|Gillis Riding High With Mister Herbie |
By Greg Reinhart
October 19, 2012
For the last three years, San Pail has been the standard-bearer for Canadian trotters.
San Pail won three straight Maple Leaf Trots at Mohawk Racetrack then won the 2011 Breeders Crown Open Trot at Woodbine Racetrack, defeating not just the best trotters in North America, but also two European invaders, Rapide Lebel and Commander Crowe on his way to Horse of the Year honors north and south of the border.
The connections of Mister Herbie celebrate in the winner's circle.
Since San Pail has been shelved by an injury for much of this year, taking over his place at the top of Canada’s contenders has been Mister Herbie, a four-year-old Ontario-bred son of Here Comes Herbie.
Mister Herbie, who has 16 career victories and earnings of over $1.1 million, is trained by 35-year-old Jeff Gillis, who won his first Breeders Crown last year with the mare trotter Frenchfrysnvinegar.
After a private purchase from previous trainer Carl Jamieson, Mister Herbie came into Gillis’s care late in October 2011 and rattled off six consecutive wins, including a record-setting 1:52 victory in the Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final at Woodbine and multiple victories over aged horses in the preferred at the Toronto oval, to close out his 2011 campaign. Mister Herbie got a brief respite in early 2012, but returned in March, winning two more opens at Woodbine.
The stage was then set for a match-up with San Pail in the Glory’s Comet Trotting Series, and the veteran got the better of his younger challenger by two and a half lengths in the first round of the series. Mister Herbie skipped the second leg, but was back with a vengeance in the $125,000 final, defeating San Pail by a nose in 1:51.3 despite a first-over trip.
"Anytime you face a horse like San Pail, obviously it's going to be a challenge, but honestly we kind of welcomed it,” Gillis said. “We're really proud of our horse, and we're not really intimidated by very many with him. He's a great horse in his own right. I don't think he's ever going to be outclassed. He may get beat, but I don't think he's ever going to be outclassed."
Mister Herbie then trekked to the Meadowlands for the Arthur J. Cutler Memorial, and he was impressive again, wearing down Winning Mister from first-over to win by half a length in 1:51.3. Mister Herbie would go back to Canada following that race, but was a dull sixth in the Gold division of the Honorable Earl Rowe Memorial at Georgian Downs. Gillis noted there was an explanation for that poor performance, though.
“He got through the Cutler, but he didn't come out of it very well, and consequently he wasn't himself at Georgian Downs two weeks later,” Gillis explained. “We had a little flare-up with ulcers, but once we got those under control, he's been quite good since then."
Mister Herbie got a little more time off after the race at Georgian Downs, and then qualified in 1:52.3 on July 6 at Mohawk Racetrack. That was all in preparation for the Maple Leaf Trot, which was the biggest race on Gillis’s radar, and was on July 21st at Mohawk Racetrack. Mister Herbie would reward Gillis for his hard work, getting to the finish line three-quarters of a length to the good in a Canadian record of 1:50.4. That race was also the first time Mister Herbie locked horns against Chapter Seven, but those two horses have been frequent competitors since then.
“The Maple Leaf Trot was the be-all and end-all,” offered Gillis. “That was the one we were really focused on. We were very fortunate in a lot of ways to get that race. We haven't been able to beat Chapter Seven since then, but there have been circumstances and scenarios that went along with that.”
Since winning the Maple Leaf Trot, Mister Herbie has finished second to Chapter Seven in the Nat Ray on Hambletonian Day, first in the Frank Ryan Memorial at Rideau Carleton Raceway, a locked-in fourth in the Credit Winner at Vernon Downs, and second to Chapter Seven in the Allerage Trot at The Red Mile. Gillis is looking forward to another battle with Chapter Seven and also Commander Crowe, who will be making the trip across the Atlantic Ocean again.
"I have tremendous respect for Commander Crowe,” said Gillis. “I thought in the Elitlopp he looked as close to unbeatable as they come, but I understand he's been beat a few times since then. It's always a challenge, I think, for a horse with the ship and the flight he's got in front of him. That's a factor, but I think it totally changes the dynamic of the race. The Europeans don't seem to mind living on the outside, pulling early, what have you. I really think it changes the way that race will unfold.
"I think in the Nat Ray Chapter Seven was just plain better than we were. The next time we faced him was in Vernon, and we got locked in the two-hole in a four-horse field, which I would have thought was not impossible, but very unlikely given the circumstances. I would say Chapter Seven wasn't at his best that day because he got beat, and I really didn't think off those splits that he would have gotten beat, so that race is kind of a throw-out to me.
"In Lexington I may have had our horse a little under-fit. I also think the trip favored Chapter Seven in that he got an uncontested lead, and we really expected Hot Shot Blue Chip to come first-up because he'd beaten him that way in Vernon, but we couldn't flush him. If you give a horse like Chapter Seven four or five lengths at the end of the last turn, you're going to have a lot of trouble running him down.
“Having said that, I'm confident. I think we're going to give both those horses everything they want and maybe a little more. To me there are certain races that carry a little more prestige than other, and I think the Maple Leaf Trot and the Breeders Crown are two of those races that you really want. To me it really wouldn't matter where the Breeders Crown was, it would still be an important race to us. I just feel that we have a little bit of a home-field advantage in knowing the track very well and being in our own stall and own environment. You want to take advantage of those things."
With no eliminations required for the $600,000 Breeders Crown Trot, Gillis will put Mister Herbie through his paces at Mohawk Racetrack in preparation for the race. Even though Gillis would have liked a prep race for the event, he remains enthused about his charge’s chances.
"He's going to school (Friday) morning at Mohawk Racetrack, and I'll basically develop a schedule based on how he schools and what we feel he needs after that,” Gillis stated. “I think I've been a little bit guilty his last start or two of babying him a little bit too much and maybe not having him quite sharp enough. I don't want that to be the case here.
"He is the closest thing to a perfect horse that you're going to come across. He's just a sweetheart to work around. You could have a little kid jog him and he races like a champion. There's really nothing not to like about him, but if I had to pick one thing, I think he's got a lot of courage. Talent only takes you so far. You've got to have courage and desire and he's certainly got that."
If Gillis is right, the Maple Leaf may very well be flying high again following this year’s edition of the Open Trot.
US$600,000 Breeders Crown Trot (Race 3 - 7:20 p.m.) Sat. Oct. 27
EARLY post 6:30 p.m.
PP Horse Driver Morning Line
1. Daylon Magician (Jack Moiseyev) 10-1
2. Mister Herbie (Jody Jamieson) 3-1
3. Hot Shot Blue Chip (Corey Callahan) 8-1
4. Commander Crowe (Christophe Martens) 5-2
5. Arch Madness (Trond Smedshammer) 8-1
6. Chapter Seven (Tim Tetrick) 6-5