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Swish. Swish. Swish. Now say that 11 times in row because that’s how many consecutive victories Divine Art has put together in what has been a wonderfully magical year for the horse, the owners, the grooms and of course the trainer/driver Nathan Sobey.
“She’s special. Very special,” said Sobey, who will send out Divine Art in Saturday’s $112,910 Century Casino Filly Pace which is co-featured with the $93,310 Western Canada Pacing Derby at Century Mile. “She’s exceptional.”
No matter what the result on Saturday Sobey said “This will be Divine Art’s final race in Alberta.” Owned by Robert Jones, Dianne Bertrand and John Hind, Sobey said he doesn’t know where Divine Art is headed but stated “we haven’t seen the bottom of her. I really think she can be something great.”
A winner of almost $200,000 this year and more than $250,000 from 15 wins in 22 lifetime starts in her still just beginning career, Sobey said Divine Art “gave me signs early on that she had the potential. “She has a big move. She can carry her speed. She can sprint. And she has the driving desire to beat horses.”
A very comfortable winner of the Super Finals, the Marquis, the Gord and Illa Rumpel and the Diamond stakes earlier this year, asked which race in Divine Art’s 11-race winning streak was the most impressive, Sobey had to pause.
“You can pick just about any one of those races,” he said almost matter-of-factly. But Sobey said her most recent victory on November 18 against older mares by a length over Stash The Cookies has to rank right up there.
“That was one of my favourite races. I had to make her work that night,” he said. “She and Stash The Cookies were bridle-to-bridle and then Divine Art kicked into another gear. Her sprint down the lane showed me she’s legit.
“For a three-year-old to put away a track record holder - Stash The Cookies went in 1:51 2/5 in Calgary - and against older mares… Well, you just don’t see that very often. “Most of the rest of her wins were effortless. Just raw talent.” That’s for sure.
Right up there was Divine Art’s win in the October 15th $75,000 Super Finals at Calgary’s Century Downs. Drawing the outside 8 post position, Divine Art won by 11 lengths. Then there was her four-length win in the September 17 Marquis. Again getting the outside 8-hole and parked to the half-mile pole, Divine Art won that race by four lengths. Or, take the August 13 final of the Rumpel which she won in a lifetime mark of 1:53 2/5.
But Sobey knows Divine Art can pace faster. “I think she can go in 1:52 just about any week if they are all pushing each other. Divine Art just hasn’t been pushed to do that yet. But I’m 100 per cent sure she can.”
Sobey knew that a long time ago - back as far as last year’s October 17th Super Finals for two-year-olds. “She made a massive move down the backstretch that day,” said Sobey who piloted Divine Art from sixth place at the half right to the top. She showed me that day that she could develop into a good, strong, nice horse… An exceptional horse.”
But it hasn’t all been wine and roses. After Sobey returned from Ontario this spring where he competed and with Divine Art just about to qualify for this year’s season, something went seriously wrong.
“I still don’t know exactly what happened. I think she might have slipped on ice but whatever happened it was a lot more serious than I thought,” said Sobey, who was last year’s Alberta Horseperson of the Year. “Somehow, back in March, she had banged up her back end.”
It was so bad that Sobey had to phone Jones, Bertrand and Hind and tell them that he didn’t expect her to make the races again. “I had to tell those owners that they should prepare themselves that Divine Art was going to have to be a broodmare,” said Sobey. “Those were some very bad phone calls to make.”
Fortunately, Sobey was able to get Divine Art racehorse sound. “Somehow she battled through it and ever since then she’s been on a tear.”
Nine three-year-old fillies will go to post on Saturday in the Century Casino Filly Pace - the richest race of the year for Western Canada’s sophomore girls. Divine Art, of course, will be heavily favoured. But Sobey doesn’t ever take anything for granted.
“It’s still a horse race. Anything can happen. Every horse is beatable. Even the greats get beat. Even Bulldog Hanover got beat this year,” he said of the electric world’s fastest standardbred ever, who paced in 1:45 4/5 this summer at the Meadowlands.
One invader has come to Century Mile for Saturday’s showdown - Shoot The Whiskey, who dominated the B.C. Sire Stakes this year but lost against Divine Art in the Rumpel.
“Three words,” said Sobey. “There’s no pressure. Win or lose, Divine Art has proven she’s destined for greatness.”
Last year, Sobey had such a sensational campaign that saw him send out 68 winners from his own barn for earnings of just under $500,000 that he called it a “wicked dream.” This year - thanks in a big way to Divine Art - Sobey’s horses have won $618,134.
“I guess I haven’t woken up yet,” said Sobey. “Ontario brought me back down to life and made me realize that I’ve got a long, long way to go before I meet my goals. Doug McNair showed that in last week’s Canadian Driving Championship here at Century Mile. He showed just how much I have to elevate my game. I’m not there yet. And I won’t be until I go out there and drive or train with guys like Doug. But we’ll find out one day.”
STOCK REPORT: Ernesto Delacruz and Joe Rich paced their way into Saturday’s Western Canada Pacing Derby with solid victories in this past weekends eliminations.
Ernesto Delacruz, sent away as the odds-on-favourite, won the second and tougher division coming first over to win handily in 1:53 1/5 for his 10th win in 23 starts this year; Joe Rich - gapped down the backstretch alone in third - pulled away in the stretch to post an $18.80 upset in the first division in 1:54 1/5.
Also qualifying for Saturday’s Derby Final out of the first elimination were favourite Redstone Arsenal; Knockin Boots and It’ll Be Fine.
From the second elimination long shot Matts A Mystician; Vegas Gambler and Joe DiMaggio also moved forward.
To complete the nine-horse field a draw will be held to determine the ninth Derby starter between fifth-place elimination finishers Angelo and Sharkas Lil Lad.
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