Grand River Raceway hosted the regular season finale for the two-year-old trotting colts on Monday, Sept. 13 and Armstead Cole delivered the win he needed to land a berth in the Grassroots Semi-Final.
“I wasn’t coming into it brimming with confidence, because it’s a new track for him and for him, half-mile I wasn’t worried about that, but new places are different, so I didn’t know how he’d behave,” said trainer Chantal Mitchell. “He actually lost a shoe warming up because he was running away from tractors doing some silly thing, but we got the shoe, we got it back on, and it worked out.”
Starting from Post 3 in the first $21,800 division, driver Randy Waples dropped Armstead Cole into fourth as favourite Renegade Gypsy hustled out to a :28.1 opening quarter. Armstead Cole continued to sit mid-pack through the :58.3 half and then slipped out to challenge the pacesetter heading for the 1:28.3 three-quarters. Matching strides with Renegade Gypsy as they turned for home, Armstead Cole hit a bigger gear in the stretch and trotted away to a one and one-half length win in 1:58.1. Renegade Gypsy settled for second and CM Savewill GL finished third.
The win was the first of the season for the Johnny William son, who did not make his racing debut until August 10. Taught his early lessons at co-owner James “Donnie” Armitage’s Dunrobin, Ont. farm, Armstead Cole was jittery by nature and unused to training with other horses, so the transition to Mitchell’s barn was a slow one.
“He really was only a couple training trips away from being ready to qualify, but he was so scared of other horses that if he saw one he would go one direction, and you didn’t know which direction it was going to be, and he didn’t care if there was anything in his way, he was just going,” said Waterdown, Ont. resident Mitchell of the trotter’s early summer arrival. “So we had to take an extra two months just to desensitize him and get him used to training with horses, and being surrounded by horses, and passed, and all that.”
Armstead Cole now has five starts under his belt and, with Monday’s win and a third-place result in the September 6 Grassroots event at Woodbine Mohawk Park, he finishes the regular season in eleventh spot in the standings, making a leap up from thirty-fourth. With the top 20 finish, his delighted owners Armitage, Grant Watson of Ottawa, John Bruno of Newmarket and Sheryl McDiarmid of Greely, Ont. can now look forward to cheering him on in the September 30 Grassroots Semi-Final.
HP Maestro got his first Ontario Sires Stakes win in the second $22,150 division, which boosted him into second spot in the standings with 100 points. The Il Sogno Dream son logged a pair of seconds in his other two Grassroots appearances, on July 15 and September 6 at Woodbine Mohawk Park, and also posted a second and a sixth in the Gold Series.
“He’s very handy, I think he’s more of a Grassroots horse,” said trainer Ben Baillargeon of Guelph, Ont. “He’s got the Semi-Final, and if he makes the final that would be great. I think he’s going to be a nice three-year-old.”
In rein to Sylvain Filion, HP Maestro fired to the front from Post 3 and controlled the tempo through fractions of :28.2, :58.2 and 1:28.4 before pulling away to a two and three-quarter length win in a personal best 1:58.3. Favourite Sea Can was second and Evil Guy rounded out the top three.
“The little guy, he came to play tonight, he was good,” said Baillargeon, who trains the Il Sogno Dream son for owner/breeder Claude Hamel of Ayer’s Cliff, Que. “His biggest asset, he’s very handy. He can leave off the gate real good, and he can sit in the hole, and he can position himself. You can put him in the race every week. And he’s all trot.”
HP Maestro, Armstead Cole and the other members of the top 20 will compete in a pair of Semi-Finals at Woodbine Mohawk Park on September 30, with the top five finishers from each Semi-Final advancing to the October 9 Grassroots Championships at the Campbellville oval.
To view results for Monday’s card of harness racing, click the following link: Monday Results – Grand River Raceway.