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'If He Acts Like A Leaf We're In Trouble'

Published: September 11, 2011 6:21 pm ET

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Rather than the call to the post for Wednesday’s Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots event, Grand River Raceway may want to employ The Hockey Theme, as a pair of three-year-old trotting colts named in honour of Canada’s game roll in behind the starting gate.

First up is Vesa T, namesake of former Toronto Maple Leaf’s goalie Vesa Toskala. The Ken Warkentin son and driver Michael Horner will take aim on a share of the ninth race purse from Post 3, and trainer Mark Horner is hoping the colt performs better than the team his namesake used to play for.

“If he starts acting like a Leaf we’re in trouble,” jokes Horner, who conditions the colt for Earl Bradley of Orangeville, Ont., R A W Equine of Burlington, Ont., and Sure Gain Stable of Mitchell, Ont.

Vesa T struggled in all three of his Grassroots performances this season, but he heads into Wednesday’s event off an impressive mile in an Aug. 31 overnight at Flamboro Downs that saw him hit the wire two and three-quarter lengths ahead of the competition in a personal best 1:59.

“We went to the trotting hopples and he raced good,” explains Horner. “He’s just had bad luck after bad luck all summer.”

The colt opened his sophomore season on April Fools Day with a victory over the Western Fair Raceway half-mile, and followed that effort up with two more wins, three seconds and one third in his first seven starts, all over the London oval. Scratched sick out of the Grassroots season opener on June 25 at Kawartha Downs, Vesa T made breaks in his next four starts, three of them in Grassroots action.

“In Hanover [Aug. 6] he had the seven-hole, then he had a little road trouble in Sudbury [Aug. 20],” recalls Horner. “In Sarnia [July 7] he raced good, he just made a break at the end of the mile.

“He’s a big, big horse, he just needs a little more room to navigate out there than others might,” adds the St. Marys, Ont. resident.

Hoping to change the colt’s luck, Horner skipped the Aug. 28 Grassroots event at Dresden Raceway and sent Vesa T -- outfitted in a pair of trotting hopples -- out in an Aug. 25 qualifier at Sarnia’s Hiawatha Horse Park. The youngster laid down a flawless 2:00.1 mile, and his connections breathed a sigh of relief. The hopples will remain in Vesa T’s equipment bag through the end of the season, which Horner admits could be arriving shortly.

“He’s still got a chance to make a little money, but it’s slim pickings now, so he better step it up,” says the trainer ruefully. “He won real easy at Flamboro last time. Having enough go isn’t the thing with him, he’s just got to keep his head on straight.”

Horner adds that the colt faces an uphill battle in Wednesday’s ninth race, facing off against number two ranked Count Strike from Post 1 and the sixth-ranked Big Strike from Post 5.

Trainer-driver Anthony MacDonald knows his hockey-themed entry also faces a tough test on Wednesday. Heshoots Hescores makes his sophomore Grassroots debut from Post 7 in a field that boasts five colts currently ranked in the top 20, including Major Herbie, who shares second spot in the division standings with Count Strike and will start from Post 3 for Arthur, Ont. resident Wayne Henry.

“We’ve made the adjustments we wanted to make; I’m happy with the way the horse is hung up and the way he’s shod, now it’s up to him,” says MacDonald, who acquired Heshoots Hescores for $7,000 from the Aug. 28 Summer Sizzler Sale.

In his first start for MacDonald and his partners Bradley Watt of Guelph, Ont. and Matthew Trelford of Mildmay, Ont. -- a Sept. 1 overnight event at Kawartha Downs -- Heshoots Hescores made a break and finished a distant ninth. MacDonald then tinkered with the Angus Hall son’s equipment and sent him out in a Sept. 6 schooler at Mohawk Racetrack.

“He schooled really well on Tuesday at Mohawk,” reports MacDonald. “But I don’t know how he’ll handle the track at Grand River. I’ve only sat behind him once, on a five-eighths, and he made a break, so I’ll have to drive him conservative.”

The Guelph, Ont. resident says he and his partners are thinking long term with the gelding, expecting to easily recoup their modest investment this winter.

“He’s a nice horse, he’s well worth what we bought him for,” says the horseman. “He’s got decent breeding and high speed.

“He’s a little temperamental and he can be a little aggressive at times -- him and I are a lot a like,” adds MacDonald with a laugh. “But we’re thinking past Wednesday night, for sure.”

Grand River Raceway will feature the three-year-old trotting colts in Races 4, 6, 9 and 11 on Wednesday, with the evening’s first race going to post at 7:10 p.m.

In addition to the Grassroots action, fans at the Elora oval will also have another opportunity to enter the Ontario Sires Stakes program’s Win The Thrill contest. Finalists in the designated Win The Thrill race receive a Grand River Raceway betting voucher and a ballot for the Grand Prize -- a share in the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association’s (SBOA) New Owner Mentoring Program. The Grand Prize draw occurs at Mohawk Racetrack during the Oct. 1 Grassroots Championships, and the lucky winner will join eight other group members and owner-mentor Brian Webster in the purchase and ownership of an Ontario-sired yearling that will be trained by Tony O’Sullivan in hopes of competing on next year’s OSS circuit.

More information about the Win The Thrill contest and the SBOA New Owner Mentoring program is available at and Ballots and details are available in the official Grand River Raceway program.

To view Wednesday's harness racing entries, click on the following link: Wednesday Entries - Grand River Raceway.


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