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Rankin Reflects On Dream Season

Published: January 31, 2018 1:55 pm ET

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The road returning Tom Rankin to the O'Brien Awards has been full of twists, turns and a fair share of bumps. Now 16 years after last winning, Rankin has a shot at going home with a pair of O'Brien trophies this Saturday night.

Rankin and his wife Beth own two-year-old trotting colt finalist Alarm Detector as well as three-year-old trotting finalist R First Class. The Rankins' last O'Brien Award winner was Liberty Balance, Canada's Three-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year in 2001.

"I was on Cloud Nine when Kathy [Wade Vlaar of Standardbred Canada] called!," Rankin told Trot Insider. "It has been 16 years since my last appearance at the O’Briens. I'm looking forward to relishing every moment now that I know how difficult it is. Those lean years have been forgotten."

The sophomore season of R First Class is especially gratifying for the Rankins as the son of Kadabra is a homebred from their stakes-winning trotting mare World Class Image. Unraced at two, R First Class boasted 11 top-two finishes in 12 starts for $307,000 in earnings this past season. He won three of six Ontario Sires Stakes events including the Super Final, and is a finalist along with Goodtimes winner International Moni.

"Winning the Super Final with R First Class on an off track was the culmination of such an enjoyable and outstanding season," said Rankin, whose name is as known outside the harness racing industry as it is inside. Rankin was one of the founders of St. Catharines-based Rankin Construction (originally known as Stephens and Rankin Inc.), a company involved with countless projects across Ontario over the last 30 years ranging from bridges to roads to nuclear power plants and sports complexes.

It is perhaps that success in business that keeps Rankin as passionate for success in harness racing. In 2018, Rankin will look for another O'Brien Award nomination with high hopes for trotting colt Alarm Detector. The son of Chapter Seven - Final Countdown was almost perfect in his debut season, winning six of seven races and $276,000. Stakes victories included the Define The World and an elimination and final of the William Wellwood Memorial.

"Winning the William Wellwood by six lengths in record time was the thrill of a lifetime," Rankin confessed. "My anxiety and pacing along the fence at Mohawk did not turn into jubilation until the stretch drive."

That performance establishes Alarm Detector as one of the early contenders for harness racing's Holy Grail, the Hambletonian. Among the horses Alarm Detector will likely have to contend with for the 2018 Hambletonian: fellow O'Brien Award finalist You Know You Do.

"It would be an honour to win the Hambletonian," said Rankin in a November 2017 Trot interview. "I won the Breeders Crown with Liberty Balance but the Hambletonian would be the ultimate."

Knowing full well the value of strong staff with savvy and supporting associates, Rankin is quick to credit trainer Ben Baillargeon for the success with his two finalists. As the conditioner of Alarm Detector, R First Class and Older Trotting Horse finalist Musical Rhythm, Baillargeon is in fact tied with trainer Jimmy Takter (Ariana G, Pure Country and You Know You Do) for the most 2017 O'Brien Award finalists.

"There is no doubt that the success of both of these horses can be attributed to Ben and his team," stated Rankin. "His knowledge, caring, patience in pursuit of excellence was rewarded with the achievements of these finalists."

Whether he goes home with one, two or no O'Brien Awards on Saturday night, Rankin fondly appreciates the triumphs of 2017 with an infectious enthusiasm.

"It was a dream come true having not only one but two horses of this caliber. My wife, my family and I cherished every moment."

The 2017 O’Brien Awards are scheduled for Saturday, February 3 at the Hilton Mississauga / Meadowvale Hotel and will feature an Academy Awards theme. The O'Briens will be hosted by Ken Middleton and Jason Portuondo, with Juno Award nominee Heather Bambrick singing the national anthems. The Marc Joseph Band, one of Toronto’s best event bands will be taking the stage after the awards presentations and provide dance music until 1:00 a.m.

Follow the latest updates on the O’Brien Awards on Standardbred Canada’s Facebook Event page and on the SC website. Standardbred Canada will also provide live updates on the event through its social media channels. For anyone tweeting or adding photos to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, please use the hashtag #obriens17.

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