The emotion in Yannick Gingras' voice was clear and distinct, and it wasn't solely because he'd finally won the $1-million Pepsi North America Cup.
Gingras, of Sorel, Que., drove 3/5 favourite Tall Dark Stranger to victory in Canada's richest harness event at Woodbine Mohawk Park on Saturday night. It was Gingras' first win in his ninth appearance in the race.
Gingras became emotional after crossing the finish line, his voice cracking noticeably while discussing Tall Dark Stranger's dominant two-length victory. But a big reason for that was two days earlier, Gingras' wife, Vicki, and their three children — two girls aged eight and 12 and a 15-year-old son — left southern Ontario to return to New Jersey, where the family lives.
And it will be an extended absence as Gingras will remain in Ontario through the end of September driving in races at Mohawk Park.
"That's the part that stinks and that's why I was a little emotional," Gingras said in a telephone interview Monday. "Thursday was not a good day, I won't lie, it's probably one of the hardest days I've ever had in my life.
"Of course, winning the race makes up for it a little bit but it's not about the money when you get to this stage . . . it's about winning the big races. That's where I still get my thrill and the kids understand that, they know how important this is for me and it makes it easier knowing they understand that."
Gingras, who will call Guelph, Ont., home during his stay in southern Ontario, was appreciative of his wife's support.
"It's going to be tough on her as well," he said. "School starts next week and she's going to have her hands full for the next little while.
"That's the hard part, there's no doubt about that."
However, Gingras said having the chance to drive a horse the calibre of Tall Dark Stranger was very difficult to pass up. Saturday's win was Tall Dark Stranger's sixth in seven races this year and 14th in 16 lifetime starts.
"He's the No. 1 reason, bar none, why I came to begin with," Gingras said. "If he's not here, I'm probably back home and I don't have to miss my kids and they don't have to miss me.
"Regardless of COVID or not, I would've wanted to win this race really bad either way."
Gingras drove Tall Dark Stranger to a historic first. A son of '01 Cup winner Bettors Delight, Tall Dark Stranger became the first horse to win Metro Pace and Breeders Crown as a two-year-old, then claim the North America Cup at age three.
He also secured trainer Nancy Takter a second straight North America Cup title. She won her first last year with Captain Crunch, who claimed the event in a race-record time of one minute 47.2 seconds.
Travel is a necessary evil in horse-racing, but this stretch will mark the longest Gingras has been away from home.
"This is completely different," Gingras said. "Yes, I have to follow the races . . . but I'm never away from my kids more than a couple of days at a time, three days max.
"This is definitely a big change. There'll be a lot of Facetime and we'll try to make the best of it."
Fortunately for Gingras, he's looking at a jam-packed September at Mohawk. The monthly schedule includes the $600,000 Canadian Pacing Derby and $600,000 Maple Leaf Trot (Saturday night), $610,000 Wellwood Memorial (Sept. 12), $600,000 Canadian Trotting Classic (Sept. 19) and inaugural $1-million Mohawk Million, $850,000 Metro Pace and $540,000 She's A Great Lady (all Sept. 26).
Gingras says he's not alone in what he's having to deal with off the racetrack.
"Everybody is making sacrifices right now, it's just the world we live in," he said. "I'm getting to race the horses I want to race but unfortunately, my family is suffering from it.
"Realistically I'm missing big races in Pennsylvania this weekend but after that, there are more big races (in southern Ontario) than there . . . so it makes sense to just do it and go with it."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press