The 59th edition of The Guardian Gold Cup and Saucer final will put the finishing touches on Old Home Week 2018 on Saturday night and driver Jay Harris is full of confidence leaving from Post 1 with Rockin In Heaven but knows it will not be as simple as racing on the seven-eighths mile track in Ontario that the horse usually excels.
“You look at Rockin In Heaven and put him on a big track and you have to undeniably say he is the best horse in there,” Harris said of the second-place finisher in Trial 1. “Now on a smaller track, he takes an eighth of a mile to get into gear. Both of Allard’s horses will be leaving and you know Anthony will be leaving and I’ll be leaving off the rail. The first turn is sure to be a little action packed.”
The Nova Scotia-owned and trained horse has the papers held by Doug Polley of Amherst and Gordon McComb of Fall River, while Springhill native Teesha Symes does the conditioning. A winner of over $700,000 in his career, Rockin In Heaven was a winner in the preferred pace at Woodbine Mohawk Park in Ontario on Aug. 4 with a dazzling 25.1 closing quarter to advance from eighth to first in the stretch drive. Harris believes a trip on the front or in the outer flow will be the best shot for Rockin In Heaven to land in the winner’s circle Saturday night.
“His last start at Mohawk was pretty simple. I just sat on the rail then showed him daylight and he came home in 25.1. You have to have a real good horse to come a last quarter any better than that. But I won’t be able to do that on a half. We’re racing against two Allard horses, it’s tough enough racing against one Allard horse, so I need to make sure I don’t get manipulated by either of those two. Louis and Simon are sure to have a strategy cooked up and it’s my job to make sure that strategy doesn’t go 100 per cent their way.”
In the nearly 60-year history of the Gold Cup and Saucer a female trainer has never won the race. Before this field of horses is taken into consideration, with three different female trainers in competition, there had been only four female trainers race in the Gold Cup and Saucer final. The last female trainer in the race was Casie Coleman in the 2015 edition, where she finished third with Lucan Hanover.
“Teesha is just ecstatic to be in the race let alone have a huge shot to win it,” Harris said. “She has done a fantastic job with this horse, he’s on all four toes right now and is the best he’s been at any point in his career.”
Regardless of the outcome, Harris is just overwhelmed with the experience of his first Old Home Week on Prince Edward Island.
“I have a lot of friends in Ontario who are East Coasters and this week is all they talk about all year. You have crowds that I have never seen before.”
Driver Marc Campbell won the Gold Cup and Saucer in 2013 and 2015 and has had powerful horses from the Ron Burke stable to drive in this race the past five years. This year he races Rose Run Quest from his own stable for owner Blair Hansen of Charlottetown. Campbell is the lone Atlantic Canada-based driver in the race and joins Louis Philippe Roy as the only drivers in the field to have previously won the Gold Cup and Saucer.
“It’s a little different than the last few years I was in it, we’re a long shot,” Campbell said. “He’s a horse we bought for a modest price and a year later we’re in the Gold Cup and Saucer. There is not as much pressure this year.”
The lone locally owned horse in the race, Rose Run Quest is sure to get a good look at all the early action from Post 2.
“The one horse (Rockin In Heaven) is going to try and gun out and both of Allard’s horses will be going out there and Jody Jamieson and Asap Hanover pushing the issue early,” the Winsloe driver said. “Anthony won’t be getting away eighth, I can see him leaving out and staring at me halfway through the first turn looking for a hole. He’ll want to sit up handy. I think Rockin In Heaven is the best horse in the race. He has the rail and I think he’s the one to beat.”
The Shepherd brothers, Patrick and Robert, of Stratford will send out Post 7 starter Fool Me Once as the richest starter in the race with $1.1 million in lifetime earnings. Patrick has become a top trainer on the Ontario circuit and is currently establishing himself on the tough Woodbine Entertainment Group circuit while Robert is a leading driver at the smaller half-mile ovals across Ontario.
“We need some front-end speed, that is for sure,” Patrick Shepherd said. “The horse raced good in his elimination. It was a cheap half then a fast last quarter. Robert said he still had the plugs in and had third wrapped up. The horse needed a tightener after being sick then shipping down here.”
Shepherd recently purchased the pacer for $65,000 U.S. in a sale in New Jersey with partners Carl Kuepfer of Newton and Gary Volpe of St. Thomas, Ont.
“He’s got $1 million made for a reason and a mark of 1:48. We spent good money for him and, yes, we wanted a horse for the Gold Cup and Saucer but we bought him to have a nice race horse to lead the way for the stable.”
Shepherd has always dreamed of winning the Gold Cup and Saucer and told his grandmother, Eleanor Hughes, that she would one day watch Robert and himself race in the Gold Cup and Saucer.
“She said ‘No I won’t be around for that,” Shepherd recalls her saying. “Now she’s 91 years old and still going a hundred. There is no race I’d rather win, especially for my family. To have my grandmother here is something else. To win the race you always dreamed of winning and have your brother driving, I don’t know what else there is.”
While respecting the talent of Post 1 starter Rockin In Heaven, Shepherd thinks the horse that beat him in Trial 1, Somewhere Fancy, is the one to knock off on the way to the winner’s circle.
“The Allard boys they come to play every year. If I’m looking out for a horse it is Somewhere Fancy. I have the right driver on him, my brother, and if anyone is going to work a trip out it is going to be him. I was a little nervous but I’m feeling better now that I have Robert driving. He is pretty cool under pressure the competition doesn’t scare him. The way these horses leave post position is just a number.”