Monday, 23 October 2023 18:15

Dominating Double Victory at Century Mile: Side Piece and Blue Star Mercury Triumph in Alberta Harness Racing's Biggest Showdowns

Side Piece and Brandon Campbell at the wire in the Century Casino Filly Pace Side Piece and Brandon Campbell at the wire in the Century Casino Filly Pace Coady Photo/Ryan Haynes

Easy.

First, Side Piece in Saturday night’s $134,300 Century Casino Filly Pace. Then, two races later, Blue Star Mercury in the $110,710 Western Canada Pacing Derby - both humiliating their opponents in the two biggest harness races of the year at Century Mile.

Side Piece won by four and a half lengths in 1:53 1/5 going wire to wire. Blue Star Mercury won by a length and a quarter in 1:52 3/5 but it may as well have been by a dozen as he won with little encouragement in a similar wire-to-wire recital.

They both pulled away down the long stretch looking like two sailors waving goodbye to their loved ones as their boats floated out to sea.

“This one was fun. A lot of fun,” laughed Blue Star Mercury’s driver Mike Hennessy as if he had just given someone a wedgie.

“He had a lot of pace when I asked him. He opened up quite a piece of ground.”

“She likes it on the front-end,” said Side Piece’s regular trainer and co-owner Jim Marino, who put the three-year-old filly into the much more than capable hands of trainer/driver Brandon Campbell for her trip from B.C. to Alberta.

“She’s really strong on the front.”

“She’s big and strong and likes to win.”

Does she ever. Side Piece has now won five in a row and 11 of her last 12 starts.

“It went well,” said Campbell, who was mostly just a passenger holding onto the lines as Side Piece set sail from the outset and never looked back. “It’s fun to be a part of horses like that.”

While Side Piece has been holding her opposition hostage all year, Blue Star Mercury is just coming into his own having played second fiddle to Virtual Horizon most of the year.

When Blue Star Mercury won the Derby elimination he was so overlooked that he paid $66.70 to win.

“He’s peaking at just the right time,” said Blue Star Mercury’s trainer Rod Hennessy - Mike’s father.

“It took a while to get him going but he’s on the right path now.”

Side Piece carved out fractions of :27 1/5; :56 4/5 and 1:25 3/5 on the crisp, and windy late fall card.

Blue Star Mercury laid down the law with fractions of :27 4/5; :56 2/5 and 1:26 1/5.

After that it was simply no contest for both horses.

Side Piece paced her last quarter in :27 3/5; Blue Star Mercury rattled off a sensational last quarter in :26 2/5.

It would have taken a 747 from the nearby Edmonton International Airport to beat either one of them in the stretch.

“You don’t see a final quarter like that very often,” said Mike. “That’s big time.

“Blue Star Mercury just keeps getting better and better every week.”

“He shocked me last week when he won the Derby elimination. I was just hoping to hit the tote board and get a spot in the Final. Until that elimination I didn’t know if we even had a chance. It was unexpected.”

“Now he shocked me again with a final quarter mile like that.”

Blue Star Mercury put $55,355 into the pockets of his owners Edmonton’s Lorne Duffield and Beaumont’s Jean Crochetiere; Side Piece won $67,150 for owners Marino and Rick Mowles - the latter also the horse’s breeder.

Blue Star Mercury paid $6.90 to win; Side Piece returned just $2.90 to win.

Side Piece’s game plan was always to get to the front as quickly as possible. Not Blue Star Mercury.

“I was actually hoping to get a trip behind the right kind of a horse. The last time I put him in front early he got beat,” Mike said of a race back on June 30 when Blue Star Mercury unexpectedly stopped badly and finished fifth beaten by more than 16 lengths.”

“I was thinking about that before the race. He likes coming off someone’s helmet. He likes to chase.”

“But coming off the last turn he grabbed on and I thought to myself ‘We’re good now.’”

“He’s getting stronger and finding gears that I didn’t realize he had. Me or my dad.”

This year’s edition was the fourth Derby victory for Rod and the second for Mike.

Rod won his first Derby in 2003 with Armbro Aviator. That year Rod had a three-horse entry and they finished 1-2-3 with Armbro Aviator, driven by John Chappell, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Rusty’s Gold, driven by Paul MacKenzie and Talon Seelster, driven by Rod, third.

In 2006 Rod won it again - this time by 6 1/4 lengths - with Hyperion Hanover, who shipped in from the U.S. Hyperion Hanover went on to win $1.2 million winning 52 of his 301 starts.

Then, in 2018, Rod won the Derby for a third time with Cheddar Jack and with Mike doing the driving. They also won by 6 1/4 lengths.

Now, Blue Star Mercury.

“He’s always been a nice race horse,” said Mike. “But his speed was limited. Now, with more racing, he seems to have gotten a killer instinct and a desire to go and do it.”

Derby favourite, Virtual Horizon, who had won his first 13 starts this year before finishing second in last week’s eliminations, lost the Derby at the entry box when he drew the outside eighth post.

Last after half a mile, Virtual Horizon came flying and finished third behind runner-up Over The Horizon but simply had too much to do.

“He raced fantastic,” said Campbell, his trainer and driver. “How can you ask for anymore? I was happy to get up for third.”

STOCK REPORT - Shark Week won his 12th in a row earlier on Saturday’s card lowering his own track record to 1:50 2/5. Owned by Rod Hennessy and Duffield, as usual the tremendous horse went wire-to-wire.

There were four other stakes on Saturday’s card. Come On Santana won the first division of the Rocky Mountain Boys for two-year-old colts and geldings by nine lengths in 1:56. The second division was taken by Matteuse - by a neck over favourite Grey Horizon - in 1:53 2/5.

Then, in the first division of the Brad Gunn for two-year-old fillies, Born A Spy romped by seven and three-quarters of a length in 1:55 4/5; Outlawguns N Roses took the second division in 1:54.

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