Larger Than Life
In 2007 and 2008, I was the communications coordinator for harness racing at the Woodbine Entertainment Group in Toronto. I was on the front lines of the upper echelons of the sport, attending some of the richest stakes races in North America, and it was through that lens that I got to witness a truly extraordinary equine athlete — an Ontario-bred pacing colt named Somebeachsomewhere.
If you have any sort of Standardbred background, the name (however unwieldy — it came from a country song, I’m told) needs no introduction. If you don’t, let me put it in perspective for you: this horse was harness racing’s answer to Secretariat. Not just the horse of a generation, but of a lifetime — and owned by a small collective of car dealership owners and assorted friends from tiny Truro, Nova Scotia. Gawd, it wrote itself.
I watched this colt burst on the scene in Ontario as a two-year-old, winning the Metro Pace like a tornado. Even then, he was a bruiser, almost twice the size and bulk of his juvenile competitors, and his gait was effortless. There was a sense of enormous power that just rippled off this horse.
I watched him win the Pepsi North America Cup, then a $1.5 million dollar mile, the following June. I interviewed his trainer and part-owner, Brent MacGrath, and his driver, Paul MacDonell, a couple of dozen times at least, and wrote about the horse almost weekly, either for WEG (which was riding the wave of his career with everything it could muster, given that Mohawk — WEG’s “summer” track just west of Toronto — was more-or-less Beach’s home oval) or for other publications like the Canadian Sportsman, Trot, or Hoof Beats, the US Trotting Association’s magazine.
If you click on either of the links above, you’ll get a complete synopsis of the horse’s career. (There was tons in the Sportsman, too, of course, but that archive, alas, is no longer with us.) He lost only one race — the $1 million Meadowlands Pace — to Art Official, but the effort was so valiant that it only enhanced his reputation. Towards the end of his three-year-old year, MacGrath sent Somebeachsomewhere to Kentucky to the Red Mile — renowned for being the fastest track in North America, if not the world — specifically to chase the world record. Watch how effortlessly Beach paces a 1:46.4 mile to smash the record for three-year-old pacing colts and equal the world record for any horse of any age:
Now, a horse like this almost never gets to race beyond his three-year-old year. He was simply too valuable to risk breaking down on the racetrack. So off went Somebeachsomewhere to stand at stud in the United States. Click on that link for stats and video of some of the more prominent of his progeny. None have dominated the sport quite so completely as their sire, but many have been damned impressive (one son, Captaintreacherous, captured the 2013 NA Cup), and as far as we knew, the best was yet to come.
Unfortunately, the news came on Sunday, January 14th, that The Beach had been euthanized thanks to the discovery of large cell lymphoma in his intestine. The stallion was 13, and there had been only a brief mention of health issues in the news prior to this, back in November. To say his death was unexpected is an understatement.
The photos at the top of this post have never seen the light of day before … they’re shots I took of Beach and his trainer and biggest fan and promoter, Brent MacGrath, warming up on the track at Mohawk in the late afternoon, before the 2008 North America Cup. Hard to believe that’s a three-year-old.
Most years, one or two horses emerge in the ranks of three-year-old trotters and pacers to dominate to some degree. But we’re not going to see the likes of Somebeachsomewhere again. I’m grateful I got to be a small part of that ride, which I’ll always consider to be one of the highlights of my media career.
A few more photos I found in my archives, from spring, 2008. The other colt with Somebeachsomewhere is Deweycheatumnhowe, who was just as dominant that year on the trotting side of things. I think I was one of only two photographers to get some shots of the two of them in close proximity. It really was an extraordinary season.