On a ravishing fall Sunday afternoon where favourites tumbled and fell like matchstick houses in a windstorm, Trip Hammer posted the biggest upset of them all. To just about everyone not named Nathan Sobey that is. “I really thought he could compete with those colts,” said Sobey, Trip Hammer’s trainer/driver after the two-year-old, the longest shot in the field at 17-1, won the third of three divisions of the Century Mile returning $37.90 to win.
“When I was qualifying him I thought he could be one of the better colts of the year. Sunday he finally showed me he's the kind of colt I thought he was. I wasn’t shocked at all. Especially with the trip he got.”
Yes, the trip was perfect; Sobey couldn’t have drawn it up better than with one of Michelangelo’s paint brushes. Leaving from post five, Trip Hammer got away third and then found himself nicely placed in fourth when Outlaw Stateofmind made a move from mid-pack to take the lead with favourite Freddy Two Socks, driven by Phil Giesbrecht, in second and Kieth Clark’s Dontpokethedragon in third.
“I was waiting on Keith to move and it looked like he was waiting on Phil,” said Sobey of the cat-and-mouse game the leaders were playing. Past a half in an honest :57 seconds, Clark could wait no longer and was the first to move with Dontpokethedragon and Sobey quickly got right on that one’s back. Ready and willing, Sobey pulled three wide after three-quarters in 1:26 35 and from there on nothing was going to stop him as he drew away to win by two and a quarter lengths in 1:55 1/5 and light up the tote board like a Christmas tree.
“Once (Trip Hammer) got rolling he made up a fair piece of ground,” said Sobey. “I was very happy with him.”
Trip Hammer had never won a race coming into the Century Mile $15,000 stake - winless in six previous career starts - but as Sobey said he was confident there was more gas in the tank than Trip Hammer had exhibited in the past. “He was a very green colt. A slow learner. But he was coming around - starting to put it together.”
It wasn’t as if Trip Hammer’s previous races were awful. Trained in California over the winter, Trip Hammer had been stakes placed in the Rising Star stakes and second beaten three-quarters of a length in a September 7 maiden race. But the public still wasn’t buying.
“We made some equipment changes before this race; we lengthened his hobbles by almost two inches because he was covering the ground better and his stride was getting longer,” said Sobey, one of Alberta’s top trainers and drivers. “It obviously helped quite a bit.”
Purchased as a yearling for $8,500, Sobey said Trip Hammer was always a good looking colt. “And he came from a nice family,” he said of the son of Trust The Artist, who, primarily based in Alberta, won 53 races and banked $587,000, and is out of the dam Tapioca Hanover, who had 10 foals including Tip Top Tap, a stakes winner who won $113,000 and paced in 1:52 at Alberta Downs for Rod Hennessy.
“If Trip Hanover is half as good as Tip Top Tap I’ll be happy,” Sobey said of Tip Top Tap, who won two stakes - The Shooting Star and Rising Star - as a two-year-old and was stakes-placed in the Plainsman and Super Series Final as a three-year-old. Hopefully Trip Hanover earns enough points and money to get into the Super Series himself,” said Sobey of the two-year-old owned by himself, Diane Bertrand, Robert Gilhespy and Terry Ostashek. “Trust The Artist’s offspring seem to only get better with age so we’ll see.”
Sobey’s journey into harness racing is interesting to say the least. “I wasn’t interested in horses at all. I was just looking for a pay check. I was playing a lot of hockey and that can get pretty expensive. I needed an income to take the pressure off my parents. When I was in high school my younger brother went to school with Jamie Gray’s daughters in Grande Prairie and he convinced me to help him out on the weekends. I did stalls, brushed the odd horse and did the basic duties of any groom."
“I did that for two years then I went to work in the telecommunications business building cell towers. It was a really good job. I got a salary plus overtime. I had a real schedule. I got holidays. All of the stuff that horse racing doesn’t have. To give that up was tough.”
But after two years Sobey, 27, found himself back at the track working for Gerry Hudon. “It was just something I wanted to do again. I bit the bullet, took the dive and went to work for Gerry when I was 20. After that my interest just kept growing. My first time in a race bike, my first drive, my first win…"
“Gerry took me under his wing and told me if this is something you want to do we’ll make it happen. He was the one who pushed me to get my trainer’s license and then my driver’s license. He’s the one who really helped me get my start. The backstretch is one big family. Everybody wants everyone else to succeed. People are still helping me to this day. There’s a lot of people I rely on for help. A lot of people who I can ask questions."
“I’m still learning. It was something I wanted to do and it was all worth it in the end. Like I said I wasn’t born or raised into the business of harness racing at all. I was just looking for a pay check and it turned into a lifestyle.”
Trip Hammer isn’t the only star in Sobey’s 20-horse stable. For that matter, he isn’t even the best horse he cares for. Instead that honour belongs to Icy Blue Scooter, the top Open horse in the province. “I think he’s earned that title,” said Sobey. “He leaves it all on the track week in and week out and he’s as tough as they come. He’s reason enough to get up every morning and go to work.”
First or second in 51 of his 112 career races, Sobey, Bertrand and Gilhespy claimed Icy Blue Scooter off Phil Giesbrecht for $20,000 last summer. Icy Blue Scooter hasn’t seen a claiming price since. Now six-years-old, Icy Blue Scooter, who won Friday’s Open, has only been worse than second once in his last 16 starts and that was when he finished third - losing by a nose for everything.
That streak goes all the way back to March when he was racing at Cal Expo in Sacremento, California which was where he took his mark of 1:51 2/5. “He won a ton of races in California and he’s been doing the same thing since we brought him back to Alberta,” Sobey said of Icy Blue Scooter, who has 11 wins this year alone. “He’s done nothing but good for me.”
There are three other horses that Sobey says stand out for him: Prince Sharka, Outrageous Art and Wrangler Hitech. “Wrangler Hitech was my first horse. He gave me my first training win in 2014. I bought him off Lance Ward really cheap,” Sobey said of the former class horse, who won four stakes at Grande Prairie in 2009 including the Maverick and the Adios Pick - the latter by eight lengths, and then followed that up with a win in the $100,000 Brad Gunn at Northlands when he was in Keith Clark’s barn. “I owe a lot to that old old horse. I learned more from that horse than any other horse I’ve ever trained.”
Prince Sharka, who composed a log of 18 wins, 17 seconds and 15 thirds, and Outrageous Art now stand at stud. “Prince Sharka won $180,000 and took a mark of 1:50 3/5 at the Meadowlands,” said Sobey. “Outrageous Art, who is by Artsplace, won 51 races. He won an Open Pace at Yonkers and won in 1:49 3/5.”
Trip Hammer wasn’t the only upset winner on Sunday’s card which, in addition to the three divisions of the Century Mile for two-year-old colts and geldings, also featured two divisions of the Jim Rogers Memorial for two-year-old fillies. Lovemyrockinbird won the first division of the Century Mile paying $9.90 to win while defeating favourite Criminal Record by a length and a quarter. LA Woman won the first division of the Jim Rogers in 1:56 3/5 giving her backers a $9.50 victory with favourite Custards Crown fourth. And, Blue Star Dreaming took the second division of the Jim Rogers in 1:55 2/5 paying $10.80 to win with previously undefeated favourite Miss Itunes finishing eighth. The only favourite in the five stakes races to prevail was Speaking Of Art ($4.20) who easily won the second division of the Century Mile in 1:55 1/5.
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