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Rookies Sizzle In Gold Divisions

Published: July 4, 2020 1:20 am ET

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There is an alchemy involved in teaching a yearling how to be a racehorse — the top tier of the Ontario Sires Stakes is, after all, the Gold Series — and last winter trainer Casie Coleman Herlihy though it might actually take supernatural power to transform Springbridge Duel into a racehorse.

As a result it felt like a bit of a miracle when the two-year-old pacing gelding captured one of the season opening Gold Series divisions at Woodbine Mohawk Park on Friday night with an impressive 1:51.3 victory, six and one-quarter lengths ahead of Magnum Moon and Twin B Heart Throb.

“He was a terrible horse to break. I think it took two to three weeks before we even got a jog cart on this horse. I literally had to geld him before we hooked him in a jog cart. I had a horse whisperer work with the horse. He was nuts, he was just absolutely insane,” said the trainer. “He’s got to be the worst horse, or very close up to the worst horse, we’ve ever broke and I definitely said to myself, over and over again, what the hell was I thinking.”

Coleman Herlihy’s typical selection process during yearling buying season is rigorous. She studies pedigrees, she visits farms, she looks at horses repeatedly, but on the final day of the Harrisburg Yearling Sale last November she realised she had not filled her quota of Ontario Sired horses.

“I love the Ontario Sires Stakes program, but I was focussing more on Betting Line’s and I simply didn’t have very many Ontario Sired, so I was literally doing last minute shopping, which I never do,” said Coleman Herlihy, with emphasis on the never. “I was looking at every Ontario Sired horse there was basically, and seeing him — he’s a gorgeous colt, he’s big, good looking, perfect conformation, he’s gorgeous — I ended up buying him.”

The trainer would question her last minute purchase repeatedly through the winter as her Florida-based team of second trainer Ray Domenico, caretaker Evelyn Harms and driver Steve Condren wrestled with Springbridge Duel, trying to channel his raw talent into a usable form.

“If they weren’t as patient with him he could have been ruined very, very easy. Even myself, I owned him and trained him, and I was ready to just say I’m done, give up, sell him, move him or whatever,” said Coleman Herlihy, who shares ownership of the colt with her partners in the West Wins Stable of Cambridge, Steve Heimbecker of Conestogo, ON and Mark Kantrowitz of Delray Beach, FL. “And saying that, he’s always showed the speed. He has a great gait on him and he’s wicked, wicked fast, but it took a long time to get him there and we just had to be so, so careful with him. He’s a ton better than what he was, but it was a tough winter, for sure, breaking that colt.”

Once the son of Big Jim and Stonebridge Damsel returned to Ontario second trainer Mark McKinnon and caretaker Kayla Chappell took up the task of keeping Springbridge Duel on an even keel and on June 20 Bob McClure piloted him in a two-year-old qualifier. The colt finished second and returned to Woodbine Mohawk Park for a second qualifier on June 27, which he won by 16 lengths. On Friday, knowing nothing of his winter-time struggles, fans at the Milton oval sent him off as the favourite in the second $105,600 division.

Starting from Post 6 McClure floated Springbridge Duel off the gate, but many of his peers had the same idea and a there was a crowd around pacesetter Dietrich Seelster as he reached the :28.1 opening quarter. Stuck on the outside, McClure put Springbridge Duel on the front before the :56.1 half and the gelding had opened up a two length lead by the 1:24.4 three-quarters. Without urging, the pacer rolled home in :26.4 to claim his first victory.

“All I told Bob, in the qualifiers and that, all I ever said was, he likes to be first on the gate and then just take him off. Do not leave with him, do not move with him, just sit him in a hole and keep him calm, keep him relaxed, because as soon as somebody leaves with him you’re never going to take him back again, he’s going to get nuts,” said the Cambridge resident. “The way that he was tonight, it’s not like he blasted off the wings, he was floating, looking for a spot and he couldn’t find a spot, and so I really don’t think that’s going to stir him up any more than he already is. I did not want him on the front, but he looked like he was pretty calm and relaxed and Bob had him under control.

“When I saw Bob stop, and he was still checked up and Kayla wasn’t there yet, I was like, ‘Oh God’, and I couldn’t believe how good he was. He actually was very, very good,” she said of the gelding’s winner’s circle behaviour. “Like I said, his manners are getting so much better no doubt, but I’ve got his very first video on my phone still from where he ended up laying on the ground.”

Springbridge Duel will now begin preparations for the second Gold Series Leg at Woodbine Mohawk Park on July 18. He will be joined by the first division winner, Desperate Man, who was equally impressive for driver Trevor Henry, trainer Kathy Cecchin and her co-owners John Cecchin and Nicole and Paul Davies of Arthur, ON.

Starting from Post 2 in the first $104,800 division, Desperate Man got away fourth as Vino Louie charged out to a :26.2 opening quarter. Henry edged the fan favourite off the rail just after the :55.4 half and was putting the pressure on Vino Louie by the 1:24.4 three-quarters. The Shadow Play son unleashed a :26.3 last quarter to claim the 1:51.4 victory, two and three-quarter lengths ahead of Twin B Fighter and Next Big Thing.

“He is probably the nicest two-year-old I have sat behind. Very smart and professional,” said Arthur resident Henry. “I’m so glad for John and Kathy and their kids. It’s really well deserved.”

(OSS)

To view results for Friday's card of harness racing, click the following link: Friday Results – Woodbine Mohawk Park.


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