A Sharper Wakizashi Hanover

Published: February 27, 2017 10:15 am EST

Going his first mile since winning a $30,000 Preferred on December 30 at Dover Downs, Wakizashi Hanover qualified at Dover Downs on Wednesday, February 15, pacing in 1:53.3.

“We’re thinking we’re going to have a good Open horse,” said Bruce Kennedy, who owns Wakizashi Hanover with the Tri-County Stable of Truro, N.S.

Wakizashi Hanover was campaigned as a three-year-old along the Grand Circuit, with his grand achievement coming when he defeated Wiggle It Jiggleit in the $1,000,000 Pepsi North America Cup in 2015. From 20 starts, the son of Dragon Again - Western Gesture tallied 11 wins and 17 top-three finishes with more than $1.26 million in earnings and a mark of 1:48 taken in the N.A Cup at Mohawk. He was voted Canada's Three-Year-Old Pacing Colt of the Year.

Shannon Doyle, the voice of racing for The Raceway at Western Fair District presents the O’Brien Award to the connections of Wakizashi Hanover. Left to right: Percy Bonnell, Diane Bonnell, Sheila Kennedy, Bruce Kennedy, Shannon Doyle, JoAnn Looney-King, Jim King, Wyatt Beaver.

As a four-year-old, he struggled to demonstrate an improvement to his three-year-old ability, making only twelve starts last year, with two wins and earnings just over $50,000.

“He had lost some grease at the end of his three-year-old racing term, and we had him checked out,” Kennedy said. “On the vet’s recommendation, we decided to have him undergo a tie-back surgery [in April]. He seemed good after that, and we had a few starts; he paced 1:49 and 1:50, but he didn’t seem like a comfortable horse like he was.

“We had him checked out a second time after those starts, and we were advised that there was room for improvement from the surgery that was originally done. Under the advice of Dr. Llewelyn in Ontario and Dr. Ducharme at Cornell, we decided to undergo the second surgery [in August]. It seems from all sources, and from the performances from the horse, that he did improve from [the surgery] and he’s not showing any signs now.”

Kennedy and the Tri-County Stable did not mind having him undergo two surgeries, saying that because the latter surgery was deemed successful after being advised on the improvements that could have been made, they were rather ecstatic to have their horse back.

Jim King, Bruce Kennedy and JoAnn Looney-King with the North America Cup

“I have a very close friend in Brent MacGrath, and we see each other on an almost daily basis,” Kennedy said. “He helped me a lot through the ups-and-downs of [Wakizashi’s] four-year-old season. He said ‘I’ve been watching your horse, and your horse is a knight. It’s not like you’re trying to make a good horse, you’ve already got one. So why don’t you go any further and investigate if there’s anything that could be done?’ We then got in contact with Dr. Ducharme, and he saw that [Wakizashi] could improve with another surgery.

“We don’t pretend to know anything, so we pretend to go to people for advice, and we’ve been lucky to get good advice everywhere we went.”

According to Kennedy, Wakizashi Hanover’s trainers, Jim King and Joann Looney-King manage the horse “like they own [him], and they respect our decisions and we consult them often on the decisions that we make.

“I haven’t physically seen [Wakizashi], but Jimmy relayed to me that 'You wouldn’t recognize your horse now, Bruce',” Kennedy said. “He has developed, he has matured, he’s an even nicer horse to be around and he was the nicest horse to begin with. He said ‘I think we have a sweetheart horse moving into the Open class as a five-year-old. I’m very optimistic.’ He hasn’t noticed any issues surrounding his surgeries come up, and he’s excited to have him.

"When Timmy [Tetrick] qualified him, he indicated to Jimmy that ‘We have the old horse back.’ We have been very fortunate to have Tim Tetrick, who has taken [Wakizashi] every time the opportunity was there. Jim and Timmy are a team in and of themselves from what we see, and we are more than happy to have the connections we have with Wakizashi Hanover."

Heading into 2017, Wakizashi Hanover is staked to all the major Open Stakes up through the TVG Pace in November at the Meadowlands. He’ll be making his pari-mutuel return at Dover Downs before shipping up to Yonkers for the first leg of the George Morton Levy Series on March 18.

“We give him a break when Jimmy thinks he should have one,” Kennedy said. “We try to keep him at his best and sharp as best we can, and we don’t worry about winning any given race. We worry about him racing well.

“We’ll keep him eligible to all the stakes we’ve paid up to, but it will be up to Jimmy and the condition of the horse as to whether or not we’ll entertain them.”

Reentering the Open ranks this year will pin Wakizashi Hanover against his old rival Wiggle It Jiggleit, who has earned more than $4 million through his three- and four-year-old campaigns.

“Wiggle It Jiggleit was such a superb horse that every time we had the opportunity to be in a race with him, we enjoyed it. More than being in the race with him, we were looking to get a better post position than him; we’d only have one or two shots as far as the draw is concerned because that horse can leave like a bullet, and our horse can also leave. We’ve never been close enough to have a conversation about it other than saying ‘We were glad to be in the race.’

“Wiggle It Jiggleit and his connections are one of the best things to happen to the harness racing industry in years, and we’re happy to be any part of that that we can be, and we’re hoping and looking forward to seeing if we’re on the same circle as him, along with the rest of the contenders; Mcwicked’s coming, for example. We’re looking for some good challenges, but we just hope that Wakizashi’s up to the same desire he had at three.”

(A Trot Insider Exclusive by Ray Cotolo)

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