It all comes down to Saturday night for some Islanders in their quest for Canadian Harness racing’s greatest honour.
Marc Campbell, Malabrigo and film makers Jason Arsenault and Jeremy Larter are all up for O’Brien Awards being presented at an Award’s Gala at the Delta Meadowvale in Mississauga, Ont.
This is Campbell’s second time being nominated for an O’Brien Award of Horsemanship. The Winsloe resident was runner-up to Keith Clark at last year’s award ceremony, while this year he will face off with Kelly Hoerdt of Alberta for the honour.
In the three-year-old pacing filly division, Malabrigo is up against American Jewel. Malabrigo is owned by Buntainwood Farm of Brackley Beach and was trained and driven by Campbell for all of her starts. She went a perfect 16-for-16 in 2012 and is now enjoying retirement in a thoroughbred farm in Kentucky. The daughter of Western Paradise-Lots A Bunny is the first Maritime bred to make the final two in O’Brien Award history.
In the Media Excellent Award category for Outstanding Broadcast, Jason Arsenault and Jeremy Larter’s documentary Exhibition Drive made the final two. The film documents Old Home Week 2011 and horsemen’s quest for the Sobey’s Gold Cup and Saucer. Because of the time it took to produce and edit the film, Exhibition Drive missed the deadline for last year’s O’Brien Awards and instead falls into the timeframe for the 2013 gala.
The O’Brien Awards are named after Alberton, P.E.I., native Joe O’Brien. O’Brien was born June 25, 1917, as the youngest son of Harry O’Brien. He jogged his first horse at age seven for his father and won his first race at age 13. In 1936, the then 18-year-old O’Brien borrowed $5 from his older brother Claude so he could take the train and ferry to train for William Latta in River Hebert, N.S.
O’Brien would rise to the top of the Maritime driver’s standings before relocating to the United States in late 1947. He eventually settled in Shafter, Calif., from which he campaigned one of the greatest grand circuit stables of all time with Hall of Fame horses like Armbro Flight and Fresh Yankee.
He would win almost every major stake race on the continent, while registering 4,284 wins and banking over $20 million in purses earnings. To put that into perspective, that would be like banking around $100 million
today with less racing opportunities.
The honour of being nominated for an O’Brien Award is exemplified in what top North American driver Ron Pierce previously told me for an article in The Canadian Sportsman. Pierce, who idolized O’Brien while growing up in California, said getting an O’Brien Award for top driver would be a bigger thrill for him than getting into the Hall Of Fame.
“If I could ever get an O’Brien Award it would be the biggest thing that has happened for me,” Pierce said. “But it will never happen for me because I’m an American-based driver. I really envy these guys that get these O’Brien Awards, but I don’t think they really grasp what they mean. They didn’t get to see him in action or read about him every week. They don’t know the kind of legend that he was.”
The racing season wraps up Saturday with an 11-dash card on tap at the Charlottetown Driving Park.
Big League will attempt to repeat in the feature after last week’s 1:58.4 win in the top class with Mark Bradley in the bike for owner Jonah Moase and trainer Neal Moase.
He will face competition from Artners In Crime (driven by Walter Cheverie), Casual Motion (Joey Pineau), Im Dreamin N (Marc Cullen), Oakrock Almighty (Ron Matheson), Camcun (Kenny Arsenault), Block Party (Brodie MacPhee) and Blue Star Outlaw (Jason Hughes).
Oceanview Bindi showed she can knock heads with some of the best mares in the country last week.
The four-year-old pacer won a $27,000 conditioned pace last Friday in 1:52.4 with Keith Oliver at the lines.
The daughter of Hunterstown-Hygeia Hanover is owned by William Roloson of Belfast and trainer George Plyley.
She races again tonight in the $30,000 Fillies and Mares Preferred, drawing Post 7 at 4-1 odds with Oliver in the bike. Her race is carded as Race 9 on the card with a 10:59 post.
Nicholas Oakes’ column appears in
The Guardian each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.