With the date of the 2023 Pepsi North America Cup just two months away, Trot Insider will profile some of the race's top contenders as horses ready to compete for one of Canadian harness racing's biggest prizes.
At 13-1, Combustion charts at #7 on the countdown in TROT Magazine's 2023 Pepsi North America Cup Spring Book.
Combustion, a three-year-old colt by 2013 North America Cup champion Captaintreacherous out of Acquavella (a full-sister to millionaire Artspeak), was a $260,000 yearling purchase from the 2021 Lexington Select sale. The Brett Pelling trainee kicked off his career winning four races in a row before taking his mark of 1:49.3 at The Red Mile’s Grand Circuit meet in the International Stallion Stakes. Combustion finished third in the Breeders Crown when venturing north of the border to Mohawk and later concluded his freshman campaign in the Governor’s Cup with another sub-1:50 mile, missing by just a neck. A six-time winner, he finished no worse than fourth through 10 starts while earning $315,655 for owners Diamond Creek Racing, Thomas Dillon, Scott Dillon and Cooper Silva Stables.
Trot Insider caught up with Pelling for an update on the colt as he prepares for his sophomore season.
When did you start back with him earlier this year?
What differences do you see in him from two to three?
“He's definitely filled out a lot. He was very front-end strong last year, beautiful shoulders and stuff on him. He's grown up real nice. And he's a very, very calm horse. I mean, he doesn't sort of show his head too much. He's come back pretty nice, he's doing good. One thing about him is... if I was a betting man, I would say that Combustion will be racing in the Matron at the end of the year. He's just that type of horse. I mean, he's just rock solid. He’s just never had a blemish and he's good at resting. I just view him as being, you know, not money in the bank, but pretty close to it.”
Where is he at in terms of his progress, and obviously you say where you think he’ll end the season or where he’ll be going, but when do you see him starting that season?
“I’d say probably three weeks away (as of April 12). I don't want to get ready too early... Once they start going, it's full gas and you can only go the well so many times and I'm just not in a big hurry to kind of get there. It's probably the last real prep a horse ever gets is that prep from two to three. I know we had a beautiful long prep when they were born as babies, get ready at two and now they have this prep and this is probably the two best preps of their lives so if you can stretch it out, stretch it out.”
After the Pepsi North America Cup, is he staked liberally again? Will he have a full dance card?
“Yeah, the Meadowlands Pace and all that stuff. It's very, very interesting this year because the nominations in races are through the ceiling. So, you know, I don't know how many they had last year, but I don't think it would have been probably much more than I don't know 40 or whatever it is. How many noms do you have this year -- close to 80 or something? So basically at March 15 there’s 70-plus horses that people were very happy with and they come to the conclusion that they have plenty of ability. That's a lot. To me, that's just a mind-boggling number.
“It just tells you that no one lays over anyone; there's no one to be afraid of. I don't think there's Papi Robs or Tall Dark Strangers out there that probably hurt a lot of horses when they raced at two.”
What qualities make Combustion such a good horse?
“He's just laid back and he's strong. I don't think he can hurt his feelings. You can probably leave the gate with him and he still can get roughed up a little bit and I don't think it would bother him too much. He's just a very honest horse. I don't think he's the most brilliant horse out there, but he's honest, he's strong. I'm sure they'll be horses that will come out and you'll go, ‘wow.’ And he'll be hanging around and then, you know, a few weeks later, some of those ones you said ‘wow’ about will probably disappear, but he won’t. That's what I like about him.”
At what point last year did you think that this was the kind of colt that you’d be able to point to those major three-year-old stakes?
“I think when we started racing him and just the fact that he was in those ‘group one’ races and he was making money and he was a factor. I think after we left Lexington, I think he sort of showed that he’d come around. A lot of times with two-year-olds after you race them three or four times, you know, it seems like ‘God, that's it.’ Most of the time it's disappointment. And then you get ones that come along that actually just improve from the event and the event doesn't hurt them. And they just kind of naturally progress because of the starts under their belt. And that's how they kind of sort themselves out and you remember we start off with an absolute bucketload of them and then by the time you get to the Governor's Cup at the end of the year, there's 10... They were the 10 survivors. And if you were a survivor, it means that you're pretty tough, you know you're doing, you do it right, and that was him."
This year’s Pepsi North America Cup, scheduled for Saturday, June 17 at Woodbine Mohawk Park, will mark the 40th edition of Canada’s most prestigious pacing event.
Previous 2023 TROT Magazine Pepsi North America Cup Spring Book profiles: