The field is smaller and faster and the purse bigger for this year’s Sobeys Gold Cup and Saucer.
A dozen horses were announced Tuesday for the prestigious race, which will see the field narrowed to eight through two trials.
The draw for the trials was held during a news conference Tuesday at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park (CDP). Astor and Take it Back Terry drew the rail slots for the trials.
The qualifiers go Saturday and Monday with the main event set for Saturday, Aug. 16, to conclude Old Home Week racing at CDP.
“It’s the fastest field ever assembled for a Gold Cup and Saucer,” said Lee Drake, Red Shores’ marketing and sales manager. “Eight of the entries having records of faster than 1:50.”
They include Aracache Hanover (1:48.1), Bigtown Hero (1:48.3), Scott Rocks (1:48.3), Up The Credit (1:48.3), Wazzup Wazzup (1:49), Shock It To Em (1:49), Mickey Hanover (1:49.1) and Astor (1:49.4).
“They have a pretty busy dance card, a lot of these horses,” Drake said. “We’re very excited with the speed show we’re going to have here next Saturday.”
It is the first time since 2008 there has not been three trials. During that time the field has ranged from a high of 25 in 2011 to a low of 17 in 2008.
Drake said there are several factors, including transportation, impacting the size of the field.
“There is also some big races happening across Canada and the United States,” he said.
Prince Edward Island Harness Racing Industry Association vice-president Tom Clark added the horse inventory, particularly at the upper levels, has not grown during recent years.
“I’m very pleased that we were able to obtain the quality of horses that we’ve seen. I think the depth is probably unrivaled,” he said.
The starters have combined earnings of more than $5 million.
Escape The News, with Marc Campbell in the bike, won last year’s race in a track record 1:50.4. Campbell has teamed back up with trainer Ron Burke to defend their title.
He will drive Aracache Hanover, the fastest and richest horse in the field with $1.7 million in earnings.
The majority of the field is from Central Canada or the United States.
Astor, owned by Foxyhall Racing in Wallace, N.S., and trained by Jason Hughes, is the only entry from the Maritimes.
Stratford native Patrick Shepherd is the trainer for Duke Did It and his brother Robert will do the driving. Duke Did It was purchased by Ivan Petersheim after winning the Exhibition Cup in Truro, N.S.
Clark said the number of horse connections from the Maritimes involved in the Gold Cup and Saucer, the largest harness race east of Toronto, fluctuates year to year.
Burke is also the trainer for Take it Back Terry while Rene Allard trains three (Mickey Hanover, Island Jet and Bigtown Hero) in the field.
The association and P.E.I. 2014 fund enabled the purse increase from the $60,000 raced for in recent years to $75,000, Clark said.
“I think it should absolutely add to the excitement,” he added.
The Old Home Week racing schedule includes 15 cards in nine days and it begins on Thursday with a 7 p.m. post time.
Sobeys Gold Cup and Saucer
u What – The biggest harness race of the season at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park:
u When – Saturday, Aug. 16.
u Who – The 12-horse field was announced Tuesday. They will race in two trials for spots in the final.
Trial 1, Saturday
1. Astor, Jason Hughes
2. Shock It To Em, TBA
3. Bigtown Hero, Gilles Barrieau
4. Island Jett, TBA
5. Aracache Hanover, Marc Campbell
6. Up The Credit, Carl Jamieson
Trial 2, Monday
1. Take It Back Terry, Gilles Barrieau
2. Duke Did It, Robert Shepherd
3. Mach Wheel, TBA
4. Mickey Hanover, Anthony MacDonald
5. Wazzup Wazzup, James MacDonald
6. Scott Rocks, TBA
u Back For Another Crack – The only returnee from last year’s field is Up The Credit, who won the 2011 North American Cup and placed fourth in last year’s Gold Cup and Saucer final.