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Baillargeon Trainees 'Ready To Go'

Published: May 9, 2020 12:08 pm ET

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It's just a matter of time before the stars in Ben Baillargeon's stable can once again shine.

While the question of How much time before harness racing resumes in Ontario? remains unanswered, the likes of reigning William Wellwood Memorial winner HP Royal Theo are not far at all from being ready to resume competition.

"I trained a bunch of them in 2:00 on Wednesday," Baillargeon informed Trot Insider, indicating that HP Royal Theo "trained in 2:00, last half in :57. He's ready to go."

The son of Royalty For Life and Mikas Mazurka has been out of action since the $225,000 Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final on Oct. 12, when he broke stride at the half-mile pole as the odds-on favourite. Four weeks before that costly misstep, HP Royal Theo bailed off stalled cover, chased down Beyond Kronos, and held off Marcus Melander trainee Capricornus for a 1:54.2 score in the $370,000 William Wellwood Memorial at Woodbine Mohawk Park. The win helped propel HP Royal Theo to divisional honours as Canada's Two-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year in 2019.

HP Royal Theo has matured in his seven months away from the races, and Baillargeon is hopeful that his star sophomore will live up to his expectations.

"He got a little -- I wouldn't say bigger -- but more wide, more bulk," said Baillargeon. "He's a little bit more mature. I trained him all winter with another horse and I made him sit in a hole. He does what I want him to do.

"He was ready to go the third week of April," Baillargeon continued. "When they cancelled, I just slowed him down. The last three weeks, I just trained him once a week -- around 2:10 just to keep him tight. But this week, I trained him in 2:00, and he was real good. When they say 'go,' he'll qualify and he'll be ready to go."

Left to right: Jean Tourigny, Sara Baillargeon, Ben Baillargeon, Guylaine Picard, Jeff Baillargeon, Claude Hamel, Standardbred Canada Director Andrea Rennison (presenting), Celine Paquin, Gitane Bernard, Louis-Philippe Roy.

The maturity and versatility HP Royal Theo gained in the off-season have surfaced in recent training miles, according to his veteran Québécois trainer who now calls Guelph, Ont., home.

"He was awesome Wednesday," said Baillargeon. "I stretched him out a little bit and I was really pleased. Right now, I could take him to Mohawk and train him in 1:55 or 1:56 easily. He's pretty handy."

Given that the May 18 Ontario Sires Stakes Gold event at Woodbine Mohawk Park (the second leg for sophomore trotting colts is not until June 28) is the only one of five preliminary events in jeopardy of abandonment, the stakes schedule that Baillargeon -- along with owners Claude Hamel and Michel Damphousse -- mapped out for HP Royal Theo seems mostly intact.

"I don't know if the Goodtimes (at Woodbine Mohawk Park) will go, but if they go with the Goodtimes in June, I'll be ready," said Baillargeon of HP Royal Theo's three-year-old campaign. "After that, I have the Earl Beal at Pocono, whether they go or not, and then after that, we're back here for the rest of the year — the Canadian Trotting Classic, the Simcoe and all the OSS."

HP Royal Theo is not eligible to the Hambletonian or the Breeders Crown, but Baillargeon didn't rule out a Breeders Crown supplement if the colt puts himself at that level.

On the pacing side, Rhythm In Motion will look to ramp up as a three-year-old after an hard-luck rookie campaign.

"I trained him in 1:57 on Wednesday," Baillargeon said of the son of Big Jim he trains for Santo and Nunzio Vena. "He was a nice two-year-old last year -- he made $50,000 -- but he was sick all year."

Despite that sickness, he posted a 1:55.2 maiden-breaking win in September, was timed in 1:52.1 in a subsequent runner-up effort, and paced closing sectionals faster than :27 on two separate occasions.

While the 12 two-year-olds and 10 three-year-olds under Baillargeon's care are "all ready to qualify," his older horses are pointed for a June return.

"All the racehorses that I raced all winter had a month off," he said. "They were turned out for one month without a harness. Every day, they were out in the field for two or three hours depending on the weather, but they didn't see a harness. I started them all back on April 20 to have them ready for June. They've all been trained a couple times so far, last Friday and then Tuesday."

Among them are a pair of top trotters: Tom and Elizabeth Rankin's Kadabra homebred Run Director, and Musical Rhythm, the 2019 O'Brien Award winner Baillargeon co-owns with the Venas and Hamel.

"It's a good problem to have," Baillargeon said of the amount of older trotting talent in his stable that also includes P L Jill and R First Class. "I can manage them a little better; I don't have to rush into anything.

"I put Run Director in all the big dances this year," he continued. "I expect a good year out of him. I qualified him twice -- in 1:56 the last time -- and I kept him tight. I trained him in 1:57 last week and in 2:00 this week. He's ready to go.

"Last year was a tough year for him. He made over $100,000, but it wasn't a good year for him — I don't know why. He still won in 1:51(.2), but I wasn't happy with his year. This year, he's a five-year-old. He had a good winter, he looks real good, and we're ready to tackle all the big ones."

The son of Kadabra won five of his 15 starts in 2019, including the aforementioned 1:51.2 win against Preferred company at Mohawk on July 1, but he remained just a hair slower than the continent's top older trotters after banking over $300,000 on the Ontario Sires Stakes circuit as a three-year-old.

Run Director's stablemate, Musical Rhythm, may have a bit longer to go to get back to action, but the mere prospect of the eight-year-old being able to race again is enough to delight Baillargeon.

"We didn't even know if he was going to come back!" Baillargeon explained. "His last race, July 9, he broke his cannon bone."

Remarkably enough, Musical Rhythm still trotted a 1:51.1 mile and held onto second place behind Dancer Hall in that fateful race. Eight months later, on March 19, he qualified in 1:56.4, only for his return to the races to be postponed once again.

"He had a bad infection in one leg," said Baillargeon of the conditions surrounding his veteran trotter being sidelined. "The disease was eating his bone away from inside; that's why we couldn't see it. We had to put screws in his leg, and once again he beat the odds. He qualified easily just before they shut down."

Still, when Musical Rhythm is in peak form, he is as good as any top-calibre trotter. He reeled off six consecutive Preferred wins at Mohawk last spring, capped by a dazzling Canadian record-equalling 1:50.4 performance on June 17.

"Santo and I talk about this horse, and he puts a smile on our faces all the time," Baillargeon said of the son of Cantab Hall who has won 36 races and banked over $800,000. "When things go bad, I just have to go jog him...Everything this horse does is a bonus for us."

Since the older horses aren't able to maintain their typical racing schedule, keeping them in shape and ready for a return to action has made for more work than usual for Baillargeon and his staff.

"It's a lot of work right now because we aren't racing," he said. "When we race, it's not as much work. Right now, the two- and three-year-olds, and now I've got to get the racehorses ready on top of it. We have lots of work. We work and we go home."

Despite the increased workload, Baillargeon reports that everyone in his circle is safe and healthy, and that the protocols being followed by horsepeople throughout the province should go a long way toward a potential return to racing sooner than later.

"Everybody in the barn is healthy, around here anyway," Baillargeon concluded. "I haven't heard of anyone who is sick. Let's hope it stays like that; it will help our return."

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