lonestar Legend, said, “I don’t think anybody was going to beat that horse here today.”
“It was the biggest display of courage and desire any horse has ever shown me in 52 years as both a trainer and a veterinarian,” Moore said.
The McLellans watched the final from the grandstand and Ron still gets emotional when thinking about the courage displayed.
“He was a real champion,” he said.
Savard was along the grandstand fence after leaving the winner’s circle to call his son and inform him that the horse might be scratched.
“But, I looked, and he was still on the tote board and, the next thing I knew, he was coming in the parade. I stayed at the wire the whole race.” He was so excited that he forgot about his bad knees and jumped over the fence to the track. Shadow Play was “all heart. It was just unbelievable,” he said.
Shadow Play finally went lame on the way back to the barn. After the race, Moore “was very concerned” about the horse, an emotion Ron McLellan shared as Shadow Play stood on three legs in his stall.
McLellan wondered “if we had ruined the horse to win a race, even one as big as The Jug.” He was relieved to the point of tearing up when Shadow Play finally hopped over to his feed bucket.
Moore changed his diagnosis on Friday (the day after the race) to an abscess on the outside of the foot. He “popped it” early Saturday afternoon and Shadow Play was soon walking without a trace of lameness and was well enough to ship home that day. Moore thanked Dr. John Reichert of Woodland Run Equine for his “tremendous help” with radiographs and treatments.
Three weeks after the dramatic win at Delaware, Shadow Play was off to Maywood Park and a 1:50.4 stakes record in the $275,000 Windy City Pace.
Next was Yonkers on Oct. 25, where he was supplemented to the $650,000 Messenger. McLellan said the Messenger was like racing in “a monsoon.” Miller recalls racing in heavy rain and gusty winds and “for an instant, I thought we were going to win it,” but Somebeachsomewhere got up in the final steps to win by a neck in 1:52.1. Savard added that Shadow Play “went a great race, almost winning after leading for much of the way.”
On Nov. 1, Shadow Play returned to the Midwest and captured the $300,000 American-National Stake at Balmoral Park in 1:49.3.
Moore thought it was “cool” that two world champions were broken in the Maritime Provinces—Shadow Play on PEI and Somebeachsomewhere in Nova Scotia. Maybe then it was fitting that the last start for each that season was the Breeders Crown final at The Meadowlands with Somebeachsomewhere winning in 1:48.3 by 1¾ lengths over Shadow Play.
Shadow Play skipped the Matron, as he’d been sent to Blue Chip Farms for a fertility test after being syndicated. He ended 2008 with 14 wins in 25 starts, $1.1 million earned, and had shipped all over the country.
Returning to the races in 2009, his 4-year-old season was fraught with minor physical issues. On the morning of the U.S. Pacing Championship at The Meadowlands, he popped an abscess on the same left foot, then went out and took his record of 1:47.1, leaving from post seven. Two weeks later, he was second to Won The West in the Breeders Crown Open final, pacing his mile in 1:47.1.
Shadow Play ended his racing career on Oct. 10 at Red Mile. As happened so often, he drew badly (post eight) and finished sixth in the $149,000 Allerage Open Pace final. He was beaten by 1¾ lengths, but paced in 1:49.4. His 2009 line was 11-3-3-1, $346,558.
An amazing journey was over as he retired from racing with nearly $1.55 million on his card; wins in many major events against stiff competition; and the setting of track, stakes, and world records. But he was off to an outstanding career as a stallion.
It was an emotional goodbye for Moore, who entered Shadow Play’s stall at 4 a.m. The two “had a moment,” said Moore. “‘I know it’s all over, boy, no more racing. Thanks for everything, big fella.’”
Ten years later, Miller still loves talking about Shadow Play. “He was a pretty awesome horse,” he said.
Moore said Miller and Shadow Play had great chemistry and the driver was sensational with the horse. Miller was in the bike for nine of his 11 race starts in 2009, including the U.S. Pacing Championship and Breeders Crown.
