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Set to compete in Saturday’s elimination legs of the Western Canada Pacing Derby at Century Mile, Major Custard is that dominant — his statistics simply staggering.
Consider: Major Custard has won 17 races in a row. He’s 13 for 13 this year including six stakes finals. He won the $30,400 Plainsman in late July; took the $30,200 Marksman in mid August by eight and a quarter lengths; captured the Ralph Klein in late August; the $29,000 Maverick in early October, the $50,000 Super Series on Oct. 17 when he opened a seven-length lead in the snap of a finger before cruising home by three and three-quarter lengths and swept the Robert Murphy including the Nov. 6 $75,000 final at Fraser Downs B.C. in B.C.
He’s like watching Wayne Gretzky with the puck or Michelangelo with a brush or a chisel. “He’s got speed, toughness, grit and he’s calm when he needs to be,” said trainer Mike Campbell, who has Major Custard in Alberta for B.C. owners Jim Marino and the JJJ Stable. “A lot of good horses might have two or three of those qualities. He’s got all four.”
But then Major Custard isn’t just a ‘good’ horse. As Campbell himself said ‘He’s a great horse.” That goes without saying. You don’t win 17 races in a row or $268,195 in career earnings by accident. And he’s only a three-year-old.
Campbell’s praise goes even further. “I think he’s one of the best horses to ever race out here.” That’s saying a mouthful considering that Alberta is where On The Road Again, one of the sport’s all-time great pacers with 44 wins in 61 starts, got started. On The Road Again would go on to win $2,819,102 and retired as the second leading money-winning pacer of all time.
Then there was As Promised, who won 71 races, and That'll Be Me, who won the Breeders’ Crown in 1995. “That’s true but I think he’s in that category,” said Campbell. Only one of Major Custard’s stakes wins this year was even close. That was the Oct. 3 Maverick when he won by just a neck over Chazmichaelmichael.
“He’s the kind of horse who likes to be challenged. But sometimes he will go to sleep on the front end if he thinks he’s got the race won,” said Campbell. “And I think that’s what happened in the Maverick. As soon as he saw Chazmichaelmichael he dug back in. Still, he gave us a scare that day.” That day Major Custard didn’t have the easiest of trips either. Usually either on the front end or within whispering distance, Major Custard started from the 9-post trailing position, got away fifth and had to go three-wide around the final turn.
But that’s about the only time any of his races have been close. The rest of the time Major Custard has been the tornado and the opposition has been the trailer court. And he only seems to be getting better. The final of the Robert Murphy, his last appearance, was simply outstanding. Second during the opening quarter, driver Brandon Campbell pulled Major Custard early and had him in front by two lengths down the backstretch. Coming home in a wicked 27 4/5 seconds, Major Custard stopped the clock in a personal best 1:52 1/5 while merely jogging home on his own terms.
“Dominant,” said Campbell. “Very impressive. It was fun to watch.” The biggest purse Major Custard has raced for up until this point was the $84,790 Ralph Klein at Century Downs which he won by a very comfortable length and three-quarters. “He made us look good, really good, that day,” said Campbell. “That was one of my favourite races because he was so strong. It was a big race and he did it in a way that was authoritative. You’d almost think he knows when the big money is on the line. In stakes finals like the Ralph Klein and the Robert Murphy he’s always come up huge.”
But then Major Custard has always been special. “Right from the day he was bought, he looked like he was going to be a real good horse. Just the way he carried himself,” said Campbell, 33. “You don’t dare say that out loud but right off the bat he looked that way. But you can always have dreams and they don’t always pan out. Major Custard won his career debut on Sept. 19 of last year at Fraser Downs by six and a half lengths. Then we put him in a stake and he just got beat with the race going in 1:53 4/5.”
“That was a monster mile for a two-year-old. For just his second start that was a killer by any standard. Too much too soon. It was a big worry. But he bounced back like it was nothing. He came back and easily won a leg of the Milbank Series by seven and a half lengths. At that moment we knew we maybe had a great one.”
It certainly appears they do. “Major Custard is pretty business like,” said Campbell. “But he likes to do things on his terms. We let him do what he wants. Everything happens on his time not ours. He’ll stop six times before he goes on the track just to look around. He gets treated special because he is special. He’s the king and he knows it. He’s highly intelligent. He knows his job and he knows how to do it. You hate to say it but horses like him usually only come around once in a lifetime. I’m lucky I got him pretty much right off the bat.”
Campbell said he trained Major Custard for this weekend’s Pacing Derby eliminations on Monday morning. “Letter perfect,” said Campbell. “I’m really happy with the way he is now. He’s perfect. There will be some really good horses in the Derby but they’ll have a hard time beating him the way he is now. The only horse that can beat Major Custard right now is Major Custard.”
Major Custard’s style is simply to go to the front early and then wave good bye. That hasn’t been out of necessity but more out of design. He’s so good, so powerful that his corners don’t want to take him off the pace and possibly get him boxed-in. “Or have somebody pull in our face,” added Campbell. We just don’t want him to have traffic problems. Racing on the front hasn’t bothered him at all.”
After the Derby Final on Nov. 29 which has an estimated purse of $90,000, Major Custard will race in the Dec. 12 elimination of the Brad Gunn and then the Gunn final on Dec. 19. After that who knows?
“Four more races and then he’ll have a little well-deserved rest. Then we’ll see what we can do from there. We all love him but there’s always the opportunity of a big sale. I’d like to see him race against the big heavyweights out east. I think he would do just fine. It’s either that or keep him and have him be a super star out here.”
Originally from Ontario, Campbell is a third generation horseman. His dad, Greg, and his grandfather, Norm, both raced horses. “I was born in the barn so to speak,” said Campbell, whose wife Gena Anderson, whom he calls ‘the backbone of the stable; I couldn’t do it without her,” is a third generation horse person herself.
Campbell moved out west two and a half years ago and soon met Marino with whom he has had great success. “Jim split up his stable racing — about half of his horses in B.C. and the other half in Alberta. I’m his Alberta guy,” said Campbell, who has posted a very solid record of 51 wins from 218 starts including three wins in six starts at this just started winter meet at Century Mile. “It’s been a really good recipe.”
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