Setting the stage for tonight’s 60th running of The Guardian Gold Cup and Saucer
Every harness racing-loving kid growing up in the Maritimes has dreamed of winning The Guardian Gold Cup and Saucer and, after a long wait, it could come true tonight for a number of P.E.I.-based horsemen who find themselves on centre stage at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park.
Charlottetown-based trainer-driver Jason Hughes has drawn the rail with Sir Pugsley, who got the perfect trip in his Trial win for new trainer Steven Shepherd, who would love nothing better than a Gold Cup victory in front of his dad Harold and family. Jason’s brother Kurt is a race analyst at Red Shores and a writer covering the Charlottetown scene for Atlantic Post Calls.
Even after his 1:52:4 trial victory, Sir Pugsley has what I would call a puncher’s chance tonight. Oh, what a victory it would be for this group.
Let’s take a look at the others, from the rail out, in what looks like a highly competitive field.
Bettors Fire N
Driver – Ron Cushing
Bettors Fire N had been racing early summer in the $44,000 top class at Yonkers, N.Y., and in harness racing class means so much. He was tortured all the way in his trial test and he could very well be again tonight with speed inside. He’s good enough if he gets the trip.
Bet on Brett
Driver – Louis Philippe Roy
Bet on Brett carries the hopes of P.E.I. co-owners Don MacRae, Allard Racing and Matt MacKay but he will not be one of the favorites with the wagering public. When at Yonkers, he races two or three classes lower than Bettors Fire N and Rock Diamonds, but with a perfect covered trip could get a piece of the $60,000 purse. Louis Philippe Roy draws the driving assignment, so I’d expect this horse to be sent right along.
Driver – Simon Allard
Defending champion Somewhere Fancy got to the front in Trial 1 and appeared to have everything his own way, but Midway Island outsprinted him in the lane, with a last panel in 27:3. He raced great and just got beat, but I regard his first start here a tightener. Simon Allard is back in the bike after last year’s spectacular feet-in-the-air finish, but with this field I doubt he’ll be thinking of theatrics and will likely be concentrating on the win. Somewhere Fancy will be the lukewarm betting favourite in what looks like the most competitive field in recent memory.
Driver – Kenny Arsenault
Talented local driving star Kenny Arsenault has been thinking of winning the Gold Cup and Saucer for decades and he was in the big race last year with Lincoln James. In Monday night’s Trial 2, he gave Kevin Harvey’s Lisburn a perfect drive, closing with authority to catch the fourth spot and advance to the final. He is coming off a 1:51:4 win at lightning-fast Pocono and he’ll need a sweet journey and racing luck if Lisburn is to get the job done tonight.
Rock Diamonds N
Driver – Mitch Cushing
Rock Diamonds N, from the Heidi Gibbs-Ron Cushing trainer-driver duo, has the terrible Post 6 position but he took a new lifetime best of 1:50 before heading east and he’s raced the top class at Yonkers, a plateau that separates the men from the boys. With the right journey, he’s a maybe. Young Mitch Cushing, Ron’s son, gets the driving assignment and when the lights are dimmed for the post parade, he’ll be in an event quite unlike any other in the harness world.
Driver – Travis Cullen
Midway Island, co-owned and trained by Rachel Andrew, daughter of the late Brian Andrew, with driver Travis Cullen, stunned Somewhere Fancy in Trial 1, outsprinting the defending champion in 1:52:4. He will likely not have a perfect journey like in his trial but he’s won four of his last five outings and carries with him the old adage to never bet against a horse that took his lifetime mark in his most recent starts.
Driver – Gilles Barrieau
National Debt is another with Island connections. He is trained by Jackie Matheson and driven by Gilles Barrieau. He’s won over Flamboro’s half mile in 1:52, quicker than either of the first two Gold Cup trials, and has life earnings of $500,000, but the outside post has all but sealed his fate.
Old Home Week
I haven’t seen any attendance numbers for Old Home Week but the traffic in downtown Charlottetown has been extremely heavy.
I dropped in for a visit at the Andrews hockey school on the UPEI campus to see what is happening and the ice sessions are packed. Among the visitors from the west are Cassie Campbell-Pascall, the former Team Canada captain, whose father Don starred with senior hockey Sandys Royals and with Covehead Cee Bees in the fastball circuit in his day.
Cassie’s husband Brad is the assistant GM of the Calgary Flames while their daughter Brooke is attending the Andrews program.
Also in town from Halifax is John Campbell. The Charlottetown native is a top official in the AHL and one of Major Mike Campbell’s boys. He often visited Sackville Downs in the 1970s and his favourite horse Go Along Hal.
The big 60th anniversary Gold Cup reunion Friday attracted an overflow crowd with grooms, caretakers, owners, trainers, drivers and ambassadors.
Doc Montgomery was over from Saint John, N.B., and former Exhibition Park Raceway patrons told me Doc rubbed some of Milton Downey’s horses like Swing Along N, Timely Robin, Comte Richelieu, Steve B Down but I’m not sure of that tale.
At any rate, the tourists in the city, on the Island and at the racetrack must have exceeded previous numbers. It has to be correct because The Sports Prophet says so.
Fred MacDonald's column appears every Saturday in The Guardian. He can be reached at email@example.com.