You look at Virtual Horizon’s perfect past performances this year and wonder what could possibly be wrong going into Saturday’s Plainsman eliminations for three-year-old Alberta-bred colts and geldings.
Eleven starts; 11 wins. How can there be something amiss?
Virtual Horizon hasn’t lost since October 29. And that was after a brutal trip. There’s a problem?
And yet when you talk to the Virtual Horizon’s trainer/driver Brandon Campbell the answer is plenty.
It turns out that Virtual Horizon is a kook, a knucklehead, the Wacky One.
It starts with a simple question - Just how good is Virtual Horizon? - and Campbell starts off with a soliloquy longer than Hamlet.
“I don’t know to be honest and that’s the honest truth. He’s a very athletic animal but he’s no good at paying attention. He’s always gawking at things. I don’t know what to expect. It’s always a surprise. He’s the mystery horse. He gets lost down he lane. He takes the lead and then he starts waiting for another horse to come up beside him. He drives himself.”
And he drives Campbell crazy.
“He pays no attention to me at all. He’s ignorant.
“He was like that as a two-year-old too,” he said of Virtual Horizon, who was voted Alberta’s champion two-year-old last year when he won the $70,000 Century stake and the $75,000 Super Finals.
“He always tried to run away. He kept acting like he had mouth problems. He’d shake his head it the air up and down or side to side. It was like he was saying to me ‘You’re not going to tell me what to do.’”
“When we were training the two-year-olds down to get ready to qualify he wasn’t at the top of the list,” said Campbell, who was Calgary’s leading trainer and driver in the meet that recently concluded at Century Downs.
“But when we put them behind the gate it was clear that he was the best one we had. Even then, though, he would get lost looking for competition. Even just jogging in the morning. He’ll go by a horse then he’ll slow up and wait. Go by and wait. Go by and wait.”
“He hasn’t changed one bit,” said Campbell, who is perennially Alberta’s leading driver.
“And Saturday’s race will be the first time he’s raced on a mile track. I don’t know how I’m going to keep him motivated and paying attention all the way down that long lane. I don’t know. I just don’t know,” he said of the horse that is owned by Campbell’s partner, Jodi Loftus, George Rogers and Raymond Henry.
“He’s not flashy by any means. He never wins by a million lengths. He doesn’t use himself more than he has to. It’s almost like he has the other horses measured so that he can win by just enough.”
“It’s like he’s thinking ‘Ok, I did my job’ and he slows himself up. It’s all just a game to him.”
“He just sits and waits. Then I have to get after him again. He does it all the time.”
“There were four or five times that I thought I was beat. Then he takes off again and goes just enough to hold them off.”
It’s maddening says Campbell who still isn’t quite sure what he has in his barn.
He’s got a horse that has won the $60,000 Marksman stake; the $90,000 Moores Mile; the $59,000 Maverick and the $114,250 Ralph Klein stakes.
That’s for certain. That is history.
But is that it? Is what Virtual Horizon has shown as much as he’s going to show? Or is there more ahead?
Again, Campbell pauses.
“I don’t know. He’s already won $286,000 - that’s more than any horse I’ve ever had - and there are still a bunch of stakes like the Western Canada Pacing Derby and the three-year-old Super Finals ahead.”
“He keeps giving it to me. But is that all he has or is there more? I don’t know.”
“He’s got lungs like you can’t believe. But it’s what’s going on in his head that puzzles me. He’s like a big child.”
“That’s what is frustrating.”
“I’d be shocked if that is all there is. There has to be more to him. But I don’t know for sure. I just don’t know.”
Virtual Horizon hasn’t raced since the August 12 Final of the Ralph Klein. But it hasn’t been because of any problems.
“My only chance to race him would have been against Shark Week in races for older horses,” he said of Shark Week, who has won nine races in a row and who, on June 3 at Calgary’s Century Downs became the first harness horse in history to pace faster than 1:50 in Western Canada when he stopped the tele timer in a sensational 1:49 2/5.
“I wouldn’t do that to Virtual Horizon. He’s been far too good to us. Instead I gave him 10 days off after the Ralph Klein. He actually put some weight back on. He’s been jogging and training really well. He’s in good shape. He’s got a lot of miles in him. I’ve trained him in 1:55.”
Picked out by Campbell at the 2021 Alberta Yearling Sale for $21,000 Campbell said he really liked the looks of Virtual Horizon.
“So did Jodi. She told me she wasn’t leaving the sale without him,” said Campbell.
Virtual Horizon also has the breeding to be special.
His sire is Vertical Horizon, now owned by Christopher Lambie, who was in the top three in 49 of his 105 races and took a mark of 1:49 3/5 in 2011, and who competed in the Little Brown Jug and the Breeders Crown.
But it’s his dam, Saucy B, who is even more intriguing.
Saucy B is also the dam of Stash The Cookies, who is still racing and who has won 27 of his 92 starts including three of his last four - the other start a trouble trip.
And, Saucy B, is the dam of Saphire Blue too. Also still competing, Saphire Blue is a stakes winner who has been in the top three in 27 of her 42 starts.
“Virtual Horizon is not a kid’s pony. He gets hot just going out the door of the barn. He gets quite excited. And he gets hot behind the gate too. He tries to go right through it so I have to pull him off the gate a little bit.
“But once the gate opens he’s great. He goes from one extreme to another.
“Now it’s just a matter of finding out what happens on Saturday and from there on. Like I said, you just never know.”
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