CAMPBELLVILLE, Ont. — Dave Miller obviously made the right decision.
The American drove Fear The Dragon to a sixth straight victory Saturday night, capturing his second straight $1-million Pepsi North America Cup at Mohawk Racetrack.
Miller drove both Fear The Dragon and Downbytheseaside to elimination wins last weekend. That left him with the difficult choice of which one to lead into Canada's richest harness race.
But a second straight North America Cup win — Miller claimed last year's event with Betting Line — didn't come easily. Downbytheseaside led halfway through the race in 52.1 seconds, the fastest half mile in Mohawk history.
Miller had Fear The Dragon in fourth, but just barely.
"My horse was having a hard time keeping up," Miller said. "He didn't really get within contention there until right at the head of the stretch.
"Then he dug, he fought. This is great, a great feeling."
Miller drove Fear The Dragon, the 7/5 second choice to victory in 1:48:4 on a fast track, finishing three-quarters of a length ahead of 4/5 favourite Huntsville. Downbytheseaside, the 5/1 third pick driven by Brian Sears, was third in the 10-horse field.
"Huntsville, he kept fighting and it was a battle right to the wire," said Miller.
The victory was the 11th in 16 career starts for Fear The Dragon and the $500,000 winner's share boosted his earnings over $825,000. The top-three finishers were clearly the class of the field as the remaining starters were all double-digit longshots.
Huntsville posted the fastest time in last weekend's three elimination races. The son of 2008 Cup winner Somebeachsomewhere was U.S. Racing's top two-year-old pacing colt last year and came into Saturday's event having won three-of-four starts this season.
Downbytheseaside also came in on a nice roll, having won his four previous starts before Saturday's race.
It was a good night for Brian Brown, the trainer for the first- and third-place finishers. More importantly, though, Miller earned his conditioner his first North America Cup win.
"Fear The Dragon, what could you say? He's tough, he just never gives up," Brown said. "David Miller, he's always in the race.
"It's unexplainable. You'll have to ask the guys who win these races regularly. This is my first time, I don't know what to say. It's incredible that we're even here with two horses. To come away with the win is something that's unexplainable."
Brown also heaped lavish praise upon Sears and Downbytheseaside.
"They went a big mile today," he said. "It was incredible fractions and for that horse to still finish third and hang in there, I was proud of him."
Lou Lamoriello, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, presented Fear The Dragon's connections with the championship trophy following the race.
Fear The Dragon paid $4.90, $2.60 and $2.10 while Huntsville returned $2.40 and $2.10. Downbytheseaside paid $2.80.
The remainder of the field, in order of finish, was: Classic Pro; Western Hill; Sports Column; Miso Fast; Filibuster Hanover; Ozone Blue Chip; and Ocean Colony.
Earlier, Doug McNair of Guelph, Ont., drove 11/1 longshot Bettors Up to a dramatic photo finish win in the $440,000 Fan Hanover Stakes final for three-year-old fillies in 1:49:4.
Agent Q, at 16/1 odds, was second, just ahead of 3/5 favourite Tequila Monday.
Bettors Up paid $24.40, $10.40 and $4.80 while Agent Q returned $10.40 and $5.50. Tequila Monday paid $2.60.
And Lady Shadow continued her dominance in the $365,000 Roses Are Red final for fillies and mares. Yannick Gingras of Sorel, Que., drove the 3/5 favourite to victory in the race for a record-tying third straight time.
It was Lady Shadow's fourth straight win this season and 16th in 24 career starts. She has also finished second twice and third on another occasion.