Wednesday, 18 October 2023 07:00

Over The Horizon and Blue Star Mercury Surpass Expectations to Reach Western Canada Pacing Derby Final

Over The Horizon and Blue Star Mercury at the wire of their respective elimination races on Saturday at Century Mile Over The Horizon and Blue Star Mercury at the wire of their respective elimination races on Saturday at Century Mile Coady Photo/Ryan Haynes

The stage is set.

Favourite Over The Horizon and longshot King Kong slayer Blue Star Mercury both won this past Saturday’s Western Canada Pacing Derby eliminations to advance to this Saturday’s prestigious and rich $110,000 Pacing Derby Final at Century Mile.

“I didn’t think I could beat Virtual Horizon considering the posts with Blue Star Mercury having the seven post,” said trainer Rod Hennessy.

“I was really just trying to catch a fourth and advance to the Final. I didn’t think (Virtual Horizon) could get beat. I was just hoping we could stay close and maybe scare him.”

But Blue Star Mercury had other ideas and, with a perfect drive from Rod’s son Mike, upset Virtual Horizon, who had been a perfect 13 for 13 this year.

“I think I was more surprised with the price he paid than with the victory,” said Rod after the tote board flashed a $66.70 win price.

For one of the very few times the Blue Star Mercury/Virtual Horizon exactor paid less ($54.90) than the winner’s price.

“I couldn’t believe the price. I mean Virtual Horizon just beat us by a length in his last start, the September 30 Plainsman. And Blue Star Mercury was second to Virtual Horizon again in the start before that.

“One of my owners was very happy,” Rod said of the three-year-old owned by Lorne Duffield and Jean Crochetiere.

Parked to the first quarter, Blue Star Mercury briefly found the rail down the backstretch but was on the move quickly getting cover from Mickey Mantle.

Tipping three-wide, Blue Star Mercury was full of pace.

“Mike had the big slingshot and he was gone,” said Rod.

“He went by Virtual Horizon pretty handily. This horse is peaking right now at the absolute perfect time,” Rod said of Blue Star Mercury’s first win in his last 10 starts stopping the clock in 1:53 4/5.

In the other division there was no surprise as Over The Horizon won as the favourite in 1:54 1/5 defeating General Custard by a length and a half.

Over The Horizon was also saddled with post seven. Like Blue Star Mercury he too was parked to the first quarter.

But trainer/driver Nathan Sobey kept going, took the lead and then was passed by Handsome Dan. With General Custard also on the move Over The Horizon suddenly was trapped solidly along the rail.

But down the stretch Sobey found the room he was looking for. Scraping the inside pylons, Over The Horizon kept battling and went on to a length and a half victory.

“The trip couldn’t have worked out better,” said Sobey.

“I floated out looking for a spot on the rail. I was trying to work out a covered trip. But there wasn’t any open spots and by the time the outside flow came it was too late so I thought it was best to just get close to the front. The goal was to make it to the Final.”

“I let Handsome Dan go down the backstretch and Over The Horizon kept going and then found the room he needed.”

It was the third win in Over The Horizon’s last four starts.

“It took a while to get Over The Horizon going but he’s rounding into form now at the right time,” said Sobey of the horse owned by himself, Keith Clark and Bob Jones.

“We’ve got the Derby on Saturday and then the Super Finals on November 4th.”

Bought at the Alberta Yearling Sale for $19,000, Sobey said it was Jones who picked the colt out.

“Bob told me you watch; this is going to be a good one.”

“He was big and gangly as a two-year-old but he’s grown up into his three-year-old self. He’s had a very stellar three-year-old campaign and I think his best days are yet to come.”

Sobey is throwing out Over The Horizon’s start - the $56,300 Plainsman stake - in his second last appearance.

“He was sick. There was no fire no fight at all. He was dead. I had to chase him to get to the gate and he ended up being parked the whole way too.

“Saturday he was himself again. He was quite sharp warming up.”

The eight three-year-olds making it to Saturday’s Final are Over The Horizon, Blue Star Mercury, General Custard, Virtual Horizon, Handsome Dan, One Major Hottie, Matts Gem and Mickey Mantle. The two fifth-place finishers - Tin Can Timmy and Opulent Dragon - will draw to see who gets the ninth and final spot.

As the two elimination winners Over The Horizon and Blue Star Mercury will get to pick their posts. Posts for the rest of the field will be a random draw.

If Blue Star Mercury gets to pick first Hennessy said he would likely take the rail.

“Otherwise I’d take the two post but with a trailer that can be a disadvantage,” said Hennessy, who bought Blue Star Mercury privately this spring in B.C.

“I didn’t have to make a single change on him. He’s just got better and better.”

Sobey said his choice of posts if he gets to pick first will be a ‘game time decision.’

Asked who he fears the most, Sobey said “I wouldn’t count out any horse in the race. It’s a tough group. It’s all going to to depend on how the race sets up.”

“It’s going to be interesting to see how Virtual Horizon rebounds,” Sobey said of a horse who hadn’t lost a race since last October. “A horse, Blue Star Mercury, finally looked Virtual Horizon in the bridle and went right on by. How is he going to rebound?

