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Freshmen fired up for Grassroots Finals on Saturday
November 4, 2004
By Sandra Snyder

SARNIA, ON — With $400,000 and four Grassroots Championships on the line, Hiawatha Horse Park fans are in for an outstanding evening of racing this Saturday compliments of 32 of the finest two-year-olds in Ontario.

Leading off the lucrative evening are the freshman trotting fillies and while most trainers will spend the next four days hoping for a good trip for their protégés, Chris Beaver just hopes semifinal winner Soxy Kosmos gets a clear run at the division title.

“You usually look for a good trip, but with her I just hope there’s not a lot of traffic for her. And some good fractions early, that would help,” says Beaver. “She almost always finds herself first up or going two or three-wide, so I’d like to see the horses who showed speed last week battling early.”

Soxy Kosmos posted her third victory of the season, and her second in a row, with a 1:59.3 come from behind effort in the Semifinal. The Yankee Paco daughter will start from Post 3 in the fourth race and gets the services of “Mr. OSS” Dave Wall for the first time.

“I’ve never had Dave Wall drive for me before, but the key to this horse is having a good set of hands and giving her a clear path,” says the Delaware, OH resident. “She’s pretty strong.”

Beaver shares ownership on the winner of $44,311 with David Lang of Hilliard, OH, Barry Carter of Lancaster, OH and Four Starzzzz Stable LLC of Glenwood, NJ.

The other semifinal winner Whispering Girl, who lowered the track record for freshman trotting fillies with her 1:59.2 score last week, starts from Post 4.

In the trotting colt division EL Leonard equalled the track record with a 2:00.1 victory in the elimination round, and the Sugarcane Leonard son will make his bid for a fourth straight victory from Post 2 in the sixth race. Northern Patriot captured the other Semifinal and trainer Mike Keeling hopes the Yankee Paco gelding can edge his way into a trip behind EL Leonard and deliver the kind of effort driver Jim McClure has been anticipating all season.

“Jim McClure has always said he feels like a horse ready to trot in 1:58,” says Keeling. “We’ve had Jim drive the colt all along and he really likes him.”

Last week Northern Patriot hit the wire in 2:02.3 and Keeling was pleased to see the youngster bounce back from a pair of out of the money finishes.

“He had been a little off in his last couple of starts and we couldn’t figure out why,” says the Cambridge resident, who trains Northern Patriot for P C Wellwood Enterprises Inc. of Cambridge and Charles Armstrong of Brampton. “He was parked both starts. That might have had something to do with it.”

McClure and Northern Patriot will be looking to land on the rail from Post 5 on Saturday.

Pacing filly Semifinal winner Natural Luck has also drawn in the middle of the pack and trainer John Burns is expecting another solid effort from a filly he says has been improving steadily over the last two months.

“Early on she was picking away at the Grassroots, she was second, third, fifth, but you could tell she was starting to get better,” says Burns. “And she certainly is getting better at the right time.”

The Mississauga resident trains the Camluck daughter for Joe Thomson of Phoenixville, PA and Joann Thomson of Chesapeake City, MA and Reg Gassien will be back in the race bike on Saturday. Gassien has driven Natural Luck to victory in her last two starts and Burns expects the veteran reinsman to employ a similar strategy in his effort to capture the Grassroots Championship.

“Her last two races have been from behind,” says the trainer. “She’s got gate speed, but I don’t see any reason to change anything. They’ll race out of there enough.”

Burns expects the other semifinal winner Borderlinegorgious to give Natural Luck a run for her money from Post 2.

The 2004 Grassroots program will conclude with the always exciting pacing colts and Paul Jackson is hoping that Armbro Cougar and Doug Brown can make a second appearance in the Hiawatha winner’s circle in spite of drawing Post 7.

“He drew the seven-hole, but there will be no excuses. If he can’t win out of there he doesn’t deserve to win,” says Jackson. “He’s in good shape, Rick’s (Webb) done a great job preparing him.”

Rick Webb trains the Island Fantasy son, one of eight yearlings Jackson bought last fall, and has campaigned the gritty youngster to a record of four wins, three seconds and one third in 11 starts.

“He just looks like a war horse and that’s what he is. He may not be the fastest horse out there, but he’ll give you his best effort every time he comes out,” says the Bobcaygeon resident. “We all love him. He’s just tougher than nails.”

Armbro Cougar will face off against seven rivals in Race 10, including the other Semifinal winner Armbro Cabot, who starts from Post 3.

Hiawatha Horse Park’s first race goes postward at 7:30 pm on Saturday and fans will only have to wait three races before the first Grassroots Championship contenders step onto the track in Race 4. The other three $100,000 Finals are Races 6, 8 and 10.