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Hoerdt Humbled By Horsemanship Nod

Published: January 11, 2021 7:27 pm ET

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While 2020 was without a doubt an extraordinary year, horseman Kelly Hoerdt’s success on track was nothing out of the ordinary.

A past winner of the O’Brien Award of Horsemanship back in 2013, Hoerdt is a finalist once again as Standardbred Canada gets ready to celebrate the stars of the sport from the 2020 season at a virtual edition of the awards ceremony later this month.

Following up a career-best year in 2019, the Beaumont, Alta. horseman trained winners of 157 races and more than $877,000 in earnings, while driving 163 winners and horses that earned more than $895,000 despite an abbreviated 2020 racing season in Western Canada muddled by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“I’m very humbled at the honour. I was very surprised. I wasn’t expecting it at all,” said Hoerdt of the nomination this time around. “It’s always in my mind – who doesn’t want to be nominated for an O’Brien? Just being nominated is an honour.”

He is up against two-time Horsemanship winner and defending champion Gilles Barrieau of Saint John, N.B. for the prestigious Canadian award, which recognizes trainer-driver candidates who best exemplify the standard of horsemanship demonstrated by the late Hall of Famer Joe O’Brien.

“I thought we had another exceptional year considering the shutdowns,” said Hoerdt, reflecting on his award-worthy campaign. “I had to do a lot more travelling; it was a lot of travelling back and forth between B.C. and Alberta to be able to get all my horses raced and to keep those numbers up. It costs money to keep those numbers up. I took probably, I don’t know, 20 or 30 flights at least. I had a lot more booked and then once the shutdowns happened then I obviously couldn’t use them. I think we probably could have had another phenomenal year had we been able to finish off the B.C. meet. We still had, I think, six weeks left in it when it shut down last March, but we just moved everything around and did what we had to do to try to find the right spots to fit the horses that fit which racetracks. We just did our best to juggle things and deal with the cards that we had.”

Hoerdt's numbers equated to training and driving stats among the best in the country, and included top honours across the Fraser Downs standings. In fact, his 157 training wins from 554 starts in 2020 ranked second only to seven-time Trainer of the Year Richard Moreau, who operates a large 60-horse stable with an abundance of racing opportunities across the Ontario circuit. Moreau earned 237 wins from 1,604 starts.

Hoerdt’s productive campaign came without any major stakes wins and in spite of the shortened season, which left the veteran horseman wondering what could have been.

“There were no major stakes wins, so I guess that actually makes the numbers even seem better. We were set up for some really good spots in B.C. that we didn’t get to race. There were four stakes races there that we never did get to race in them because of the shutdown that I had horses lined up for that I thought we could have some luck in those for sure, but other than that, we won a few of the smaller stakes.”

Hoerdt attributed the success he did achieve to the consistency of his trainees along with having the right horses in the right classes and racing them at the right tracks.

“One of my more consistent performers was Criminal Record,” noted Hoerdt, referring to the pacer that capped off a solid rookie campaign worth nearly $90,000 by winning a division of the $22,500 Brad Gunn Stakes on December 12 at Century Mile. “I think he probably topped the earnings of all my horses. I was very happy with him.

“I had some medium-class claimers that had really good years too. Some of my medium-class claimers probably had higher earnings than any of the Open horses that raced in either province, just because they were in the right class where they could win every week and they raced more often than the Open horses.

“So, it fell into place again as best as we could anyway. We probably could have done better, but we could have definitely done worse.”

Criminal Record winning a division of the Brad Gunn Stakes on December 12 at Century Mile.

Hoerdt also humbly acknowledged the contributions of his Alberta and B.C. colleagues.

“I have an incredible staff -- people that work with me. They’re hired by me, but I don’t like saying they work for me because, really, they work with me,” he said. “You just have to have people you can trust and I’m lucky enough that I do.”

With pandemic lockdowns still in place across Canada, Hoerdt laments not being able to attend the traditional O’Brien Awards Black Tie Gala like he did when aptly donning his Philadelphia Eagles jacket the day before the the NFL team's Super Bowl triumph in 2018. But the horseman is looking forward to joining this year’s virtual Boots & Bling-themed celebrations with another bold outfit that you could say fits with the technology-driven times.

“We’re going to be either Skyping it or using Zoom and I guess the dress is western formal, so I’m going to put on my cowboy hat and a nice suit jacket... and no pants at all,” cracked the cheeky horseman.

Hosted by track announcer Ken Middleton and commentator Jason Portuondo, the 2020 O’Brien Awards Virtual Gala will be streamed live online at on Sunday, Jan. 31 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (ET).

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