“Joe Was The Master”

Saturday night’s finale of the Joe O’Brien Pacing Series is named after one of the most successful driver/trainers in harness racing history. O’Brien was born in Alberton, Prince Edward Island in 1917 and passed away in 1984.

In total, O’Brien drove his mounts to over 4,500 winners. His mounts earned more than $20 million in purse earnings. O’Brien is enshrined in both the United States and Canadian Harness Racing Hall of Fame and is fondly remembered as ‘Little Joe.’

“Joe was the master,” said Cal Expo Racing Secretary Fred Kuebler. “He would jiggle those lines in his hands down the stretch and never even have to use the whip. He and Shelly Goudreau were the two best drivers I’ve ever seen.”

Joe O’Brien first drove a sulky at the age of 13 and continued to race around the Maritimes circuit with his father and four brothers until 1936, when he landed his first job as a trainer. He soon became well versed in the art of training and racing and was the leading driver in the Maritimes from 1943 to 1947, upon which time he moved south to try his luck on the U.S. circuit.

O’Brien’s success over the next three decades was immense. He won three Little Brown Jugs, five Kentucky Futurity races, drove two Hambletonian winners, and became the second man in harness racing history to hit the 2,000-win mark. He was out to beat not only his opponents, but also to challenge time. In total, he drove more than 500 sub-two-minute miles, at a time when that was something special, setting numerous records along the way.

He drove Scott Frost to the world’s first two-minute mile for a two-year old in 1955; Steady Star to a new mark for the fastest clocking ever by a standardbred in 1971; and Flower child to the first European sub-two-minute trotting mile in 1975. His fastest season came in 1975, when he drove a world record of 44 sub-two-minute miles and 32 two-minute miles in a single season.

O’Brien drove such fine steeds as Blaze Hanover, Fresh Yankee, and Armbro Flight, but he named Scott Frost as his personal favourite. In 1955, they took the Hambletonian, the Yonkers Trot, and the Kentucky Futurity, making Scott Frost the first horse in history to claim harness racing’s Triple Crown.

O’Brien finale, Sire Stakes, Open Pace set

Cypress Hill Suds, a 23-1 upsetter last week; and Bette Davis, an impressive winner of the first leg, head the cast for Saturday night’s Joe O’Brien Pacing Series final at Cal Expo.

There will also be an Open Pace headed by One And Only and a $10,000 California Sire Stakes event for three-year-old pacing males headed by Rikybrnthegaragdown. The latter will head postward as a non-betting event.

Looking at the O’Brien, Cypress Hill Suds is a five-year-old daughter of Fifty Percent who carries the banner of A Piece Of The Action LLC, is trained by Gene Vallandingham and has Tim Maier guiding. She has drawn Post 2 in the field of seven for the finale.

Cypress Hill Suds carved out the middle fractions in the first leg of this series and tired, but then turned things around at a big price last weekend. With Maier at the controls last week, she took back early, came first-over in powerful fashion at the half and prevailed by a length in a lifetime-best 1:57.4.

Bette Davis Eyes is looking to make amends after checking in fifth in that affair as the 4-5 favourite. The four-year-old Moxie offspring races for Toman Enterprises LTD and takes her lessons from George Anthrop. Mooney Svendsen has the assignment. Bette Davis Eyes was an impressive come-from-behind winner of the opening O’Brien leg in a solid 1:56 tour.

Rounding out the field are Skyway King, who leaves from the rail with Robert Roesch giving directions; Fox Valley Dylan off the claim for Steve Wiseman; Lebo Jones with James Kennedy; Daggy with Patrick Galbraith; and Looks Dont Count has the outside slot and Luke Plano at the helm.

In the Open Pace, One And Only will be shooting for his fifth straight trip to the winner’s circle for the combination of owners Richard Morita and David Yamada, trainer Lino Pacheo and pilot Luke Plano. He has been assigned the demanding Post 10 in hopes of levelling the playing field for this go-around.

(Cal Expo)

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