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They call it the luck of the draw and usually it means good things. But it sure didn’t look good for trainer-driver Kelly Hoerdt in the opening weekend of harness racing at Century Mile. Remarkably the luck of the draw saw Hoerdt cruelly wind up with the disadvantageous outside post position in eight of the 13 races he contested.
It was as if he had broken a thousand mirrors or had a pack of black cats cross his path. There’s bad luck and then there’s what happened to Hoerdt. Yet, more remarkably, the veteran reinsman used his talent and his horse power to win five races over the two days including three with horses that drew outside.
“My memory might be bad but I don’t ever remember getting that many outside posts over a two-day period,” said Hoerdt, who was the leading driver at Northlands last fall - the last time harness racing was in Edmonton.
“When I saw the draw I thought maybe somebody was out to get me,” said Hoerdt, who also finished second in the trainer standings at the recently completed harness meet at Century Downs just outside of Calgary. “The outside post isn’t as big a factor on a mile track than it is on a smaller track. But it’s still a factor,” said Hoerdt. “It’s still a long way to go. The outside post is still the outside post whether it’s on a track like Century Mile or on a five-eighths mile track like Century Downs or Northlands.”
Hoerdt opened the first harness racing action ever at Century Mile on Sunday afternoon with Dreamers Delight, who drew post seven in the field of seven. Showing his skill he left with the four-year-old conditioned mare and then deftly dropped into the three-hole. Down the backstretch and around the final turn Hoerdt appeared to be hopelessly boxed in but he threaded his way out and won going away down the stretch.
Four races later, Hoerdt sat behind Flash A Smile, who drew the outside eight post. Once again Hoerdt left this time being able to drop into the four-hole. Forced to come first over around the last turn, Hoerdt didn’t appear to have enough horse in front of him as the favourite Blackcheddar opened up. But then Hoerdt cleverly made the winning move. He tucked back behind Blackcheddar’s cover in midstretch which made Flash A Smile brave enough to pounce for a second time - this time just barely getting up in time.
The third time Hoerdt won with an outside came in the third race with Criminal Record - the second division of the Lonestar stake for two-year-old colts and geldings - on Monday’s holiday card. Once again Hoerdt left from the seven post but this time there was no need for magic or crafty driving as Criminal Record went wire-to-wire and won by almost a dozen lengths.
“I was fortunate to have some horses that could overcome the outside posts,” said Hoerdt, underplaying, as usual, the hand he had in the outcomes. “Hopefully the law of averages kicks in and I won’t get that many outside posts for a while.”
Unless, of course, he wins with a bunch of them again. As for the racing surface itself, Hoerdt said “It’s great. There were no complaints from anybody. Just praise. All the drivers like it. It’s easy on horses so the horses will be sounder and you won’t see as much soreness. At the right time of the year I can see them break the 1:50 barrier. The track is that good. With it’s big, wide sweeping turns it doesn’t even feel like you are in a turn. It’s the best track west of Ontario.”
Hoerdt said he was glad to see the “Magic Man” Ron Grift at Century Mile to oversee the change from the thoroughbred to a harness surface. “Ron has set up the track to a surface that Northlands used to have back in our hey days. It’s very similar to that and that was great. “I’m very excited about being here. Our future is brighter.”
The two big stakes races at Century Mile are the Western Canada Pacing Derby and the Don Byrne Memorial. Both will take place on September 15. Both are races that will go for an estimated $130,000. But the Derby and Don Byrne action actually gets going this coming weekend with elimination races on Saturday afternoon.
Hoerdt has three horses aimed at the Derby. “My best shot is Kneedeep N Custard,” he said of the Brad Gunn stakes winner who set a three-year-old gelding track record of 1:52 1/5 in Calgary in the process. “I’ll also have Night Stick. We got him at the Meadowlands in January. He showed a lot of promise but he wasn’t getting around the track very well at Century Downs,” he said of the three-year-old who hasn’t raced since June. I just qualified him on Monday.”
The third horse is Go Nine O. “He had a super two-year-old season. He’s had some good starts this year but we’ve also had some issues with him. He’ll need things to go his way.”
For the Don Byrne Memorial Hoerdt has the aforementioned Flash A Smile, who is now three-for-three in Alberta after being purchased in Ontario six weeks ago, and Good Day Is Coming, who finished third this past Sunday in what Hoerdt described as “a terrific mile.”
Hoerdt has a busy schedule coming up. “We’ll be splitting up the stable when the races in B.C. start up on September 19. I’ll race half the stable here and half the stable in B.C.,” said Hoerdt who will be building up his Air Miles flying back and forth. I did it last year too. It’s a hectic schedule but I’ve got to do it while I’m still young,” smiled Hoerdt, who is 53.
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