Tuesday, 29 November 2016 16:16

Four for four - It doesn’t get any better than that

Written by Curtis Stock
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Kelly Hoerdt had four fillies entered in last weekend's Northlands Filly Pace eliminations. All four qualified which means Hoerdt has half the field in the $70,000 Final which, like the $70,000 Final for the Western Canada Pacing Derby, will be contested Saturday night at Northlands Park. It's the first time in the long history of the race that one trainer has four entries.

"I honestly thought all four deserved to be there," said Hoerdt, who will also have Wrangler Cash in the Pacing Derby. "You can never expect anything in horse racing but I wasn't going in just to try to squeak in," said Hoerdt, who won last year's Filly Pace with That's Extra. He didn't.

With Hoerdt at the controls, Lissoy went wire-to-wire to win the second elimination in 1:56 1/5. Right behind her came stablemate Jet To The Beach. It was the sixth win in seven starts for Lissoy, who has improved immensely since coming to Alberta for Ontario where she was racing in conditioned $12,000 claiming races.

"The competition here was a lot easier than it was in Ontario where they go for way more money than they do here," said Hoerdt. "She just got it in her head that she could get by horses and she could compete. If the breeding is there, underneath the surface of a horse that looks mediocre you can find a horse that can become a lot better than they think they can be."

In the first elimination, Brighten Your Life paced an extraordinary mile. Despite being parked the entire mile - without cover for almost all of the race - the three-year-old somehow had the fortitude to finish second behind Saturday's probable favourite Somewhere A Place; Hoerdt's other entry, Lucky Lucka nailed down the fourth and final qualifying spot. While Lissoy was the most impressive of Hoerdt's four fillies he doesn't count out the other three in any shape or form.

"Lissoy looked good in the elimination but I think any one of the four all have serious shots in there. Jet To The Beach should be going in with lots left and she raced really good at Fraser Downs," he said of the filly who enjoyed a pocket trip behind Lissoy and never had too leave the fence.

"Lucky Lucka is a nice filly too; she's been racing against aged mares since the middle of this year." And what can you say about what Brighten Your Life did? "Huge effort," said Hoerdt of the overland trip that saw Brighten Your Life come five wide down the lane after an effort that should have seen her completely gassed.

Hoerdt will once again handle Lissoy in Saturday's Final. Philip Giesbrecht will drive Brighten Your Life. Mike Hennessy will again be behind Jet To The Beach and Brandon Campbell will pilot Lucky Lucka. At Tuesday's post position draw, Somewhere A Place got the rail with Hoerdt's foursome seeing Lissoy drawing well at post three, Brighten Your Life starting from post four, Lucky Lucka getting the sixth starting position and Jet To The Beach ending up with post seven.

The other posts went to Credit The Shark (2); Monstrous (5) and No Guarantees drawing the outside. "Somewhere A Place was so dominant in her win in the elimination it's hard not to think she won't be the favourite," said Matt Jukich, Northlands oddsmaker, assistant racing manager and track announcer. "And then getting the rail is a bonus."

Always one of the top trainers and drivers in Alberta - Hoerdt has over $10 million in earnings as both a trainer and a driver and was named the O'Brien Award of Horsemanship for all of Canada in 2013 - his lofty status today is a thousand lengths from how he came into the game 32 years ago.

Armed with five cheap claimers, some tack and three bales of hay, Hoerdt, now 50, didn't have nickel to his name when he went out on his own and headed to Regina, Sask. as an 18-year-old after working for his father, Fred, from the time he was only six-years-old. "By the time I paid for the shipping of the horses, I was broke," Hoerdt said in a story I wrote a couple of years ago in the Edmonton Journal.

"I got there on a Thursday and had four of them in to race on Friday and Saturday. "But I wasn't worried at all. I was planning on those horses to get me some money, so I could get a hotel room or something. Even if they only made $50 or $100, I would have had enough money." But then the rains came - heavy and furious - and cancelled both cards.

With no where to sleep, Hoerdt took the bales of hay, turned them crosswise and made a bed in the barn which, fortunately was indoors and heated. "I didn't think anything about it. You'd be surprised how many guys got started like that. Especially back then. You would do anything just to keep going."

But the rain kept coming, sluicing everywhere and even more cards got cancelled. With the horses hungry, Hoerdt took one of the bales from his bed and fed it to the horses. "The horses always ate before I did. And anyway, two bales were still plenty wide to sleep on."

Still the rain kept pounding and soon there was only one bale left which was too small to sleep on. "My bed disintegrated as I fed the horses." Only one option remained: for weeks on end Hoerdt slept in his 1979 Camaro, which he had bought for $3,900 using every penny he owned - mostly from a horse named Sarepta Mile banked - the first horse Hoerdt ever owned.

"Looking back, it was poverty and not the lifestyle you want to live. I would even eat sweet horse feed mixed with milk. It didn't seem like a big deal at the time. "In some ways, that was the best of times. There were no mortgages to deal with. I just had to worry about myself." Eventually, the rain stopped and some money started to dribble in.

 "I hooked up with another trainer, Glenn Lutz. We pooled our money and got a hotel room. At that time, to me, that was the high life," he said. "Glenn and I did pretty good. We weren't going for any money, but it was enough to get by. And I wasn't sleeping on bales of hay anymore."

When the Regina meet ended, Hoerdt moved on to Winnipeg. "I had pretty much blown all the money I made in Regina, so I was broke again. I phoned my dad and said, 'I'm starving; could you send a guy $50?' But my dad told me, 'You went on your own to try to make it, so you're on your own now. I can't help you.'" 

So Hoerdt returned to Alberta. Finding owners like Blair Corbeil, who is also a partner with him in the expansive Bedrock Training Centre, just southeast of Beaumont that has a five-eighths mile track built to the same specifications at Northlands and which is easy on the horses, stalls for 100 horses, an eight-horse equisizer, and an equine swimming pool to name just a few of its amenities, Hoerdt never looked back.

Posts were also drawn Tuesday for the Western Canada Pacing Derby. Wrangler Cash, who was second - beaten a nose by 15-1 Chalk Player in 1:55 flat in last week's elimination - did not fare well. Owned by Hoerdt, Corbeil and breeder Dr. Maurice Stewart, Wrangler Cash ended up with the outside eighth post while Chalk Player drew the rail.

Appellate, who won last week's first elimination in a comfortable 1:55 4/5 for Keith Clark, who is looking for his millionth Derby win, got post five. "There is no standout in the Derby but Appellate looked good winning and when the money is up (Clark) is usually a good play so I expect him to be favoured," said Jukich.

The rest of the draw saw Keeping Coming get post two, Duke It Out starts from post three, Blue Star Maverick at post four, Blue Star Jet gets away from post six and Tolly Ho ending up with post seven. 

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