Trevor Henry has had the Lampman Cup title within sight half a dozen times since he last claimed it, only to lose out when his peers came up with big nights in the post season, but this year the driver has a stranglehold on top spot in the point standings heading into Saturday night’s $600,000 Grassroots Championships at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
Not only does the Arthur, Ontario resident have a 90 point lead on frequent Lampman Cup rival Sylvain Filion, Henry also has an impressive line-up of drives in the eight Grassroots Finals. He won three sophomore Semi-Finals last Saturday and expects a big effort from all of his three-year-old mounts again this weekend.
“I think Judge Ken has a definite shot. He drew a perfect spot for him (Post 6). He has a really good shot,” said Henry of the three-year-old trotting colt Semi-Final winner. “And the horse of Jimmy Watt’s (three-year-old pacing colt Sportsline), he’s been battling sickness and they think they’ve got him over it, and he drew a really good spot, the five-hole. I think he has a really good shot.”
Although he was disappointed to see three-year-old trotting filly Semi-Final winner Splurge On Me draw Post 8, he still expects her to put up a fight in the talent-laden division, noting that the Kadabra daughter has a great deal of practice starting from the outer half of the gate.
“She never draws good, always draws outside. I’d like to know how many times she’s been inside the eight-hole, because she does draw bad,” said the driver with a rueful chuckle. “She can leave really well, but it would just be nicer if you were five or six. You get out in the eight-hole it gets tougher, and plus now it’s ten of the best so it’s a tougher race than the races she’s been in where there’s just one or two. All these fillies are good now.”
In 16 starts Splurge On Me has logged just four starts on the inner half of the gate and has landed Post 8 or 9 on five occasions, three of them within the last six weeks. Division point leader Splurge On Me and Judge Ken are both trained by Windsor, Ontario resident Bob McIntosh.
The last time he won the Lampman Cup title, in 2007, Henry won two Grassroots Finals. The first year he claimed the title, in 1996, the Grassroots level and year-end championships were not part of the provincial program. Over three decades in the harness racing industry Henry has witnessed many changes to the Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) program, both in its organisation and the quality of horses participating.
“Well the first time when I won it there were a lot more racetracks. You went all over the place, you had to go to Belleville, there was Woodstock, Sudbury, Windsor, so you had to do a lot more travelling than you do now. You might go to Sudbury on a Saturday and then drive across to Ottawa on a Sunday,” recalled Henry, who was primarily driving his father Ross Henry’s stable of trotters in 1996. “Now, Mohawk has the majority of the races, and then Grand River, Flamboro, you know it’s pretty well all local.”
Ontario Sired horses have had a standout season in Grand Circuit action, winning premier events like The Meadowlands Pace and Hambletonian Trot, and Henry said, while the Standardbred breed has improved in general, he really notices the difference in OSS trotting divisions.
“The gait of them, like before there was so many breakers. You’ll see a few now, but not like it used to be, and so many make the races now,” said the horseman. “Where you used to have two-year-old trotting fillies, there would be one or two maybe Gold (divisions) and then two or three Grassroots, where now when they start out there’s five or six.”
It is no accident that Henry often finds himself in the winner’s circle with trotters in the OSS program. His father Ross Henry was a five-time winner of the Johnston Cup title as the leading trainer in the OSS while campaigning a large stable of trotters, and his brother Wayne Henry won the title twice, giving the family a four-year run from 2004 to 2007. Wayne will start one of his own horses in Saturday’s Grassroots Finals, steering two-year-old trotting filly Credits Celebrity after a share of the $75,000 purse from Post 8 in the first race.
“It taught me a great work ethic,” said Henry of working alongside his father. “And he taught me a lot about how to hang a trotter up and just all that stuff.”
Henry still goes to the barn every morning, now working alongside his wife Shannon Henry on their stable of five or six horses, and does all his own blacksmith work. In between mornings at the barn and evenings on the racetrack he can be found watching replays of races to make sure he has not overlooked any details about his own mounts or the competition.
“You’ve got to pay attention to all the ones around you, how they race, like watch replays the next day,” said the driver. “Because there’s some horses that get locked in, and you don’t even realise it in the race until you go back and watch it, and that horse was live, he just never got a chance to race, so you’ve got to pay attention to that.
“That’s one of the biggest things, to pay attention to the horses around you too,” he continued. “You get to know them; you get to know their quirks too.”
In all eight of his Grassroots Championship drives on Saturday Henry will be looking to capitalise on each of his mount’s strengths and be looking to take advantage of any quirks he has identified in their rivals. The reinsman will kick things off in the first race with the McIntosh trained two-year-old trotting filly Ready To Deal, who will start from Post 7.
The other finals are slated as Races 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10 with all the action getting under way at 7:10 pm. Complete entries are available at Grassroots Championship Entries .