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2023 O'Brien Awards - Doug MacPhee and So Much More
 Published: January 25, 2024 11:30 am EST

After another standout campaign in 2023, it’s only fitting that two-time Canadian champion pacing mare So Much More is a finalist for national honours yet again. And it couldn’t be more fitting this time with the O’Brien Awards returning to her native P.E.I. for the 35th-anniversary edition.

While much of her success has come competing in Ontario under the care and management of trainer Don Beatson, the eight-year-old Big Jim mare has strong P.E.I. roots. So Much More, or “Sophie” as she is more fondly referred to by her connections, was bred by Doug MacPhee and raised at his farm in New Haven, P.E.I.

“I usually raise one to two foals a year,” said MacPhee. “You grow very close to foals on a small farm. They are like your children that you send off into the world and I’m the proud dad.

“She loved to boss the other fillies she grew up with,” he recalled. “She was the Princess of Haven Hills before she became Canada’s Pacing Queen!”

So Much More showed early promise when she started her racing career in Atlantic Canada, winning a Milton Downey Memorial Stakes division at first asking on July 2, 2018 at Exhibition Park Raceway. After accumulating six more wins for MacPhee and trainer Tom Weatherbie, she was sold and shipped to Ontario where she continued her winning ways and has blossomed into a national treasure.

“I owned ‘Sophie’ until part way through her three-year-old year. During that time, we developed a strong bond,” said MacPhee. “When I sold her, I knew she was talented. Tommy Weatherbie and his team did a fantastic job prepping her. I thought she was capable of winning lots of races and Ontario was the place for her. But who could have ever predicted the tremendous success she’d have?”

Her win count currently stands at 70 with earnings topping $1.5 million upon completion of her latest O’Brien Award-worthy campaign for Don Beatson, who shares ownership with his son Kenn Beatson and grandson Cole England. And MacPhee hasn’t missed a moment.

“The entire MacPhee family takes great pleasure watching her,” said the longtime horseman. “Her wins are often the highlight of the week. There are lots of text messages with Kenn Beatson and watching of replays. We get a kick out of her! We are thrilled with her success and the wonderful life the Beatsons have given her.

“In fact, we have family gatherings on big race nights and never miss an overnight. There is nothing more fun than cheering her on. Regardless of where I am in the world, when Sophie races, I’m watching! My wife laughs at me because she says our neighbours can hear me yelling at the TV screen whenever Sophie’s behind the gate. After some races, I lose my voice!

“I can’t believe I’ve bred and raised a racehorse that now competes with the best in the world. I love the way she fights and how she won’t let a horse by her at the wire. When her ears go back, I know the game is on. That’s the stubborn foal I remember in my field!”

So Much More earned 13 wins with 10 other top three finishes from 33 starts while banking $357,992 in 2023.

A mainstay at Woodbine Mohawk Park, So Much More earned most of her wins competing in the Fillies & Mares Preferred class where she lowered her lifetime mark to 1:49.1, but also took on the boys many times and defeated the top Free-For-Allers in Canada on a couple occasions.

Other highlights include winning the Forest City Pace at The Raceway at Western Fair District and finishing third in the Roses Are Red final at Mohawk behind Grand Circuit stakes stars Grace Hill and Silver Label.

All of which have been a pleasure for MacPhee to witness at his So Much More watch parties.

“I have many highlights. I love that mile in February where she defeated the boys at Mohawk in 1:49.3. She was awesome,” he recalled. “I love her win in the Forest City Pace. What a difficult trip! And she kept on coming. I was so happy for Don, Kenn and Cole after that one.”

MacPhee holds the team behind So Much More in high regard, and not just for “putting up with” his enthusiasm.

“These guys have to put up with me and my family’s enthusiasm. I text them all the time. In fact, several MacPhees message them!” he laughed. “Don is such a gentleman. I love Kenn’s pride in Sophie and Cole’s enthusiasm. It is great to see humble men compete at the top level. They are great horsemen who I consider friends. I was impressed with Don from the first time we spoke. I wanted Sophie to have a great career, but I also wanted her to have a tremendous life. They gave her that.”

MacPhee, who has visited Sophie at her beautiful home in Granton, Ont. before her exciting third-place finish in the 2022 Breeders Crown, is hoping the Beatsons will have time to visit Sophie’s mom, Ladysai, at his farm during the upcoming O’Brien Awards weekend.

After winning divisional honours in 2020 and 2022, So Much More is in the running for her third O’Brien Award in the Older Pacing Mare category. U.S. divisional champion Grace Hill, who won the Roses Are Red and Milton stakes in Canada, is also a finalist.

“I was a little surprised she was nominated this year to tell the truth,” admitted MacPhee. “But when you realize how consequential she is within Canadian harness racing, she definitely deserves a nomination.  She is constantly handicapped either by post positions against the girls or by having to race boys. A lot of effort goes into trying to defeat her even before she goes behind the starting gate.”

The connections are hoping for a little “homefield advantage” with the 2023 O’Brien Awards returning to P.E.I. The black tie gala and awards ceremony presented by Standardbred Canada will be held on Saturday, Feb. 3 in Charlottetown. It’s been 10 years since the awards, named for the legendary Island horseman Joe O’Brien, was held in P.E.I.

“It was such an honour to have it here again on P.E.I.,” said MacPhee. “Island horsemen really support the industry and our province is filled with dedicated fans.

“In 2014, we all thought it was our one and only chance to go, so we all went. Well, here we go again. But this time with a purpose! No matter the outcome, it’s going to be a terrific night.  We’ll be there to support the Beatsons and to cheer on James MacDonald,” said MacPhee, noting that So Much More’s groom from Weatherbie’s stable, Andrew Ward, is also an O’Brien finalist for the Outstanding Groom Award.

MacDonald, a P.E.I. native himself and two-time defending Driver of the Year, has driven So Much More for 51 of her career wins. Now based in Ontario, MacDonald grew up just a few miles from the farm where Sophie grew up.

Mark Bradley, So Much More’s first driver, will also be joining the MacPhees in attendance at the gala to show their support.

“I think it’s appropriate to have it on P.E.I. every once in awhile considering the award’s namesake and the strength of the industry here,” noted MacPhee. “How super would it be to have a P.E.I. born and raised horse receive such a prestigious award on P.E.I. soil?”

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