Moore praised Miller’s loyalty “as evidenced on Jug Day.” He was asked in the winner’s circle who he would pick to drive in the final after steering Lonestar Legend to a 1:49.3 stakes record in his elimination. “I came here to drive Shadow Play,” he said and stuck with that decision even though “30 minutes before the final heat, I wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to race.”
Moore and Ron McLellan have a relationship in racing that goes back almost 40 years. Moore had done vet work for the McLellans’ horses, most notable among them The Papermaker (one of his three Gold Cup and Saucer winners).
They also co-owned multi-time Ontario Sires Stakes winners Astronomical, who held the world free-legged pacing record of 1:50 and earned $680,660; and Impeccable p,1:51.1s ($417,516).
The Shadow Play story started in the fall of 2006 when the McLellans were pondering whether to make their annual trip to the Standardbred Horse Sale in Harrisburg, Pa. “I’d already bought all I wanted to purchase,” Ron said, but long-time friend and fellow horse- owner Wayne Whebby and Claire, his wife, “talked us into going.”
McLellan is the owner of a McDonald’s franchise that invented the McFlurry, the fast food chain’s world-famous ice cream treat. He is a longtime owner who has raced extensively throughout eastern Canada. His R G McGroup Ltd. Stable owned 1982 Canadian 2-year-old trotting champion Turmeric.
He has an admiration for The Panderosa – Matt’s Scooter cross and planned to look at them all at Harrisburg, but skipped one. When Gail asked why he hadn’t checked that horse, he said the colt was a late foal (June 5) and would be at a disadvantage at 2. When asked if he’d be interested if he’d been foaled on May 25 (Ron’s birthday), the reply was “yes.” Gail said that Ron’s reasoning didn’t “make any sense” and she wasn’t leaving the sale until he’d looked at the colt.
The colt was Shadow Play, who was sound asleep in the stall when Ron saw him. He thought that “if he could relax there, he could relax anywhere.” The breeding and conformation checked out and it was off to the ring, where he was knocked down for $16,000.
The ability to relax paid off. McLellan recalls Shadow Play being “laid flat out in his stall almost the whole morning on Jug day” and sleeping until noon after arriving in the middle of the night for the American-National Stake—races he both won.
“Ironically, he was the only baby Ron ever bought without me seeing him,” Moore said.
Living on Prince Edward Island at the time, Moore didn’t see the horse until a few weeks later. Then, he and wife Nancy paid for a 25-percent share using boarding and training fees.
Savard came on board for 25 percent through Moore, who was founding president of a short-lived American Hockey League franchise. Savard was a teammate and friend of the late John Ferguson, who worked for the Prince Edward Island team’s parent club in Ottawa, and Moore knew Savard through Ferguson.
Savard is in Canada’s Hockey Hall of Fame after an outstanding 17-year playing career with the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets. Nicknamed “The Senator,” Savard won eight Stanley Cups as a player for the Canadiens and two more as general manager of that team. After hockey, he became a successful businessman.
He had moved his family’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team to Charlottetown and, in 2005, approached Moore about becoming a partner in a yearling. McLellan agreed and suggested waiting until the following year, as the partnership groups had already been set. With a decision that proved to be extremely fortunate for the future, Savard asked Moore at a hockey game: “Hey, Doc, what about a horse?”
“Since we bought Shadow Play as an extra on the last day of the sale and there was just Ron and me, I said, ‘I have just the baby for you,’” said Moore. “So he wrote me a check that night for a 25-percent share.”
That was a start of a partnership that continues to this day and has included other outstanding horses, major wins, and awards.
The Jug win was the pinnacle for all three. Savard said it was his biggest sporting thrill outside hockey. McLellan fulfilled a lifelong dream, as he always wanted to have a horse in the Jug. Moore loves the Jug and will always go if he has a good one, no matter what. HB
Howie Trainor is a freelance writer living in New Brunswick. To comment on this story, email us at email@example.com.