“Now is the time to see what kind of a colt Brandon Campbell’s horse really is.

“I had a horse like him last year. Divine Art,” Sobey said of the horse who won 15 in row last year including the Gord and Ila Rumpel.

“Eventually he got beat too.”

“Blue Star Mercury is peaking at the right time. He looked awesome on Saturday.”

“Mickey Mantle was making his first start over a mile track. He looked alright.”

“General Custard is a weird horse. Sometimes he wants to pass them all. Other times he hangs. He could be great.”

“Like I said I think any horse could win.”

An added big development is also in store for Saturday’s Derby.

Jody Jamieson, one of the best drivers in the world is coming to Edmonton. He is expected to drive Matts Gem for Kelly Hoerdt.

In 2019 Jamieson, who has won 8,629 races and twice captured the World Driving Championship twice, also flew into Century Mile for the Derby and won with Hoerdt’s Kneedeep N Custard.

Hoerdt will likely drive Mickey Mantle.

“I was happy the way both Mickey Mantle and Matts Gem raced,” said Hoerdt.

“Getting Jody to drive one of them certainly isn’t going to hurt.”

In addition to the Derby eliminations, Sobey also sent out Matteus to victory in one of two divisions of the Lone Star for two-year-old colts and geldings.

While Over The Horizon was no surprise, Matteus was. To just about everyone except Sobey.

“He may have been a surprise to others but not to me,” said Sobey sternly after Matteuse paid $72.70 to win.

“Not the way he has been training.”

“I always knew he had the ability. There’s no lack of talent that’s for sure.”

“This was just his fifth lifetime start. In his first race he was just green. In his second start he jumped a shadow or some hoof prints and broke stride. In his third start he raced green again and was beaten by just a length for third. I could have driven him better too. And in his last start there was a track issue and he hit some deep stuff.”

“He finally put it all together.”

There is also the matter of Matteuse’s family. By Custard The Dragon, who took a mark of 1:48 1/5 and won $777,817 as a multiple stakes winner, Matteuse’s dam is Jills Scooter making him a half brother to Icy Blue Scooter (by Blue Burner) Wink N Win (by Wink N Atcha) and Matts A Mystician (by Mystician).

Icy Blue Scooter was a two-time Alberta Horse of the Year who had 42 wins and 48 seconds in 200 starts, won $373,203 and took a mark of 1:51 1/5.

Wink N Win won again on Saturday and has 22 wins in 93 starts. Matts A Mystician has 10 wins in 36 starts and is racing in Prefered Company.

STOCK REPORT - Grey Horizon surprised nobody winning the second division of the Lone Star for his fifth win in six starts. His only loss was a second - by half a length. Grey Horizon won this one by almost 12 lengths.

Not to be overlooked is the $110,000 Century Casino Filly Pace which will also be contested on Saturday.

There, G TS Skyla looks to win her 10th start in just 13 lifetime appearances.

“She’s looking really good this week,” said trainer and co-owner Scott McGinn.

Unraced since September 30, McGinn said he doesn’t think the layoff will be a factor.

“She should be tight. I took her to Century Mile on Saturday and Logan (driver Gillis) gave her a race mile. She was really impressive.

“She raced great in her last start,” McGinn said of the $55,100 Princess Final. “And she’s been training like a monster ever since.

“Saturday is the big one. This is the race everyone wants to win.”

Also in the field are You Promyst, who defeated G TS Skylark in the Princess elimination but was a well-beaten second in the September 30 Princess Final, and B.C. invader Side Piece, who won on Friday night at Century Mile. It was Side Piece’s third win in a row after also sweeping the Murphy stakes - the Final by seven and a half lengths - at Fraser Downs.

Also not to be overlooked is another amazing performance by Shark Week, who won by more than five easy lengths in a Century Mile track record of 1:50 3/5 for his 11th win in a row on Saturday.

Shark Week’s wire to wire victory came after splits of :26 1/5; :54 4/5 and 1:23 2/5.

Shark Week also set the track record at Calgary’s Century Downs on June 3 when he became the first harness horse in history to pace faster than 1:50 in Western Canada when he stopped the teletimer in a sensational 1:49 2/5.

“He’s an absolute freak of a horse that looks after himself,” said trainer and co-owner Rod Hennessy.

“I think he’s capable of pacing in 1:48. He just played with them on Saturday. He’s everyone’s fan favourite except for the guys chasing him.”

“To do what he’s been doing just racing every three weeks is insane.”

Shark Week has now won 36 of his 70 lifetime starts.

Finally, this past Saturday’s card saw a wicked battle between ByBy Baby ByBy in the second division of the Starburst for two-year-old fillies. Duking it out, ByBy Baby By By got the lead in the final strides to win in a fillies and mares track record of 1:52 2/5 - more than a full second faster than the three year olds in the Derby eliminations. The pair were 21 lengths ahead of the third place finisher, CF Faline.

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Read 1743 times Last modified on Tuesday, 17 October 2023 23:19