CAMPBELLVILLE, Ont. — It was sweet vindication for Captain Crunch, driver Scott Zeron and trainer Nancy Johansson on a wet Saturday night at the $1-million Pepsi North America Cup.
Zeron, of Oakville, Ont., drove Captain Crunch to record-setting victory in Canada's richest harness event in a light drizzle at Woodbine Mohawk Park after narrowly qualifying for the final.
Last weekend, Zeron and Captain Crunch recovered from a first-turn break to earn the fifth and final qualification spot in their elimination race.
There'd be no such challenges Saturday night as Captain Crunch crossed the finish line in a stakes, track and Canadian record time of 1:47.2 on a fast track to earn both Zeron and Johansson their first North America Cup titles.
"It was just one of those things that happens last week in the elimination," Johansson said. "I knew that the horse raced really well just to make it to the final so I really wasn't worried.
"I don't want to sound cocky or anything but I knew he was the best horse going into it and it was just up to him to show everybody."
Zeron, a two-time Hambletonian winner, said the North America Cup victory completes his racing bucket list.
"It feels unbelievable," he said. "This has been the end-all, be-all for me, it has completed my entire bucket list.
"We've got a lot of racing left to do but I can't say enough about how amazing this animal is. I didn't want to be in that spot I was in that race but at the same time he overcame it with just his greatness."
As a result of the fifth-place finish, Captain Crunch, who is American owned and bred, began Saturday night's race in the No. 8 hole. But Zeron had Captain Crunch, a 4/1 pick, sitting third behind 7/5 favourite Workin Ona Mystery and Bettors Wish (7/2 odds) after half a mile.
Zeron moved Captain Crunch into second behind Workin Ona Mystery through three-quarters of a mile before the horse kicked into overdrive for his third win of the season and ninth in 14 career starts. The $500,000 winner's share boosted the three-year-old's career earnings past $1.1 million.
"I felt good turning for home but at the quarter-pole I knew the inevitability of sitting third and I wasn't happy about that," Zeron said. "We were rolling along pretty good with that half-mile and I was able to pull as late as possible into that last turn and get in that late run."
Last year Captain Crunch won the Dan Patch Award as the top two-year-old American pacing colt.
Bettors Wish, driven by New Zealand native Dexter Dunn, finished second in the 10-horse field ahead of the heavily favoured Working Ona Mystery. The third-place finisher won his elimination race despite bad allergies and spent time last week in a hyperbaric chamber in an effort to become fully healthy for Saturday's race.
Captain Crunch paid $10.30, $5.10 and $3.30 while Bettors Wish returned $4.60 and $3. Workin Ona Mystery paid $2.60.
"The last eighth of a mile I must screamed his name like 30 times," Johansson said. "My hands actually hurt but it was exciting to watch the race.
"Obviously he didn't get anything for free. He's just an amazing animal."
The race was run following a recall due to interference, which caused Zeron some anxious moments.
"You're always a little concerned because I was actually timing him into it, getting him revved up and ready to go," Zeron said. "And then the recall came up.
"But he's a professional so once I called on him to come back to me and relax he was about to just walk around the rest and conserve some energy."
Also on Saturday's card, 5/2 pick Treacherous Reign edged 1/2 favourite Warrawee Ubeaut at the wire to claim the $454,000 Fan Hanover final for three-year-old fillies. Dunn guided Treacherous Reign to the mild upset win in a time of 1:48.3.
Warrawee Ubeaut, driven by Yannick Gingras of Sorel Que., was second ahead of 54/1 longshot Powerful Chris, driven by Bob McClure of Elora, Ont.
And Atlanta captured the $256,000 Armbro Flight final for three-year-old fillies and mares in a track and Canadian record time of 1:50.2. Gingras took Atlanta out to an early five-length lead, then fended off a determined late charge by Weslynn Dancer and driver Dave Miller.
Top Expectations, driven by Daniel Dube, of Trois-Rivieres, Que., was third.
Atlanta returned $2.50, $2.10 and $2.10 while Weslynn Dancer paid $14.60 and $7.50. Top Expectations paid $4.90.