John McGill hopes a missile can help take him to new heights.
McGill and Brian Carsey share ownership of Missile J, who they purchased for $115,000 at the Tattersalls January Select Mixed Sale at the Meadowlands. The four-year-old male pacer has gone three for three for his new owners and trainer Scott DiDomenico, fueling optimism for a limited stakes schedule later this season.
The purchase of Missile J, a stakes winner in 2016, came two months after McGill and Carsey bought Breeders Crown runner-up Manhattan Beach for $130,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale Mixed Sale in Harrisburg.
For McGill and Carsey, who frequently buy claimers and state-bred horses in their home state of Indiana, the two acquisitions represent a chance to compete on the Grand Circuit.
Missile J winning the Rooney at Yonkers last year. (Yonkers photo)
“We’d like to, we’re just going to see how it works,” said the 54-year-old McGill, who runs a truck body and equipment business. “We wanted to try this and see how we do; just try to get our feet wet a little bit.”
Missile J, trained previously by Linda Toscano, won eight of 19 races last year and earned $313,902 for owners KJ Stables and Purple Haze Stables. His wins included the Art Rooney Pace and a track-record 1:53.1 triumph in a division of the New York Sire Stakes at Buffalo Raceway.
A son of stallion American Ideal out of the mare Cantors Daughter, Missile J was originally purchased as a yearling for $100,000 under the name Newsmaker Bluechip at the 2014 Standardbred Horse Sale. Missile J is a full brother to stakes winner Brownsville Bomber and his family includes millionaire Cam Swifty and stakes winner Lonesome Day.
His 2016 campaign ended with an eighth-place finish in the New York Sire Stakes championship at Yonkers Raceway in late September. He qualified twice in the weeks prior to January’s sale at the Meadowlands.
“We’re happy with him, that’s for sure,” McGill said. “I’m going to give all the credit to Scotty D. We weren’t looking at him. We were a little bit afraid of him because he hadn’t raced since September and he’s in the January sale.
"He had a couple qualifiers, but that was going to be a lot of money for us to take a chance like that. But our trainer just insisted so we went ahead and went with his gut and so far it’s worked out. Really, Scotty gets the credit on that one.”
DiDomenico said Missile J had “a ton of talent and raw speed that was hard to match.”
“He’s going to dictate to us what he’s ready for, but we’re pretty optimistic right now,” DiDomenico added. “It’s great when you have owners who are willing to put up the money to buy horses and give you a chance. Brian and John have been very good about that.”
Manhattan Beach, a four-year-old son of Somebeachsomewhere out of the world champion mare Benear, is a full brother to 2014 Little Brown Jug winner Limelight Beach. Manhattan Beach won five of 27 races last year and earned $483,379 for previous trainer Ron Burke and the ownership group of Burke Racing, Weaver Bruscemi, Geoffrey Lyons Mound, and Wingfield Brothers.
In his four starts for the largest purses on his schedule, the North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace, Pennsylvania Classic and Breeders Crown, he never drew inside of post seven.
“We liked the looks of him,” McGill said. “He made ($483,379) last year and we thought he drew badly in a number of races. We just thought there was some potential there and maybe he would have a good year this year.”
Manhattan Beach will get a later start to his 2017 campaign because of surgery to remove chips from his hocks, but McGill is hoping the gelding will be ready to go in June and can compete in the Graduate Series.
“We’ve got high hopes for Missile J, but we’ve still got a ways to go to see what he really is,” McGill said. “With Beach, we see what he is, but after you do surgery you’re hoping he comes back the same. So it’s a little bit of a risk staking this year, but it should be easier next year when we know what we have. I’m already excited about it.”
McGill got started in harness racing nearly a decade ago through his truck business.
“I put a truck together for a small town in northern Indiana and the street superintendent there was Ron Eash, who raced a little bit with his dad Wilbur Eash,” McGill said. “When Ron would come down and check on his truck, I would always ask him a thousand questions on horses. He wanted to talk about his truck and I wanted to talk about horses.
“He finally said why don’t you come and talk to my dad and maybe you guys could go in partners on a horse together. We did, and it seemed to do all right and kind of set the hook for me.”
McGill and Carsey became partners about four years ago after being introduced by trainer Walter Haynes Jr.
“Brian is a great partner to have,” McGill said. “We really don’t have any disagreements. For some reason we agree on mostly all the same things.”
In 2015, McGill and Carsey owned Indiana Sire Stakes champions Matrix Of Luck (two-year-old male pacers) and Martz Time (older male trotters). McGill said Matrix Of Luck’s ISS championship victory was the highlight of his career as an owner.
“But I’m really hoping to have some more thrills this year, especially after we paid our (February) stakes payments for Missile J and Manhattan Beach,” McGill said.
“I love the excitement,” he added about harness racing. “To me, it’s like when I had kids at home and they would play sports and you would go to the Friday night football and the excitement.
"I kind of get the same feeling watching the races and enjoy the challenge of trying to pick the next horse that I can claim and move up.”