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Training And Trotting Talent Honoured

Published: February 10, 2020 9:50 am ET

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Ben Baillargeon has been in this position before, with a highly-talented William Wellwood Memorial-winning trotting colt that brings up aspirations of racing on a certain Saturday in August.

Two years ago, that was the case with Alarm Detector. This year, Baillargeon will have HP Royal Theo looking to capture harness racing's Holy Grail. The son of 2013 Hambletonian winner Royalty For Life put together a solid rookie season for owners Claude Hamel and Michel Damphousse, winning three races and banking more than $286,000 to earn him the O’Brien Bronze as Canada’s Two-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year.

One year ago that O'Brien Award winner in the rookie trotting colt division was Ontario-sired Forbidden Trade, who went on to win not only the Hambletonian but the Somebeachsomewhere Horse of the Year Award at the recently-concluded 2019 O'Brien Awards.

Baillargeon noted that HP Royal Theo was prepped in Quebec last year by Jean Tourigny, who cautioned him on the colt's bullish attitude that prompted some breaks in stride. This year, Ben is handling the training down and he feels the colt has matured.

"Most of it was immaturity," the veteran trainer told SC's Rachel Oenema after the O'Briens. "Sometimes he wants to go too fast too quick. Typical two-year-old, they're not all perfect. He's got a little bit of a streak in him, fiery. He wants to go."

He's hoping to have HP Royal Theo qualified by the middle of April. Chances are, however, Baillargeon's other O'Brien Award winner will be lined up behind the gate much sooner. Older trotting horse Musical Rhythm, who was was sidelined due to injury last summer but still captured the 2019 O'Brien Award, has recently trained in the 2:15 range.

"He's the type of horse that won't stand still, he's one-of-a-kind. He wants to be back in action."

Now eight, Musical Rhythm recovered from a life-threatening infection in 2018 -- thanks to the incredible efforts of his trainer and caretaker Sara Baillageon. He not only resumed racing in 2019, but the son of Cantab Hall was a seven-time winner and missed only one cheque in 17 starts en route to earnings of more than $206,000. He put together a six-race win streak that kicked off on April 17 in the preferred trotting ranks at Woodbine Mohawk Park, and equaled the track and Canadian record for older male trotters with a 1:50.4 mile on June 17 at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

"It's a blessing just to work with a horse like him," gushed Baillargeon. "Winning an O'Brien is like the cherry on the sundae."

The full interview with Baillargeon and Oenema is available below.

This is the sixth in a series of post-event video interviews with O'Brien Award finalists, sponsored by Horse Racing Alberta.

On Saturday, February 1, Standardbred Canada announced the winners for the 2019 O’Brien Award at the 31st edition of the annual O’Brien Awards Black Tie Gala held at the Hilton Mississauga / Meadowvale hotel in Mississauga, Ont. The O’Brien Awards honour Canada’s best in harness racing over the past season and are named in honour of the late Joe O’Brien, an outstanding horseman and member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. The event was covered live on the SC website. The official list of winners is available here, with the official voting results available here.

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