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Trotter Finds Winning 'Rhythm'

Published: January 28, 2017 10:02 am ET

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Many horses have a difficult time adjusting to racing as four-year-olds. So to compile an O'Brien Award-worthy campaign at four is noteworthy. It's even more notable when that four-year-old steps up with an 11-race win streak after a less-than-stellar sophomore season.

Musical Rhythm won 12 of 21 starts and purses exceeding $361,000 for trainer Ben Baillargeon, who co-owns the five-year-old with Santo & Nunzio Vena and Claude Hamel. The son of Cantab Hall is a finalist in the Older Trotting Horse category along with Flanagan Memory, and the winner will be announced on Saturday night as Standardbred Canada presents the 28th annual O’Brien Awards at the Hilton Mississauga / Meadowvale Hotel in Mississauga, Ont.

Musical Rhythm swept both the General Brock Trotting Series and the Don Mills Trotting Series in 2016 and also won a leg and the final of the Graduate during his successful four-year-old campaign.

"It was very successful for a horse we bought at Harrisburg for $33,000," Baillargeon told Trot Insider. "I didn't really think he was that good, but I thought he was a good horse. He's been a nice surprise.

"He got tired at the end of the year, but that's normal. He never had a break between three and four, he kept racing. It's been nothing but great. He made almost $400,000 with the exchange."

As good as Musical Rhythm was for his connections in 2016, Baillargeon actually expects an improved horse to compete in the Grand Circuit stakes events this coming season.

"I think he's going to be a hell of a horse this year. We gave him a good break this winter, he's back training -- he's in 2:30 right now -- and he should qualify around March 15, third week of March, somewhere around there," noted the veteran trainer. "We'll have him staked and we'll see if we can go with the big boys this year. He's a five-year-old this year so he should be better. He got bigger, he looks like a stud now...very pleased with him."

It's hard not to be pleased with a horse that earns nearly 11 times his purchase price, and rattles off 16 wins in the first 20 starts he makes for his proud new owners.

"We won 11 races in a row, in one span he won seven in 1:53 or better. I was really glad when he won the leg of the Graduate there at Mohawk on his home turf, and I was more glad when he won the final in the States from the 10 hole. He raced awful tough that day, a huge effort with two or three moves to win in 1:51."

Baillargeon gave himself a modest pat on the back for Musical Rhythm's breakout year while praising his team for helping handle a horse that can be more than a handful.

"I think I managed him pretty good and my daughter Sara takes good care of him. She follows him everywhere," said Baillargeon. "He's a bit of a handful as a stud and we have to keep an eye on him all the time, he gets a little 'rammy' in the stall. It's all about managing."

Managing is key to being a successful trainer, and that also deals with managing expectations. Given Musical Rhythm's year, Baillargeon admits that he wasn't surprised to learn his trotter was a divisional finalist.

"I thought I would get the call. Maybe more my daughter than me because I'm not the type to pay attention to those things very much but it's very nice.

"This horse, eveybody liked him. He was a fan favourite all summer. When this horse raced, it was amazing the number of people that came just to see this horse."

A nominee in past years with horses the likes of Murmur Hanover, Slip Into Glide, Voelz Hanover and Yursa Hanover, Baillargeon is looking forward to Saturday night's black tie gala and is eager to 'break his maiden' at the O'Briens.

"We'll be there, me and my three partners -- Claude, Santo and Nunzio with the wives. It's a nice party. I've been there a few times, I've been nominated a few times and I always end up on the short end of the stick but maybe this time we'll be lucky."

For a full list of 2016 O'Brien Award finalists, click here. For details about the Black Tie Gala, click here.

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