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The Grasshopper & The Master

Published: February 13, 2016 11:02 am ET

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One trainer with roots in the East, one based in the West. One with a stable of conditioned stars, one dominated with stakes performers. One trainer with years of experience, more than the other has birthday candles on his next cake.

While the differences between the two finalists for the 2015 O'Brien Award of Horsemanship are many, there are a number of parallels to their seasonal success as Travis Cullen and Dr. Ian Moore both posted career-best years.

Cullen, who received an O'Brien in 2013 as Canada’s Future Star winner, posted some incredible numbers racing solely in Alberta. His trainees accounted for 228 wins and just under $1.2 million in earnings, and on the driving side he’s steered 248 winners to $1.2 million in purse money.

His stable thrives on horses in racing shape and classified correctly.

"That's the main thing. I keep them fit and I like to keep them happy. I turn them out a lot, keep them trained up and drive them to win."

While the racing season picks up in Alberta this weekend, Cullen has been keeping busy during his downtime. He just returned from a trip to Florida to visit his sister Ashleigh and her husband, Ed Hensley. Cullen also made a stop in New Jersey and picked up some new additions to his stable at the Meadowlands January Select Mixed Sale.

The 23-year-old is thrilled to be a finalist for the O'Brien Award of Horsemanship.

"It's a great feeling, it's a great honour to be up for that award. I have to thank my horses, my owners and partners on the horses and my grooms...they put a lot into it. Everyone deserves a lot of the credit, not just me."

While his numbers in terms of starts have been fairly consistent over the past three years, that number could increase for Cullen for 2016.

"I've got way more horses now. Every year, I seem to get more and more," noting that there are 32 horses in the barn right now plus 10 turned out. Last year, Cullen had around 20 horses throughout the season. One of the new additions to his barn is an Indiana-sired two-year-old by the name of Respect Me. Purchased for the bargain basement price tag of $1,200 from the 2015 Winter Blooded Horse Sale. The daughter of Proper Respect - Labor Of Love is a sister to Cullen's stable standout Who Doesnt.

This will be Cullen's second time at the O'Brien Awards, but the first time he's experienced them in Ontario. When he won the 2013 Future Star Award, the O'Briens were held in Charlottetown, PEI. He'll be among good company as his girlfriend's uncle is Bill Andrew, the recipient of the 2015 Cam Fella Award and a finalist for the Armstrong Breeder of the Year.

"He puts a lot into the sport, he deserves what he gets," Cullen said of Andrew, noting that he's looking forward to what's sure to be a fun evening.

From the north in Alberta to the south in Florida, the anticipation for Saturday's awards is shared by veteran Dr. Ian Moore. While he's experienced his share of cold winter training with multiple seasons in PEI and Ontario, he doesn't feel that wintering his horses in Florida was a substantial factor in his stable's success.

"I've been training in the north and the south and I would have to say I don't think it's a huge factor. We just happened to have a year where everything just fell into place. I had some good help, good horses, good owners...all the things you need to have. And a lot of good luck along with that."

Moore, who trained 62 winners and horses to $2.1 million in earnings in 2015, gave his stable's supporting staff a ton of credit, giving props to Teesha Symes, Daniel Crouse, Brad Firlotte and Tami Sepper for all their work with Team Moore.

"We always work hard, all of us do in the horse business. You know how it goes, you have your ups and your downs and we just happened to have an up time last year and everybody raced well."

Like Cullen, Moore noted that being able to pick spots early on with horses like Good Will Hanover and Rockin In Heaven allowed them to gain confidence against moderate competition before graduating to tougher stakes tests.

"It makes everyone in the stable more upbeat when that happens, and it promotes more good things to happen I think," stated Moore. "We were very humbled and fortunate to have the kind of year we had."

Leading the way for Moore in 2015 was older pacing star State Treasurer, whose multiple stakes-winning and world-record setting campaign left him just shy of a million-dollar year. The PEI native and Guelph, Ont. resident joked that a pep talk he gave the six-year-old has paid off in spades.

"Treasurer, he didn't get any awards the year before. And I had a little talk with him and I said, 'well, I guess you're going to have to prove yourself a little better next year," said Moore with smile. "He must have listened to me, I guess.

"He's always been good to us ever since we've had him, obviously. And last year was exceptional. Maybe some of the other aged horses didn't step up like they should have last year either, which might have helped our cause. Because when he wins a race, it really seems to boost his confidence and makes him that much tougher and better the next time out."

Moore notes that he's also in the same spot as Cullen with success on the track getting the attention of different owners. He's currently with a stable of 16 -- the most he's had in Florida.

The philosophy for 2016 is the same as past years for Moore: stick with your successes and adjust for your failures. Acknowledging the individual recognition is appreciated, he'd be pleased to see Cullen receive the award as well.

"As far as the personal awards go, it would be nice to have but [Travis] had a fantastic year. I think that in our business, promoting young people to continue on is what we need. It's great to see young people excel and do well in our sport...they're the future for the sport."

Noting this industry is built on dreams and optimism, Moore continues to get just as much satisfaction from winning a maiden race as a major stakes event.

"I love training young horses and babies. When they race their first time and make it to the winner's circle, that's about the most gratifying thing in horse racing there is for me. To have a baby go out and win their first lifetime start, I love that. I get just as much fun and thrills out of winning a maiden race with a two-year-old that you took from scratch and made into a racehorse as I would from winning the Canadian Pacing Derby."

With a tuxedo he used to host a simulcast program as the President of the Charlottetown Driving Park in the early 1990s, Moore just needed to get that suit out of storage for Saturday night. One problem: the tux was still in PEI.

"One of Nancy's friends brought it down to Florida from PEI, and it still fits."

The 2015 O’Brien Awards are scheduled for Saturday, February 13 at the Hilton Mississauga / Meadowvale Hotel. Canada’s harness racing champions will be announced at the Black Tie Gala.

The O'Briens will be hosted by Ken Middleton and Greg Blanchard, with Kaitlin Kozell singing the national anthems.

If you're not at the Hilton on Saturday night, you’ll be able to watch all of the awards presentations live via video stream exclusively on Standardbred Canada will also be providing live updates on the event through its social media channels. For anyone tweeting about the O’Brien Awards, please tag your posts with the #obriens15 hashtag.

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