Tuesday, 17 October 2017 20:23

Game. Set. Match?

Written by Curtis Stock
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Senga Nitro and Mateo, who have taken their turns defeating one another, will meet again Saturday night at Northlands in the $54,500 Maverick stakes final. “They are both pretty evenly matched as far as talent goes,” offered Senga Nitro’s trainer/driver Ryan Grundy. “It’s probably all depends on who gets the best trip and how the fractions unfold.”

That’s not to discount the chances of the other seven horses in the field. But...

Yes, Getup Gideon showed a lot of resolve and heart coming back on in deep stretch to win his elimination division last week.  But, while Getup Gideon won his elimination in 1:58 1/5, Senga Nitro went two full seconds faster winning his heat. That, however, means nothing to Grundy. “Times don’t matter much,” he said. “What matters is who you beat not how fast you beat them. “It was also pouring rain in Getup Gideon’s heat while the weather cleared up when our race went two races later.” And, the style of the two races were virtually asymmetrical.

Mateo took his field to the half in a leisurely :59 seconds flat while Getup Gideon was forced to work much harder earlier stopping the half-mile fractions in :56 4/5. As a result of the early fractions, the closing quarters were night and day as well. Getup Gideon won with a last quarter in :32 seconds while Senga Nitro flew home in a very rapid :27 4/5.

Delving further into the Maverick, it would also be folly to discount any horse trained by Kelly Hoerdt (Cold Case) or Brandon Campbell (Amysterytome). And yet, at least on paper, the Maverick still looks very much like a grudge match between Senga Nitro and Mateo.

Mateo, the blind-in-one eye marvel, took the Sept. 30 $138,000 Western Canada Pacing Derby when he overcame his outside post wiring the field in 1:53 4/5 and holding off Senga Nitro by three parts of a length. But Senga Nitro got his revenge last week when he sprinted past Mateo in the Maverick’s second elimination winning by two lengths over Amysterytome with Mateo fading to third.

In both of those races there were no excuses. Mateo was full value for his win in the Derby; Senga Nitro looked very strong in his elimination. “I don’t know what could have been different,” said Grundy. “In the Derby, Mateo was just a little tougher to get by.”

That said, Grundy did allow that Senga Nitro was first up in the Derby moving just past the half-mile pole. “If the trips were reversed it could easily have been the other way around,” allowed Grundy.

Posts certainly wouldn’t seem to be a factor on Saturday. Senga Nitro drew the rail while Mateo got post three. Looking into the crystal ball it would seem like Mateo, who has very good early speed, will get the early lead again with Senga Nitro sitting right behind him. “Maybe,” said Grundy before pausing. “Maybe not.”

So is Grundy instead thinking of taking Senga Nitro to the top himself and force Mateo to take a run at him? “I guess we’ll see,” said Grundy, naturally not about to show his hand and his game plan early. “Let’s just say I’m happy with the draw.”

And, perhaps Mateo wouldn’t mind that second scenario either. “He doesn’t have to be on top,” said Mateo’s trainer and co-owner Justin Currie. “He can come from off the pace too.”

Just the way we like it: intrigue and suspense. Either way, the Maverick promises to be a dandy.

One thing that Senga Nitro does seem to have in his favour is the dirt track surface of Northlands. “He likes the dirt a lot more than he does the limestone at Century Downs,” said Grundy. “He gets a hold of the track up here better than he does (in Balzac). “He’s gotten stronger and stronger every week in Edmonton. “He didn’t race poorly at Century Downs but it didn’t agree with him as much as he likes the track at Northlands.”

At Century Downs Senga Nitro did win six of his eight starts last year en route to being named Alberta’s top two-year-old. This year, Senga Nitro also won a couple of stakes at Century Downs - both in 1:54 1/5. And, he was second in Kokanee Seelster’s track-record setting 1:51 4/5 mile.

But it wasn’t all good as Senga Nitro made a couple of breaks at Century Downs. One of those breaks came in the July 1 Brad Gunn where a victory would have been very serendipitous given that the Brad Gunn was named after Senga Nitro’s owner, Kenn Gunn’s father. “Yes that would have been special,” said Grundy. “But he out-paced himself and knocked himself off stride.”

Probably responsible more than anyone else for getting harness racing restarted in Western Canada, Brad Gunn owned hundreds of mares and hundreds of colts and fillies. He also owned the stallion Adios Pick, the foundation sire of Western Canada. Extremely proliferous, Adios Pick sired an astonishing 620 winners. Once - in the 1964 Western Canada Pacing Derby - eight of the nine starters were sons of Adios Pick. Not surprisingly, the lone non-Adios Pick colt finished ninth.

Brad Gunn named all of his horses after his wife, Agnes which is Senga spelled backwards. Kenn Gunn has done the same keeping up the family tradition and will be looking to carry that all the way to the winner’s circle with Senga Nitro.

STOCK REPORT - This weekend’s card also includes the $56,300 Marquis stakes final on Friday night where Outlaw Fireball will undoubtedly be the favourite - especially given that she drew the rail.

A winner of 7 of her 12 starts this year, Outlaw Fireball won the Sept. 30 $132,390 Northlands Filly Pace and then last week won her elimination - albeit not as easily as the three-year-old filly was expected to win considering she was sent off at 1-9 and paid the minimum $2.10 to win. Instead, Outlaw Fireball won by just half a length over a very game Wedding Dance in 1:56 2/5.

Also lining up looking to topple Outlaw Fireball are Outlaw Imahotvixen, who handily won her elimination in 1:56 1/5 and Steady Breeze, who took the third elimination in 1:57 1/5.

Grundy also has a filly, Shesamysterytome, in the Marquis. She was second in her elimination behind Steady Breeze in a race she desperately needed having had a three-month rest.

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