What the hell just happened? Major Custard had won 17 races in a row. He was 13 for 13 this year including six stakes finals. And he lost Sunday’s first elimination of the Western Canada Pacing Derby at Century Mile. At odds of 1-9 with the winner, Make Some Waves, paying $161.80 to win. Go figure.
“He clearly wasn’t right. But we haven’t pin pointed what exactly it is,” said trainer Mike Campbell. “We’ll get the test results back - blood work - and see what it is. Right now there’s not much to say.” Finishing third - and barely getting that - while the race went in 1:55 2/5, Major Custard paced his own mile in 1:56.
“He hasn’t gone that slow since he was a two-year-old,” said Campbell of the outstanding three-year-old who was coming off a win in a new lifetime mark in 1:52 1/5. “Even on post parade Phil (driver Giesbrecht) said he felt Major Custard wasn’t right. I felt the same thing warming him up.”
Everything certainly seemed to be going smoothly in the race itself. Parked to the first quarter in 28 seconds - relatively quick but certainly nothing he hadn’t over come before - Major Custard got a very healthy 30 2/5 second quarter breather down the backstretch. Three-quarters went in 1:27 /5 - definitely not quick for him. “Everything was perfect,” said Campbell. But when they turned for home, Major Custard was empty.
With driver Phil Giesbrecht futilely shaking the reins, Major Custard shockingly could not respond. “Phil asked him and there was nothing there,” said an obviously perplexed Campbell. “They have to beat us this week too,” said Campbell of this Sunday’s $92,840 Pacing Derby Final for three-year-old colts and geldings. “It’s just one race. We haven’t lost the Derby yet. It’s not over.”
The major beneficiary of Major Custard’s completely out-of-character performance was Make Some Waves - trained and driven by Dave Kelly and owned and bred by Kathleen and Clifford Coonfer - who swung six wide around the final turn to catch them all at almost 80-1. Second, at 15-1 was Chazmichaelmichael, setting up a $1,181.90 exactor. With those two longshots on top there wasn’t even a single $1 correct trifecta ticket; instead the $2 (5-4 with any) trifecta paid $531.75.
“They’re animals not machines; people forget that,” said Chazmichaelmichael’s trainer/driver Kelly Hoerdt, who won last year’s Pacing Derby with Kneedeep N Custard. “They all get beat sooner or later. Even Somewheresomebeach lost,” continued Hoerdt referring to the sensational world champion who won 20 of 21 races losing - by a neck - in the 2008 $1.1 million Meadowlands Pace at five cents on the dollar.
With the top four finishers in the eliminations making Sunday’s Derby Final, Hoerdt will have three starters for sure: Chazmichaelmichael, West Coast Beach, who came up the rail to win the second elimination in 1:54 - a second and two-fifths faster than the first elimination and Criminal Record, who finished second behind West Coach Beach.
Hoerdt could even have a fourth starter. The ninth and final starter in the field will be determined by a draw Wednesday morning between the two fifth-place finishers in the eliminations. That will either be Ragged But Right, trained and co-owned by Hoerdt, or Trip Hammer from Nathan Sobey’s barn.
Asked if Major Custard’s mysterious performance gave him more confidence, Hoerdt matter-of-factly stated, “I never ever count on someone else losing. I have total confidence in the three and maybe four horses I have coming into the Final.”
As he should. West Coast Beach was recently third once and fourth twice behind Major Custard in the Robert Murphy Stakes Series at Fraser Downs, B.C. West Coast Beach also owns the fastest mile of any of the Derby contestants having won in 1:51 4/5 - by eight lengths - also at Fraser Downs. “The Derby elimination was a really good start for him,” said Hoerdt. “I didn’t have to use him hard.”
West Coast Beach also locked in the rail - assuming he wants it - in Sunday’s Derby. The winners of the two Derby eliminations get to pick their starting posts in the Final with the fastest elimination winner (West Coast Beach) getting to pick first. The rest of the draw will be random.
As for his other starters Hoerdt said he is happy with them too. “Chazmichaelmichael got out really late in the first elimination and Make Some Waves got the jump on him,” Hoerdt said of Chazmichaelmichael, who came within a neck of upsetting Major Custard early last month in the Maverick Final at Century Downs. Chazmichaelmichael has now finished first or second in nine of his 14 starts.
As for Criminal Record, who has now been first or second in 11 of his 15 starts this year and who was runner-up to Major Custard in the $84,790 Ralph Klein Final on Aug. 29, Hoerdt said “Criminal Record’s last couple of starts were fantastic. “He wasn’t himself towards the end of the Century Downs meet. I gave him a break, raced him back on the opening weekend of the Century Mile meet and he really likes the big track which I have to say is in fantastic shape.”
If Ragged But Right makes the field, Hoerdt will have a horse that has won seven of 19 starts this year and is certainly on the improve. Sunday’s card will also feature the $88,320 Final of the Don Byrne Memorial for three-year-old fillies. That stake also had its eliminations last week with Custards Crown winning the first one in 1:55 2/5 and Probert winning the second for her sixth victory in a row in 1:54.
Both Custards Crown and Probert are trained by Chris Lancaster, who won last year’s Don Byrne with Lady Neigh Neigh. Initially it looked like a one-two finish for Lancaster when Rockin Mystery crossed the finish line on top - a length and a quarter ahead of Lady Neigh Neigh. But a judge’s inquiry showed that Rockin Mystery started the race ahead of the starting gate getting an unfair start. The judges placed Rockin Mystery last.
Like this year, last year Rockin Mystery and Lady Neigh Neigh also won both of their elimination legs. “A repeat of last year would be nice,” said Lancaster. “Without, of course, the disqualification.
“Everybody has to like Probert,” Lancaster said of the filly, who was a perfect seven-for-seven last year before being sent east to Toronto’s Woodbine.
“If she’s on her game she’ll be tough to beat. She’s a finicky horse. Fast and finicky. If you can put up with her quirks she’s a great filly to have in the barn. She’s very head strong. She like to do things her way. And if you don’t abide she’ll tell you.”
A winner of 13 of her 18 career starts, Probert took her mark of 1:52 3/5 in her last start - a two-and-a-quarter-length victory in the Murphy Final at Fraser Downs. “She is something special and she’s especially tough on the front end.”
But Lancaster said don’t count out Custards Crown. “She was seventh by about eight lengths at the head of the stretch and are over the top to go by them all. I can’t be more ecstatic. I really think Custards Crown will give Probert all she wants.”
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