Ron Waples won the Meadowlands Pace in his first try, driving Ralph Hanover to victory in 1983.
On Saturday night, Randy Waples will attempt to duplicate his father’s accomplishment when he drives North America Cup champion Thinking Out Loud in the $600,000 Meadowlands Pace at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
Waples and Thinking Out Loud advanced to the Meadowlands Pace final with a second-place finish in their elimination despite interference in the stretch. Heston Blue Chip won the elim in 1:49, finishing a half-length in front of Thinking Out Loud.
Thinking Out Loud, trained by Hall of Famer Bob McIntosh, will try to become the ninth pacer in history to win both the North America Cup and Meadowlands Pace. The most recent was Well Said in 2009.
“To win the Meadowlands Pace would be unbelievable,” said Waples, who will turn 47 on July 31. “I’ve watched these races since I was a little kid. I grew up in this business and I was around the horses from day one. I remember my father winning with Ralph Hanover and he won the North America Cup with Presidential Ball (in 1993). I wasn’t here for Ralph Hanover, but I was at Greenwood [Raceway] for Presidential Ball.
“These are special races. They just don’t get any bigger than these races. Last year I finished second in the Hambletonian and this year I won the North America Cup and I’m getting to race in the Meadowlands Pace. I think that’s more what it is with me: Being able to race in these kinds of races. It’s always great to win them, but you’ve got to go into them with a clear head and realize there are nine other guys trying to beat you.”
Waples, who lives in Milton, Ontario, is no stranger to the big stage. He was the regular driver of 2011 Horse of the Year San Pail and is a three-time winner of Canada’s Driver of the Year Award (1998, 2001 and 2010).
Thinking Out Loud has won seven of 11 career starts and never been off the board, earning $860,138 for Robert McIntosh Stables, CSX Stables and Al McIntosh Holdings.
In the $1.47 million North America Cup, the lightly raced Ontario-bred son of Ponder stormed home to an 8-1 upset in 1:47.4, equaling the Canadian record set by Sweet Lou in his Cup elimination the week before. The win gave Waples and McIntosh their first North America Cup win.
Last weekend, in his first start since the North America Cup, Thinking Out Loud was in fifth place heading into the stretch before encountering traffic woes and finishing second to Heston Blue Chip.
“A couple of horses veered out [in the stretch],” Waples said. “It had nothing to do with Thinking Out Loud; he drove a straight line. My wheel got hooked, so I had to back off and unhook the wheel, move him out to the middle of the track and get him going again.
“You get beat half a length with all of that, I’m pretty sure he would’ve gotten there. He might not have gotten there by much, but I’m pretty sure he would’ve gotten there. I thought he raced great. I was really happy with him.”
Waples has driven Thinking Out Loud in all but one of his career starts. Last season, the colt was limited to four races – winning three – because of a bone bruise.
“He was very special last year,” Waples said. “He stepped on a stone and got a bruise on his foot and they couldn’t clear it up, so Bob did the right thing and shut him right down. It did the horse a world of good. He was never stressed last year. He came back really strong and is just a really nice animal.”
Waples knows Thinking Out Loud faces a tough task in the Meadowlands Pace final, where he will meet up again with six horses from the North America Cup, including runner-up Time To Roll, world champion Sweet Lou, Hempt Memorial winner A Rocknroll Dance and Art Rooney Pace champ Pet Rock.
“This year, it seems like they’re all pretty level,” Waples said. “Sweet Lou is probably the horse to beat; A Rocknroll Dance, Heston Blue Chip raced great [Saturday]. They’re all there to beat you. But I think I’ve got a pretty good one.
“He has all the qualities of a really nice horse. He tries really hard, he’s really good gaited; he just puts his head down and digs. His best quality is that he comes out of a phenomenal stable. I’m pretty lucky to get to race in these kinds of races with a nice horse.”
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