Blair Corbeil said he doesn’t have enough money to own an NHL team so he did the next best thing - he started owning race horses. Sunday afternoon at Century Mile Corbeil and his partners Fred Gilbert and trainer Kelly Hoerdt won what he called the Stanley Cup of hockey - the $125,000 Western Canada Pacing Derby with Kneedeep N Custard.
“That’s the closest analogy I can come up with,” said Cobeil, who started in horse racing in 1996. “The Derby is the race everybody wants to win and owning horses is like owning an NHL team. You ‘draft' horses just like you draft hockey players. Then you develop the horses the same way you develop your players. In both cases getting them to the big leagues isn’t about the money. It’s about the plan you prepare and when it comes together it’s extremely gratifying."
"Most people never get to race a horse in the Derby; it’s a tough race to win. Just like the Stanley Cup is a hard thing to win. So many things have to go right. They’re both sports and the best horse and the best NHL team don’t alway win. That’s why they don’t write the checks in horse racing until the official sign goes up and they don’t print the names on the Stanley Cup before the final game of the year is played.”
But in Sunday’s Derby they probably could have written the winner’s check to Kneedeep N Custard’s owners down the backstretch. “He got the golden trip. And he had the best driver in the world behind him,” Hoerdt said of the great mile Kneedeep N Custard got with Jody Jamieson, a three-time Canadian driver of the year and two-time world driving champion handling the controls.
Kneedeep N Custard was sent out to take the early lead, but odds-on-favourite Outlawgrabbingears wasn’t satisfied with the two-hole trip and pulled to take the top past an opening quarter in :27 3/5. “Ideal,” said Jamieson, who was in Edmonton to drive Blackcheddar - a horse he bred and raised - in the co-featured $125,000 Don Byrne Memorial - a muddled race we’ll get to later.
“I wanted a good trip and (Outlawgrabbingears) was the one to follow,” said Jamieson, who was given his choice of the three horses Hoerdt had in the Derby and, to no one's surprise took Kneedeep N Custard, who was coming off a second in the Derby eliminations. The pair stayed there through an opening half in :55 2/5 and three-quarters in 1:23.
Then, midstretch, Jamieson pulled and as he said “(Kneedeep N Custard) was gone.” Was he ever as Jamieson and Kneedeep N Custard rolled to an easy two-length win in 1:51 2/5. Outlaw Gunsablazin got a good three-hole trip himself and got up for second; Jewels Dragon was third while Outlawgrabbingears tired to finish fourth.
“It was a perfect trip,” said Corbeil. “He would have been good cutting it out - when he is good they won’t catch him down the stretch. But Outlawgrabbingears chose to cut it out and we were certainly OK with that. That kind of a trip is what everybody wants.”
“Give a lot of credit to the horse’s groom, Jessica Henriquez,” said Hoerdt. “She spent a lot of time rubbing his legs. Countless hours and countless sleepless nights. She was a big factor. And give a lot of credit to the owners too. Like the grooms, they often get overlooked too.”
Unraced as a two-year-old, the win was the ninth in 17 starts for Kneedeep N Custard, who showed promise early pacing in 1:52 /4/5 mile in just his fourth lifetime start at B.C.’s Fraser Downs. That was part of a four-race winning streak that Kneedeep N Custard put together - two wins at Fraser Downs and then two more at Calgary’s Century Downs. He also won the June 16 Brad Gunn - a race where Outlawgrabbingears finished third.
“Kneedeep N Custard is a horse that everybody dreams of owning one day,” said Corbeil. “He’s got a lot of heart, a lot of guts and he’s all business on the track. “He’s done everything right his whole life. He’s a barn favourite. He’s got a real good temperament. He’s a happy horse that loves being around people.”
This was the third Derby win for Corbeil. He previously won with the marvellous Trust The Artist in 2007 - a horse who would win 53 of his 169 career starts - and then Outlaw Gunpowder in 2014.
“Trust The Artist was the real deal,” said Corbeil, who started his marvellous Bedrock Training Centre just outside of Beaumont in 2007. "And the funny thing about Outlaw Gunpowder was that we had two horses in that Derby that year. We all thought Ghost Pine was our best chance but he finished fifth.”
Corbeil said Kneedeep N Custard, who was purchased for $27,000 at the Alberta Yearling Sale spent a lot of time swimming and using their equasiser. After getting two tough trips in the Ralph Klein where he finished fifth in the elimination and then sixth in the Final - both held on Aug. 5 - Kneedeep N Custard was given two weeks off.
“He wasn’t 100 per cent in the Ralph Klein. More like 80 per cent,” said Corbeil. “And those double heats took a toll. On Sunday Kelly had him back to 100 per cent and it showed.”
As for the Don Byrne, Rockin Mystery crossed the finish line on top - a length and a quarter ahead of stablemate Lady Neigh Neigh - giving what looked like a sweep to trainer Chris Lancaster. But a judge’s inquiry showed that Rockin Mystery started the race ahead of the starting gate resulting in a disqualification. The judges placed Rockin Mystery last.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Lancaster, who is the trainer of both Rockin Mystery and Lady Neigh Neigh. “It was tough to take the hit but it was great to win. The gate was wide but Rockin Mystery was a head in front of the gate at the start. Ultimately, it's up to the judges. It’s too bad because both fillies really threw down.”
Using her speed and the rail Rockin Mystery had gone wire to wire racing through fractions of :27 1/5, :55 3/5 and 1:24 before stopping the timer in 1:52 2/5. With no movement, Lady Neigh Neigh - owned by Chris Lambie and Lancaster - was the first to pull from sixth place.
"She had to do all the work herself,” said driver Brandon Campbell. “She had to come first over. She raced real big.”
Campbell said the start didn't affect him because he was taking back off the gate. “I’ll take the win. It sucks for that to happen especially in a big race. But the rules are there for a reason and the rules are the same for everyone.”
Lancaster said Lady Neigh Neigh, who has now won nine of her 13 starts this year, will head to Toronto and then be back in Alberta for the Nov. 2 Super Finals at Century Mile.
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