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The Hottest Man In Harness Racing

Published: February 20, 2019 7:25 pm ET

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Kelly Hoerdt might just be the hottest man in harness racing right now, and he’s fresh off one of the best years of his career, but the veteran horseman has certainly not let that success go to his head.

In 2018, Hoerdt put up career numbers both as a driver and a trainer. Competing mostly in Alberta and B.C. and making 490 starts, Hoerdt posted 112 driving wins with earnings in excess of $834,000. Those totals ranked as his second and fourth best, respectively.

On the training side, Hoerdt was just as impressive. With 462 starts, his stable won 101 races (second best total) and more than $1.02 million in purses (also, second best).

Among Canadian trainers in 2018 that earned more than $1 million, Hoerdt's purse total as a driver was the best in the nation.

Not showing any signs of slowing down, Hoerdt's numbers to start 2019 have been outstanding. His 13-horse stable at Fraser Downs is punching far above its weight class, placing the Alberta-based trainer among North America's best to start the season. In 48 starts, Hoerdt's horses sport a 26-13-4 summary and have only missed two cheques (a pair of sixth-place finishes). Those 26 wins are tenth best on the continent as of press time, with Ontario-based Patrick Shepherd the top Canadian on the list in fourth with 30 wins...but from 153 starts, more than three times as many as Hoerdt.

Earlier this year, in a stretch spanning three cards at Fraser between January 4 and 11, Hoerdt sent out seven straight winners. Three of his standouts -- Blue Grotto, Cusdmagicdragon and Hot Kiss -- swept the top three spots in the Lady Cloverdale Series Final. On February 8, Hoerdt was responsible for eight wins (two as a trainer, one as a trainer-driver and five as a driver) on an 11-race card.

Sporting a sensational driving average of 0.512 and an even more-impressive training average of 0.719, the veteran horseman takes this success in stride. The 2018 National Driving Championship representative, who resorted to eating sweet horse feed mixed with milk during his leaner years when he first started out, fully understand the highs and lows of this business.

“I’ve been on some pretty good rolls before, but like all other good horsemen that get on rolls they come and go and you have to appreciate them while you’re on them,” a humble Hoerdt told Trot Insider about his string of success. "I think mostly the biggest thing is I brought the right horses at the right time and they’ve all adjusted well to the track here; the altitude, the air here is really good for them. [I have] a lot of horses that have breathing problems and lameness issues [but] they came out here and they seem to get better. So all that put together and a great staff to back me up is about all I can say about the success we’ve had.”

For any horse, a consistent racing surface is necessary to maintain optimal performance. Up until recently, the surface at Fraser Downs had that consistency but the track was forced to cancel its most recent cards due to the track dealing with weather-related issues.

"We’ve been lucky to have a consistent surface since I came in December," said Hoerdt, who captured the O'Brien Award of Horsemanship in 2013. "That was always something they struggle with at Century -- not that they couldn’t have good surfaces at times, but [having a] consistent surface was where they struggled. That being said, we cancelled this week because frost was coming out of the track...It’s that time of year; it happens just about every year out here.

“The track crew here is working tirelessly to maintain the track when this happens," Hoerdt continued. "Ultimately they’ve had many different track crews here and Mother Nature just takes over and there’s nothing they can really do until all the frost comes out of the track. It usually happens a little earlier like in January but it’s almost like clockwork -- when the winter time happens this will happen.”

Hoerdt also finds his horses respond better to the altitude in B.C. as it improves their breathing.

“I did have some horses that had some issues with breathing problems and I think the altitude here, for whatever reason and over the years, I’ve had better luck with them out here. All I can say is they just seem better."

While air and track surface can help, ultimately a trainer needs horses properly prepared and maintained, and Hoerdt was quick to credit his team for being crucial to the process.

“Over the years, and I’ve said this more than once, but any success I’ve ever had I can sum it up almost to one word and that’s staff. I’m very fortunate to have some of the best caretakers of horses work alongside me over the years. It’s no different now, that’s for sure. It’s not something you can do by yourself.”


Cusdmagicdragon and Hoerdt winning the Moores Mile at Century Downs

That team is spread currently over two locations with Hoerdt responsible for another dozen horses at his Bedrock Training Centre base of operations outside Beaumont, Alta. With Century Downs starting up again with Sundays in March, he plans to continue on with his split stable until the end of the meet at Fraser at which time he'll ship those horses back home to compete in Alberta.

“It has been good. I’m feeling good too health wise. I’m here, I want to race, I feel good about the way things are going. Confidence levels are pretty high right now and I have some pretty fantastic owners backing me up, too. They give me the lines, so to speak, and let me run with what I want to do and that helps a lot. They’re happy with what I’m doing and I don’t have to check in with them to make the moves I think need to be made.”

With a number of Alberta-based trainers making waves across North America -- most notably Nathan Sobey at Cal Expo and J.F. Gagne in Ontario -- Hoerdt admits he's happy with his decision to stay closer to home, and the rewards are more than just professional.

“My main reason to stay in the Alberta and B.C. circuit is because I have two kids that are 13 and 15 and I don’t want to be far away from them. They’re in high school now [but] otherwise I would’ve made a move like J.F. [Gagne] did or maybe tried the Meadowlands in the winter time. Obviously I like racing here, I love the people out here -- the racetracks, the staff at the racetrack are always great to get along with.

“I’ve got a lot of other commitments -- the farm in Beaumont, a house in Beaumont, kids and other commitments where I don’t want to be too far away,” Hoerdt continued. “I guess at the end of the day I don’t want to end up just working all the time and waiting to retire before I spend a lot of time with my kids. I have a lot of time with them now and I want to keep it that way. That’s why I’m not going anywhere.

“At this point they still want to hang around with me so I’m going to take advantage of that because I don’t know how much longer that will last,” he added with a smile.

All good things must come to an end, however, and that's all too real for racing in Alberta as the province recently witnessed the end of Northlands Park after more than a century of existence. Having said that, to quote Semisonic's iconic 90s song Closing Time, "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end," and that new beginning comes in the form of Canada's newest racetrack slated to open in 2019, Century Mile.

“I’m excited to no end about it. Bedrock is literally 15 minutes from the racetrack and I’m really looking forward to start racing there. Northlands was about a 40-minute drive into the city for me but this one is one highway and you’re there.”

Even though the new track isn't as centrally-located as Northlands was in the heart of Edmonton, Hoerdt can envision Century Mile as part of a burgeoning new scene in a rapidly-expanding area.

“That’s the exciting part about it is that I believe we will be able to bring in a whole new demographic to that side [of the city]," Hoerdt noted with excitement. "There are so many other things going around there. It’s a buzz already in the communities in the area with the mall that’s gone up, the airport’s right there, a golf course right there. I think it will be a vacation destination almost and make horse racing part of [that experience] for some people.”


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