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Hoerdt Eyes His Next Milestone

Published: October 11, 2018 3:19 pm ET

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The Kelly Hoerdt-trained and driven Jet Juice rallied from the back of the pack last weekend (Oct. 6) at Northlands Park and earned a hard-fought, nose victory for his conditioner. It proved to be a big win for the gelding, but it was a much more significant triumph for Hoerdt.

The victory marked the 2,000th career driving victory for Hoerdt, who over the course of his career in the bike has steered his mounts to more than $12.7 million in purses. On the training side of the things, Hoerdt’s stable has recorded more than 1,700 victories and raced to a strikingly-similar $12.7 million in purses.

Quickly turning the page, Hoerdt will be looking to embark on his next milestone, and he will be getting right back at things this coming weekend at Northlands Park. On Saturday (Oct. 13), the Edmonton oval will be carding a solid program of live racing that will include the $125,000 final of the Don Byrne Memorial for three-year-old pacing fillies and the $125,000 final of the Western Canada Pacing Derby for three-year-old pacing colts and geldings.

In terms of the Don Byrne Memorial, can the proverbial lightning strike twice?

Two years ago, Kelly Hoerdt qualified a quartet of three-year-old lasses for the Northlands Filly Pace and amazingly finished 1-2-3-4, as Brighten Your Life led Jet To The Beach, Lucky Lucka and Lissoy home. Now, on Saturday in the co-featured $125,000 Don Byrne Memorial (which used to be called the Northlands Filly Pace), Hoerdt has again qualified a quadruplet of starters.

So Kelly, what do you think? Can magic echo again?

“Those kind of finishes are so very rare that I’m not counting on that happening again,” said Hoerdt, who is Northlands’ leading trainer. “But, hopefully, if the race goes right one of them can get there on top. Cusdmagicdragon and Blue Grotto are my best two chances. But the other two, Lively Rocket and Noisy Nora, can get the job done, too. It all depends how the race goes. How it sets up will determine it.”

In last week’s two eliminations, Cusdmagicdragon got a perfect drive from Hoerdt and took advantage of a speed meltdown to win the first elimination in 1:54.2. In the second elimination, which couldn’t possibly have been more dissimilar, Blue Grotto gutted out a first-over trip through painfully slow early fractions and ended up third behind Born A Dragon and Lively Rocket. In that elimination Born A Dragon was able to get away unchallenged through a first quarter in :29.1 and a half mile in just 1:00.3. Born A Dragon’s win time was 1:56.4, which was more than two full seconds slower than Cusdmagicdragon.

“Cusdmagicdragon had a good trip and raced well off of it,” Hoerdt said. “Blue Grotto is a big strong filly with a lot of stamina. She can take a lot of air which she had to do last week. She toughed it out, raced excellent and came out of the race great.”

As for the other pair, Hoerdt said, “Lively Rocket is getting better all the time; she’s shown steady improvement. She got a real good drive from Mike Hennessy and she is coming into the race sharp and in good form. Noisy Nora is a filly we recently bought privately from Jim Marino. She’s had some issues, but we’ve made some equipment and shoe changes and she seems to be getting better and better.”

Cusdmagicdragon’s win snapped a streak of five straight seconds. Ultra consistent, Cusdmagicdragon has only been out of the top three once this year and has come up with stakes wins in the $75,000 Penny Bath in the slop at Fraser Downs (at odds of 36-1 when she came from last place to win by more than six lengths) and then the $20,000 Moores Mile at Balzac’s Century Downs (when she won as the odds-on-favourite over Bearcat Josi, who also made the Don Byrne Memorial final).

“Cusdmagicdragon is very honest. She had some soundness issues this summer and ended up needing some time off,” Hoerdt said of the homebred who was sidelined most of June and all of July. “But she healed up well and is as good as ever.”

The Don Byrne Memorial is Saturday’s co-feature along with the historic $175,000 Western Canada Pacing Derby, presented by Boston Pizza. In the ‘Derby,’ things couldn’t have worked out much better for Cheddar Jack.

After having raced wire-to-wire to win last week’s second elimination, Cheddar Jack ended up with the rail for the final. “It’s never bad when you get the rail with a front-runner,” said Cheddar Jack’s trainer, Rod Hennessy. “He’s a pretty versatile horse, but most of his wins have been on the front end.”

