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The biggest race of the Atlantic Canadian harness racing season will head to the gate just before midnight tonight and every driver agrees it will be one for the ages.
The Guardian Gold Cup and Sauce is scheduled for 11:58 p.m. at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park (CDP) as the closing race of Old Home Week 2019.
Sir Pugsley drew the rail after winning Trial 2 in a 1:52.4 upset for the first-cousin Stratford duo of driver Jason Hughes and trainer Patrick Shepherd.
“I think I’ll be able to dictate a few things early leaving off the rail,” Hughes said. “My horse left very well in his trial and I never tried leaving with him real hard.”
Hughes admitted the field is incredible even with no standouts.
“You have to worry about them all, but Ron Cushing has a pretty nice horse, Bettors Fire N, and Rene has a pair of nice horses,” the two-time leading Charlottetown driver said. “There is a pile of gate speed in here.”
Now the longtime resident of the CDP backstretch has a chance to win the Island’s biggest race for part of his family.
“It would mean everything. It is what everyone wants to do, win the Gold Cup and Saucer.”
From the far outside will be National Debt with four-time Gold Cup and Saucer-winning driver Gilles Barrieau at the lines for trainer Jackie Matheson of Charlottetown.
“It’s a horse race but the eight-hole is the worst place to get,” Barrieau said.
“He had a good post in the trial and struggled to make the final and now we have the eight-hole but you never know. I’m going to leave as hard as I can but there is going to be so much gate speed, I likely won’t gain any advantage.”
Barrieau sees the draw as setting up for some quick fractions from hard leavers like Post 2 starter Bettors Fire N (Ron Cushing) and Post 3 starter Bet On Brett (Louis Phillipe Roy), co-owned by Donald MacRae of Vernon Bridge and Red Isle Racing of Granville.
“There is going to be a speed duel up front and maybe I can sneak along and pick up some pieces. There is going to be a lot of action early and this is probably the best Gold Cup and Saucer we’ve seen for a long time.”
Midway Island won Trial 1 in 1:52.1 for driver Travis Cullen and Miltonvale Park native Rachel Andrew. The Ontario couple own the son of Somebeachsomewhere together while Andrew handles the training duties.
“It’s hard from the outside on a half-mile track,” Cullen said. “It’s either everyone is going to leave or no one will leave. I like Allard’s horse, Somewhere Fancy. I can’t see him leaving so I see him as the one I’d like to follow.
“It would mean a lot to win this race for Rachel and her brother and mother and all her family. For me, from Manitoba, it would just be a cool race to win.”
One of the top drivers in the history of the CDP, Kenny Arsenault will make his fourth appearance in the Gold Cup and Saucer final aboard Post 5 starter Lisburn for trainer Robert Cleary and Nova Scotia owner Kevin Harvey.
“There is not much you can do about the draw, but it looks like it’s lining up to be a wicked front end and I’ll just fall into the rail and it might all work out for me,” Arsenault said. “I’d love to be second-over, but it will be tough because there could be one or two parked. Jason has the best seat in the house when they say go. He can dictate exactly what he wants to do. In the trial (Lisburn) came home in 27.4 with no racing room. He is a nice horse; impressed me a lot.”
Lisburn is also the only horse in the race to have been trained down and to have started his career on P.E.I., from the Robert Phillips stable of Pinette for owner Harvey. Lisburn has since raced in the U.S., banking $98,504 and taking a record of 1:51.4 over Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania.
“Robert Phillips did a great job with this horse as a young horse. He has went on to race Pocono, Yonkers and The Meadowlands so you have to give Robert his dues.”
Arsenault made his first Gold Cup and Saucer final in 1992 with No Small Praise but has never finished better than fourth in the prestigious race, despite dominating the capital oval and the Atlantic Sires Stakes circuit.
“It would be the final straw in the hat for me,” the 59-year-old driver said. “I’ve won all the big ones in the Maritimes so to win this race my bucket list would be complete.”
Nicholas Oakes is covering harness racing at Old Home Week for The Guardian, culminating with the Gold Cup and Saucer on Saturday. This is his 10th year covering Old Home Week for the news outlet.