From a close brush with what easily could have been an unthinkable, serious injury to yet another victory in the Western Canada Pacing Derby. That was Keith Clark’s story on Saturday night at Northlands Park.
“There is a God,” said Clark trying hard to forget what could have been when in the fourth race of the evening when his horse Cowboy Caper broke stride and then came suddenly to a stop setting off a chain reaction that saw five horses unable to finish and trainer-driver Gerry Hudon sent to the hospital.
“I got lucky. It could have been a whole lot worse than it was,” said Clark, who was dragged helplessly along with one leg caught up in the tail tie of his sulky while still, somehow, managing to keep hold of one of his driving lines.
Just three races later, Clark won the Derby. Again.
“Honestly, I don’t know how many Derbies I’ve won,” said Clark, who did it this time with the even-money favourite Appellate, who scored easily by almost five lengths in 1:55 2/5.
So we tried to count them. There was As Promised who won in 1992 in a track record 1:52 1//5 and went on to post a lifetime mark of 1:50 2/5 at The Meadowlands winning just under $700,000. Two years later he won it with That’ll Be Me in 1:52 2/5, a horse that went on to win the 1995 Breeders’ Crown.
Then there were horses like Just Doodlin (1996); Spry Ty, who upset heavy favourite Conditional in 1987, Sky Hagler, Neal Dominique, who he catch drove for Lance Ward in 2008; Clinton’s Cigar (2000); Shouldhavebeensam, and Artful Hanover. More recently, there was Bettor In The Bank in 2012, Sharkalucci in 2013 and, last year, First Class Horse giving Clark Derby winners in four of the last five years.
Some people collect stamps; Clark collects wins - especially the big ones. Add them up and that’s 13 Derbies. And still Clark isn’t sure if he hasn’t missed a few. He certainly didn’t miss on Saturday.
“I’ve had a lot of problems with this horse,” he said of Appellate, a colt he owns with Stony Plain’s Robert Jones. “I never even got him raced as a two-year-old because he kept making breaks and I couldn’t even qualify him. “He’s made a few breaks with me this year too. But he was perfect (Saturday).”
Perfect was also the trip he got getting away quickly from post five before letting Blue Star Jet take a brief lead just past the quarter pole. “I got away a lot better than I expected. But nobody was really on the gate,” said Clark of that first quarter in :27 3/5 which turned out to be easily be the fastest quarter of the race.
Not happy where he was, Clark quickly pulled and recaptured the lead sailing on through to the half in :56 1/5. “Once I retook the lead and got him to the front again I was already thinking that it was all over. He was pacing so easily.”
As usual, Clark was right. With the third quarter going in a soft :29 seconds flat Clark opened up two and a half lengths at the top of the stretch and there was nobody in his rear-view mirror. But he said he still had to be careful.
“You can’t get too cocky with him. If you chase him too much he’ll make a break. He’s a lot better than he was but you still can’t throw the lines at him. As long as he’s got the bit in his mouth he’s usually OK.”
A well-bred colt by Western Terror out of the Cambest mare Dropitlikeitshot, maybe the biggest surprise of all was that Clark and Jones were able to buy Appellate as a yearling in Kentucky for just $16,000.
“He was thin but if you looked at him close enough you could see something was there,” said Clark. “And then there’s his breeding.” A winner of $1.16 million, Western Terror did it all as a three-year-old winning the $555,000 Breeders Crown, the $350,000 Windy City Pace, the $335,000 Cane Pace and the $235,000 Tattersalls stake where he posted his career best time of 1:48 3/5. Western Terror’s offspring have already won over $50 million.
“I think he’s only going to get better,” Clark said of Appellate. “Especially if you look at what his full brother is doing.” That full brother is Atta Boy Dan, who is now a seven-year-old and who has won $651,942. Last year, at The Meadows in Pennsylvania, Atta Boy Dan won in a career best 1:48 3/5 for trainer Ron Burke.
Appellate’s dominating win in the Western Canada Pacing Derby was one of two $70,000 stakes races on Saturday’s card at Northlands.
In the Northlands Filly Pace, trainer-driver Kelly Hoerdt had four horses qualified and, amazingly, they finished 1-2-3-4 with Brighten Your Life leading home Jet To The Beach, Lucky Lucka and Lissoy.
“It can’t get any better than that. I said going in that I thought all four horses had a really good chance and, luckily, they proved me right,” said Hoerdt, who owns the winner with Beaumont’s Blair Corbeil. “Everything went absolutely perfectly,” said Brighten Your LIfe’s driver, Philip Giesbrecht., who got away in sixth place after an opening quarter in :28 1/5 and a half in :57 2/5.
Following the cover of Lissoy and Lucky Lucka, Giesbrecht pulled Brighten Your Life three wide down the backstretch and then four deep around the final turn. “You can’t stop and start her so I let her stay behind where she was comfortable. “She had lots of go around the last turn,” said Giesbrecht, who was still fifth at the top of the lane. “She just kept picking them up.”
Mowing them all down in the stretch, Brighten Your Life ended up winning going away by two and a half lengths. “I had trouble pulling her up after the race. She just wanted to keep on going,” said Giesbrecht after stopping the tele timer in 1:56 2/5.
Jet To The Beach, who carved out all of the fractions gamely held on for second, a quarter of a length ahead of Lucky Lucka and two and a quarter lengths in front of LIssoy.
It was the fifth win in 20 starts this year for Brighten Your Life, who was sent away at a huge overlay at 12-1 returning $27.50 to win despite finishing second in her elimination leg last week when she was parked out the entire mile.
“She was a little hot last week,” said Giesbrecht. “So I suggested that we put an ear hood on her to try and keep her a little more quiet. I don’t know if that was the difference or not but it certainly worked.”
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