Although admittedly it will be much easier said than done, Ken Middleton will, as he always has, call it like it is on Saturday night at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
His vantage point, one that overlooks the seven-eighths mile racetrack in Milton, Ontario, offers a most enviable view of the fast-paced action taking place below.
For the man who calls the races with a keen eye, steady voice and unprejudiced tone, the seventh race at Mohawk on September 25 will bring about a unique challenge for the seasoned professional.
When the starters for this year’s $824,000 Metro Pace line up behind the gate, Middleton will have to maintain an unbiased commentary whenever he mentions Bob Loblaw, the 2-year-old gelding he trains, co-bred and co-owns.
He’s up for the moment.
“For me, you just do it the right way. It’s very exciting to have a horse in a race like this, but whether I have a horse in a claiming race or marquee event, I’ll do it the way it should always be done.”
The story of Bob Loblaw is an emotional one for Middleton, especially when he speaks of Bill Galvin.
Galvin, whose boundless enthusiasm for horse racing made him a beloved legend within the industry, died in September of 2020 at the age of 89. The Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee bred and co-owned Bob Loblaw with Middleton.
Although the gelding is now owned by Middleton, Dave Walls, Jim Grant and Starting Centre Stables, Galvin is never far from Middleton’s thoughts.
“My late partner Bill, he was deeply involved it, financially, but emotionally too. We both love the industry, which is the common denominator between Bill and I. We both love what horse racing is and what it means. We both want it to prosper. This is our way of giving back. He was retired, but he still had his finger on the pulse of the industry. He loved being part of it.
“Owning horses was different for him. It was something he was proud of, something he enjoyed doing. He loved coming out to the farm to see his babies, and to the training centre to see them there too. Ultimately, on race night, he would come out and cheer for his horses. It’s something we are very entrenched in and passionate about. I dearly miss him for his friendship, advice and loyalty. I know he’d be thrilled with this horse and how he’s done.”
The journey of Bob Loblaw has been a bona fide thrill ride for Middleton. But there have been times – one moment in particular stands out – when he’s had to work overtime to suppress his emotions when his sophomore pacer was competing.
He can easily recall the night of August 28 at Mohawk, a card that included the $140,300 Nassagaweya Stakes.
With Sylvain Filion in the sulky, Bob Loblaw rallied in deep stretch to take all the spoils.
The winning margin for the son of Sunshine Beach-Lady Marina: a mere nose.
The Nassagaweya was the horse’s second victory. He broke his maiden winning a $18,509 Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) Grassroots event on July 9 at Mohawk. In all, he sports a record of 2-0-3 in nine career starts, earnings of $107,927 and a speed badge of 1:52.4.
That gutsy performance at the end of August prompted Middleton to recall the early days of his association with Bob Loblaw.
“Even before he started training, when he was running around out in the field, he just had a presence about him. Every time someone new would come to the farm – anybody that appreciates a horse – I’d say, ‘Come and have a look at this guy.’ He was smart and the things he did in the field… he’d always stand back and watch what was going around on around him. There was just something about him then. He had great conformation, but he also had a handsome head and body.
“To say that I knew he was a good horse then, I’d be lying. But he did catch your eye. When you go to a yearling sale, that’s the kind of horse you’d want to buy. You dream of a having a horse like this, so you treasure that experience.”
Having his own farm, owning horses and training them, is a perfect fit for Middleton, who has been calling races for 35 years, including the past 15 seasons at Woodbine Entertainment Group.
While you couldn’t see his face in a recent tweet posted by Middleton, he was no doubt wearing a contented smile in the video of him jogging Bob Loblaw.
Content is the perfect word to describe those moments.
“That’s a time of day when I just clear my mind,” said Middleton. “It’s very relaxing. It’s quiet on the track and I like it that way. I hit the reset button on my brain because I spend a lot of the other time thinking about what I’m going to do next, or wondering, ‘Have I done this? Have I done that?’ There are so many bases you have to cover with a horse. It was always the dream to own a farm and own some horses. It’s stress relief for me. The time I have on the track, I use it to free my mind, really. It’s peaceful. I always look forward to it.”
The path to sitting in the jog cart and his present involvement in the sport was plotted out – even if he wasn’t aware at the time – long before he ever called his first race.
A life-long fan of harness racing, Middleton developed an instant love for all things standardbred the first moment he stood railside and watched the horses rocket by him.
“I have always been a fan of racing. When I was on the backstretch, the days when I was helping out my dad, I was always fascinated by the horses. One day, I decided to get into the ownership side with some lower-level horses. I love the game and it’s given me so much. I look at it as my way of giving back to it. And to be around the horses, that’s something I’ve never taken for granted and I know never will.”
His bond with horses and horse racing has never been stronger.
Middleton’s connection with Bob Loblaw is very much the same.
Come Saturday night at Mohawk, the horse with the star on his right hind pastern will take on 11 formidable rookie stars when he contests the biggest race of his career to date.
His No. 1 fan will be cheering him on the moment the gate swings open and the field is sent on their way.
For as long as the race takes from start to finish, Middleton will do, without having to remind himself once, what makes him one of the best in the business.
“I try to be aware of where my horse is in the race, but I can’t always do that. It’s easy for me to do my job because I know have capable people taking care of him on race night and the guy [Sylvain Filion] driving him, he’s a pro.”
Just like the man behind the Mohawk mic.
“I’m always rooting for my horse on the inside, but my job is to call it as it is.”
Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications