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This Homebred's Making Some Waves

Published: November 26, 2020 6:34 pm ET

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Cliff & Kathy Coonfer were more than thrilled when Make Some Waves captured one of the Western Canada Pacing Derby elims on Sunday (Nov. 22) at Century Mile. And while it was exciting for them to defeat the seasonally-unbeaten Major Custard, the Coonfers were just as pleased to see their homebred colt perform so impressively after returning from injury.

The Coonfers have always found reward in their horses, many of which roam the pastures of their Alberta farm when their careers on the track finish. Make Some Waves was no exception: foaled from the Coonfer’s former race mare Make Some Noise. An exceptional yearling in the Coonfer’s eyes, they nonetheless trucked him to Ontario for the London Selected Yearling Sale in 2018. But underperforming sales numbers, said Kathy, made them rethink their plans with the horse.

“We went and told Preferred Equine that we were going to raise his reserve up because we didn’t actually want him to sell at that point,” Kathy told Trot Insider. “I don’t think Cliff ever did want to sell him to be perfectly honest. It’s a different perspective when you have the mare and you raise the colt and you keep him.”

Kathy & Cliff successfully bought back their Sunshine Beach foal and brought him back home. There, he matured into a two-year-old, but remained off the racetrack due to growing pains.

“He’s so big, 17 hands,” Kathy said. “He was so big as a two-year-old we turned him out, so that was a little disappointing. Luckily we have the farm here, so he can get turned out here. No big deal.”

Given extra time to grow into himself, Make Some Waves entered the barn of Dave Kelly as a three-year-old. He qualified once and then won his first four starts, continuing from there to cash cheques in overnight events between Century Downs and The Track on 2. But the gelding sustained an injury late this past summer, which prompted some unexpected time away from the track back at Coonfer’s farm.

“Dave was going pretty slow with him and then he got hurt,” Kathy said, “so we kind of nursed [Make Some Waves] along this summer and gave him a two-month stretch off. He was off for so long and we were so unsure about how he was going to be. We felt we’d done a really good job getting him rehabbed, but you just don’t know. For us it’s all about looking after the horse, because he’s our baby.”

Once the Alberta circuit shifted north to Century Mile, Kelly brought the freshened gelding back to the track with a 2:00.2 qualifier and followed that with a fourth-place finish in a conditioned event. The effort convinced Kelly to give the gelding a shot in the Western Canada Pacing Derby.

“[Kelly] didn’t want to train him hard coming off an injury,” Kathy said. “He qualified him down and then he had his first race, but they didn’t push him at all because they just wanted to be sure he was going to be good coming out of this. And he said he was great and that he trained fantastic, but honestly what does that even mean when your trainer tells you that? We didn’t know.

“So we’re like ‘Oh jeepers, I hope he’s okay...I hope we weren’t stupid for putting him in the Western Canada Pacing Derby because he’d just come off this long break and stuff and he hasn’t really tightened up. Anyway, I told Dave afterwards he’s pretty good at keeping secrets; he said he wouldn’t have put him in if he didn’t think he was ready to go.”

The field for the first elimination of the Western Canada Pacing Derby had one giant to topple: Major Custard, the Custard The Dragon gelding who had won 17 consecutive races in stakes events across western Canada. Major Custard managed to dictate the terms in the elimination while trainer-driver Dave Kelly sat sixth with Make Some Waves through moderate fractions. But off the final turn Major Custard faltered while Make Some Waves came to life. Kelly kicked his charge to the centre of the racetrack and swept to a 1:55.2 victory with a :26.4 final quarter at odds of 79-1.

Make Some Waves - Western Canada Pacing Derby Elim 1

“He made a huge move -- was six wide around that corner -- and then he just came home really fast. So yeah, we were shocked,” Kathy said. “When your horse is 79-1, it’s almost kind of embarrassing. When it gets written up on everything that he was’s like ‘c’mon, he wasn’t that bad.’

“And there were a bunch of people from Dave Kelly’s stable that were up [in the dining room] as well, other owners and stuff. Of course they were celebrating because we all kind of celebrate each other’s horses, and we go down to the winner’s circle together. So there were few of us making noise up there for sure.”

Kathy and Cliff attribute much of the gelding’s success to Dave Kelly, as he managed the horse through early developmental hurdles and through injury to reach a point where he’s set to compete against the circuit's best sophomore pacers.

“Dave is a huge piece of this story,” Kathy said of last year’s Future Star O’Brien Award winner who has three contenders in the WCPD and the Don Byrne stakes courtesy a win (Make Some Waves), a second (Past Affair) and a third (Treasure Horizon) in the eliminations. “He deserves a lot of credit.”

With the victory in the elimination, Make Some Waves secured the right to pick his post for the final. Starting from post two, he’ll leave the starting car beside rail starter and fellow elim winner West Coast Beach. Major Custard, attempting to bounce back off his defeat, drew closer to the middle of the car and will start from post five. Despite the victory in the elimination, Kathy remained level-headed head into her gelding’s largest task to date.

“I just feel like I didn’t want to get too over the top about what happened on Sunday because this is another whole race. Seriously, [nearly] the horses in the other elimination were all faster than him,” admitted Coonfer. “We’re just happy that he’s there and racing and he had some success.

“We’re not looking too far forward, we’re just going to enjoy it,” Kathy added. “An old trainer once told me some days are chicken and some days are feathers, so when you have a day that’s chicken you might as well enjoy it.”

Make Some Waves also carries with him into the Western Canada Pacing Derby the final pieces of his bloodline’s legacy. The Coonfers' mare Make Some Noise, now 21 years of age, went into retirement after nearly suffering a fatal delivery of her last foal, which the Coonfers unfortunately lost.

“The vet had practically pronounced her, and we were busy working on the foal,” Kathy said. “Then all a sudden we heard this nicker and the vet jumped up and ran over, and said ‘She’s got vitals again.’”

In her broodmare career, Make Some Noise foaled three winners of more than $100,000 including Make Three Wishes, who has continued the bloodline with one foal and is now in foal again this year. From her home, Kathy often looks to the field where Make Some Noise now roams under her doting and watchful eye.

“She’s like my pet,” Kathy said. “I told Cliff that he’s going to have to build another room on the house when she gets too old. So she’ll always be here. I sure wish we could have another one, but we have a daughter of hers, Make Three Wishes, in foal. She was a pretty decent mare. She’s a real sweetheart, too. She’s my pet...they’re all my pets. The longer you talk to me you’ll discover they’re all my pets.”

To view the entries for Sunday's card of harness racing at Century Mile, click the following link: Sunday Entries - Century Mile.

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