The latest stop on the Winning Mister showcase tour comes in Indiana Wednesday night (April 11) when the six-year-old makes his first appearance at Hoosier Park
It’s all part of owner Bob Key’s plan to let people see how good his horse has become since undergoing a personality overhaul several years ago. So far this season, Winning Mister has won seven of eight races and earned $87,750 while racing at The Meadows, Harrah’s Chester and Woodbine Racetrack.
“Mr. Key had the idea that we want to keep promoting the aged stars in the horse business, so he wants to move him from one track to another,” said Rich Gillock, who has been Winning Mister’s main trainer since he was a two-year-old. “It’s kind of a combination deal. He’s a little more dominant, they let you win a few but they won’t let you win every week, and we gotta go somewhere else with him.”
Winning Mister’s home track is The Meadows, outside of Pittsburgh, but he will face a busy season of travel.
“We have the Breeders Crown [at Woodbine] and any of the big races for aged horses we’ll be eligible for as far as that goes,” Gillock said. “We’ll just have to take them one race at a time when it gets that time. We’ll hit a few other tracks here and there to showcase him a little bit and hopefully be ready.”
It has been a case of Winning Mister finally reaching his potential by calming down. He is just under $100,000 away from winning $1 million and should probably reach that mark this season. But according to Gillock, he had the ability to do so much earlier in his career.
“He was always a high speed horse, but he was rambunctious when he was two and three,” the trainer said. “I had him up in Canada and those drivers are very good horsemen. They realized if they let him go he would stay on stride, but he got to where you couldn’t control his speed.
“Randy Waples drove him a good bit [as a two- and three-year-old] and said ‘We’ll make him race from behind.’ Needless to say the horse had other ideas, but eventually it did pay off. It was just him getting his head together as a two- or three-year-old.”
The son of Angus Hall-Winning Missbrenda still had some strong outings in his youth. As a two-year-old he won a $20,000 division of the Reynolds Stakes and a $120,000 Ontario Sire Stakes Gold Final before finishing second in the $300,000 Ontario Sire Stakes Super Final.
As a three-year-old, he won a $55,000 division of the Oliver Trotting Classic and was second in a division of the Old Oaken Bucket. He also was fourth in the American-National. As a four-year-old he raced mainly in opens and non-winners contests and concluded the year with a time of 1:53.1 in the $60,000 Harrah’s Boulevard Series Final at Harrah’s Chester.
Winning Mister emerged last year when he won 11 of 27 races, earned $319,200, and became the fastest older male trotter in Dover Downs history, winning in 1:53.2.
A major change in the horse’s demeanor came when Walt Carroll, another Key trainer, took Winning Mister as a four- and five-year-old at Sam Beegle’s Ginger Tree Farm in central Pennsylvania.
“Walt did an excellent job with him,” Gillock said. “The horse loved being in that atmosphere. It’s a beautiful place down there, a nice quiet area. Walt took excellent care of him and did a good job with him. He just got to where he needed a little break. He got off form a little bit.
“He had a few little issues; we freshened him up and I got the privilege of bringing him back this year.”
And he inherited a much calmer horse.
“He’s real mellow now,” Gillock said. “If you see him down our barn you’d think he’s a gelding to look in at him. He’s real pleasant to be around, just a nice horse to do things with. He’s mellowed out in the last year or two. That’s what hopefully turned him into a strong horse.”
Winning Mister has won 31 of 113 races and earned $902,870 in his career.
“I think [the $1 million] is what we’re shooting for,” Gillock said. “Right now Mr. Key will probably stand him next year and the best advertisement on any horse is to see him race and remember how they look on the racetrack. And people remember them a little easier if they are a good horse.”
Indiana gets its first look at him Wednesday in the Open, and Gillock is anxious to see how he will do on the seven-eighths-mile track with Peter Wrenn driving. Winning Mister, starting from post seven, is the 2-1 morning line favourite.
“He’s like all horses, he has little things that sometimes affect him,” Gillock said. “But most of the time anymore he’s at the point that no matter what size the track is he knows when he’s behind the gate.
“His strongest point is to get out of the gate real well and get in good position. Usually at the smaller size tracks that’s an advantage for horses like that. He shows being on the lead a lot, but he can race from behind if need be.”
Winning Mister’s only misstep this year came when he went off stride in the Glorys Comet series at Woodbine Racetrack. Gillock said the miscue stemmed from the automatic start timer at the track, which affected Winning Mister’s pre-race routine.
“When horses get in there they walk around and parade around in a little group,” he said. “He wasn’t used to doing that and got pretty rambunctious. When the gate started to go, he really went and just got too worked up and too close to the gate and hit the gate.”
It was a matter of old habits resurfacing, but for the most part Gillock feels those problems are behind the horse as they look for a big final season. Winning Mister’s schedule also includes the Cutler Memorial in May and the Titan Cup in June, both at the Meadowlands.
“We’re hoping to have him ready to go in those races,” Gillock said. “I know there’s more horses getting qualified for them. We’re just hoping he gets to the point where he thinks he is the kingpin and he’ll race accordingly when we’re in that.”
With his new laid-back attitude, there’s a better chance that will be the case.
This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit www.ustrotting.com.