That’s how Cheddar Jack won the $50,000 Brad Gunn at Century Downs in July – in which he won by three easy lengths – and how he got the win in the $125,000 Ralph Klein final on Aug. 6. The Klein final should come with an asterisk, though, as Cheddar Jack crossed the finish line second behind Serge Masse’s Better Watch Out, but the latter was disqualified for interference and placed ninth. Unfortunately for Better Watch Out he will not get a chance to make amends in the Derby. Better Watch Out, who was the even-money favourite in last week’s second elimination, inexplicably trailed throughout.

Even though Cheddar Jack won the Brad Gunn handily in 1:54.3 and got the backdoor win in the Ralph Klein which went in 1:55.1, Hennessy said the Ralph Klein was more impressive. “Cheddar Jack is prone to allergies and there was a lot of smoke in the air,” Hennessy said, referencing the thick haze from forest fires in B.C. “He was challenged repeatedly, but still turned out a very gutty performance.”

Hennessy also said that Cheddar Jack’s elimination win last week wasn’t far behind. “Kelly (Hoerdt) came up to him with Custards Laststand, but Mike (his driver son) was just sitting there. I thought that was a very impressive performance, too. I don’t know if anybody really knows how good Cheddar Jack is.”

In 17 starts this year, Cheddar Jack has come home the winner seven times. While Cheddar Jack was eighth in his start before his Derby elimination, that September 28 race is almost a throw-out given that he drew an outside post and got away last.

“Cheddar Jack is a big, big horse that has matured very well,” Hennessy said of the three-year-old that is co-owned by Lorne Duffield. Duffield, who owns several Boston Pizza franchises and is sponsoring the race, picked him out of the Harrisburg Sale for $20,000.

“He’ll be the favourite and I expect you’ll see him on the front end, but there’s some speed on the outside. It’s a horse race and as we all know there is never a given in a horse race,” said Hennessy, who believes Hoerdt will have plenty to say in the outcome with Custards Laststand.

With six wins, four seconds and a pair of thirds in his 16 starts, Custards Laststand and Cheddar Jack are well known to each other.

As well as having finished second to Cheddar Jack in last week’s elimination, Custards Laststand finished third-placed-second in the Ralph Klein final, roughly one length behind Cheddar Jack. And, Custards Laststand was runner-up to Cheddar Jack in the Brad Gunn final when he drew the outside Post 8 and was three wide both at the half mile and three-quarter stations. Custards Laststand also finished ahead of Cheddar Jack in both the first heat of the Ralph Klein and then in that September 28 mile.

One of the bigger questions for the Derby is if Snap Test’s upset victory in his elimination was for real. Sent away at 23-1 and returning $48.70 to win, Snap Test took advantage of some quick early fractions – :27 for the opening quarter; :55.2 for the half and 1:24.1 for three-quarters of the mile – to swing three wide late and pace them all down to win in 1:54 flat.

By comparison, Cheddar Jack was able to get away with more manageable fractions of :28.1; :58 and 1:25.3 before stopping the clock in 1:54.1. One fact should be mentioned if you are wondering if Snap Test, who will be hampered by is outside Post 8, is the real goods: Snap Test’s trainer, Keith Clark, has won 12 Derbies.Another question is what happened to Screen Test in last week’s elimination when he finished a very disappointing fifth behind Snap Test?

For certain, Screen Test, who was sent away as the 1-2 favourite, was locked in solid for most of the way, but when he finally did get clear he didn't have any pace left and just managed to get the final spot in the Derby.

While Clark has won those dozen Derbies, Hennessy is looking for his third Derby title. In 2003 Armbro Aviator scored by two and a half lengths with John Chappell driving in 1:53.1. That year Hennessy’s horses finished first, second and third. Three years later, Hennessy scored again in the Derby with Hyperion Hanover. Driven by Paul Mackenzie, Hyperion Hanover went wire-to-wire and won by six and a quarter lengths in 1:52 flat.

“It’s always great to win the Derby; it’s always fun to just race in the Derby,” said Hennessy, “It’s a race I grew up with when Jim Lelacheur started it all way back when. It was always our most important race,” said the highly personable, 64-year-old veteran trainer, who recently won the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association’s Ron McLeod Award of Achievement, has won over 2,800 as a driver and some 1,900 wins as a trainer.

Outside of the two Derby winners, just a few of Hennessy’s other outstanding horses include Roaring Snortin (the first two-year-old to pace in under two minutes in Western Canada), Just A Ripple A (who won 54 of his 174 races), Weekend Bernie and Tylers Royalty.

“We’ll give her a go again on Saturday.”

To view the harness racing entries for Saturday at Northlands, click the following link: Saturday Entries – Northlands Park.

(With files from Stock)

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