Strange as it may seem, Icy Blue Scooter and kidney stones have something in common. They can both be very difficult to pass. (Insert your own groan here).
For Icy Blue Scooter that was once again the case this past Sunday at Surrey, B.C.’s Fraser Downs when Alberta’s top aged horse won the $50,000 Jim Vinnell Memorial Final in another gutty effort where several challengers tried him but once again were repeatedly turned aside. “Once he gets to the front he’s a hard horse to pass,” said trainer/driver and co-owner Nathan Sobey after his three-quarters of a length victory. “Once the competition gets at his wheel he won’t let them go by.”
Despite competing on a sloppy track Icy Blue Scooter paced his winning mile in 1:51 3/5. “A lot of people were saying it would have been a track-record performance on a fast track,” said Sobey. “Maybe even the first sub 1:50 performance ever in Western Canada. Paul and Nikki Davies did a great job with him for the two weeks we had him in B.C. They had him ready.”
As fast as he went it was how he did it that speaks to Icy Blue Scooter’s relentless courage and will to win that notched him his 15th win in 29 starts this year. Brandon Campbell driving the tepid favourite Boiling Oar did everything he could to try and soften up Icy Blue Scooter forcing Sobey to go to the first quarter in a blazing :26 2/5 seconds.
“We were worried,” said Edmonton’s Diane Bertrand, who also owns Icy Blue Scooter with her partner Robert Gilhespy. “Over that sloppy track Robert and I both thought that might have been too fast. My goodness that was scary.”
Sobey, however, wasn’t worried in the slightest. “Once we cleared Boiling Oar and there was no one else beside him pressing him I was really confident. Once we made the front I knew it was over. It was a fast first quarter but once we made the front I was pretty certain it was over. A lot of people were thinking that Brandon had stretched me out too much. But even at that point I thought we had it in the bag. He’s just so tough on the front end.”
Sobey eased off the gas pedal down the backstretch with the half going in :55 3/5. “A half in 55 seconds and change might not look like a breather but it was.”
The next challenge came from Probert’s Legacy who got within half a length going past three-quarters of a mile in 1:23 2/5. But Icy Blue Scooter put him away too. “And he did it easily,” marvelled Sobey. “I let Icy Blue Scooter know that somebody was coming and he did the rest.”
All that was left then was Boiling Oar, who after pushing Icy Blue Scooter early, was able to get the pocket trip all the way to the stretch. “I knew Boiling Oar would have to come with a huge brush of speed to get by me. Boiling Oar had the perfect trip but he couldn’t get by me either,” said Sobey. “Icy Blue Scooter is a pretty impressive animal. Spectacular even.”
Without a doubt. The victory, worth $25,000 gives Icy Blue Scooter $97,349 in earnings this year alone. “That’s almost unheard of in this part of the world. Especially for a horse that is basically an overnight horse,” said Sobey of a horse that has now won over $200,000 in his career.
“It’s pretty remarkable. I’d love to say that he’s a big flashy horse but it’s his willingness to win races that sets him apart. He’s figured out how to win and he loves to win. He knows when he wins and he knows when he doesn’t. He loves the winner’s circle. He’s definitely not pleased if he doesn’t get to go into the winner’s circle. He wants to get his picture taken.”
A horse that loves attention, Icy Blue Scooter certainly gets plenty of it. “I have to give a lot of credit to his two grooms, Thalia Martin and Amanda Barron,” said Sobey. “They’ve both done such a great job with him and all of our horses. Icy Blue Scooter is my pet. When the girls aren’t working with him I’m hanging out with him. He’s a very personable horse.”
All this from a horse that was claimed in October of 2018 for $20,000. “After I claimed him I didn’t make any crazy changes or anything. I thought maybe he was choking a bit on Phil (Giesbrecht) so I put a Z-Guide and a throat plate - a piece of plastic under his chin - so he couldn’t tuck his airway. I also changed his diet and put him on Lasix to make sure he wasn’t bleeding. I covered all the bases.”
Bertrand said she had been following Icy Blue Scooter’s progress for a long time before deciding that they should claim him. “I watched him for two years. I always liked him. He went into a few claimers before we finally jumped on the bandwagon,” said Bertrand, who has been going to the races since she was 16 and who has owned horses on a pretty serious basis since 2007.
Robert has been owning horses since 2011. “I told Robert that if he was going to be with me he had to own race horses,” said Bertrand.
While Sobey, 27, who has only been training horses for five years, said that Icy Blue Scooter is easily the best horse he has had, Bertrand can point to another superstar: Sunshine Beach, who she co-owned. Sunshine Beach won just under $1 million and paced a world record on a five-eighths mile track when he went in 1:47 4/5 at Pocono Downs, Pennsylvania in 2013 - a track where he lost a photo in the $500,000 Breeders’ Crown.
Now a stallion, Bertrand and Robert, are still co-owners of Sunshine Beach, whose third crop hit the track this year. Sobey said he had been watching the now six-year-old Icy Blue Scooter for a long time too. “He wasn’t finishing his races but I thought that was fixable,” said Sobey, who started at the track working for Jamie Gray and then Gerry Hudon, referring to the changes he made.
“He had been racing for $16,000 and I could have waited for him to drop back down to that price. But then I thought if I waited for that to happen there were probably five or six other trainers that would be thinking the same thing. Paying the extra four grand obviously paid off.”
And how. In addition to Icy Blue Scooter’s remarkable win percentage he also has nine seconds and a third. Winter raced in Sacramento, California the only time in Alberta that he wasn’t in the top three this year came on Nov. 3 when, in a field of nine, he drew the eight post, got away last through a relatively slow opening half in :57 3/5 and then a dawdling three-quarter fraction of 1:28 4/5.
Even then Icy Blue Scooter paced his last quarter in a torrid :26 2/5 while finishing fourth. “The only two times he didn’t get a cheque since we claimed him was when he caught a virus in California,” said Sobey. “If he’s healthy he always gives you 110 per cent. He doesn’t have a pimple on him.”
A certainty to be named Alberta’s aged horse of 2019, Sobey goes a step farther. “I think he’s the best open pacer in Western North America. I know I would make that statement. I think he’s earned that title.”
The big question now is what’s next. “He’s at the peak of his career. He’s just coming into himself. But there’s nobody around here that can go as fast as he can. It’s unlikely that they’ll even enter to race against him,” said Sobey. “So we’ll probably have to go east with him. I don’t know if we’ll find out just who good he is unless he competes against better horses in other parts of he world. I don’t know where the bottom of this horse is and I don’t think we’ll find that out unless we leave. The way he raced on Sunday in those sloppy track conditions was remarkable. He raced fast and powerful. And yet it was really still so easy. It might not have looked like it but there was still more in the tank.”
Bertrand, who along with Robert already own pieces of 10 horses in Ontario as well as the 10 they own in Alberta, feels the same. “Nathan has done such a great job with him - he’s honest; he’s fair and he’s very talented - and I’m sure it will be hard for him to give up the reins. But the direction now is he’ll have to go east. The Alberta market doesn’t allow him to race here. We can’t just sit.”
Sobey isn’t sure exactly where east is. “I think he might even be a better horse on a half mile or a five-eighths mile track. He gets through the turns really good. “And with a shorter stretch… Like I said, once he gets to the front they can’t get by him.”
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