Paul Walker has had some nice horses in a career that spans five decades, but the trainer thinks three-year-old trotting gelding Pemberton has the potential to top the list. On Tuesday at Woodbine Mohawk Park, the gelding was so impressive in his Ontario Sires Stakes debut that even the trainers of his rivals were calling him the one to beat on the Gold Series circuit.
Starting from Post 4 driver Trevor Henry eased Pemberton away from the starting gate and watched from fourth as Hayek led the field of six to a :27.1 quarter and a :56.4 half. Henry sent Pemberton up the outer lane heading for the 1:25 three-quarters and the Wheeling N Dealin son laid down a :27.1 final quarter on his way to a personal best 1:52.2. Hayek finished two and one-half lengths back in second and Blue Cupertino was three more lengths back third.
“It’s been a while since we had one like him, that’s for sure. Well, I don’t know if I ever have,” said Walker. “I’ve had some good ones, but he’s starting to look like he might be the best one. It’s kind of a surprise, a nice one.”
Unraced at two due to a minor injury, Pemberton returned to training when Walker and his wife Brenda made the move to their winter base in Georgia late last fall. Walker said the gelding always did what he was asked, but they did not really know how much ability he had until his second lifetime start on June 16 when he blazed home in :25.4 to record a 1:55.4 victory against his non-winners of one race peers. Following that effort the gelding scored two more wins in overnight action before Tuesday’s successful leap to the Gold Series.
“To trot a quarter like that in a mile in 1:55, yeah I was surprised, and he’s done nothing but surprise us ever since,” said Walker. “I mean when I trained him in Georgia — as I said, I trained him in 2:01 before we left there, and well under wraps — you know, you ‘re thinking, well at least we’ve got something that we’re going to be able to race if nothing happens.”
Brenda Walker and Christine Walker of Tara bred and own Pemberton, whose next Gold Series start is Aug. 19 at Grand River Raceway. The only other stake the gelding was made eligible to was the Dream Of Glory Trot at Hanover Raceway, but with eliminations slated for this Saturday, July 25, the Walkers opted to skip that event.
“Being as he’s racing here tonight, I said to Brenda, ‘He’s going to leave the track tired tonight no matter where he finishes, racing with that bunch, so we’re not going to take him back to Hanover on Saturday’. I’m glad I didn’t, he’s just a little gelding and that’s enough for him,” said the Owen Sound resident, adding, “He could have come out of there tonight with a third or fourth and we’d have been pretty near just as happy, because you just never know, it’s a big jump up.”
Pemberton made the jump look so easy even trainer Ben Baillargeon, who finished second with Hayek, was impressed.
“Right now he sure is a freak that Pemberton. I think he’s the horse to beat right now,” said Baillargeon. “He come first up and he come home in :27.1, and we got beat and he won easy.”
Guelph resident Baillargeon, who swept the first Gold Series event of the season, captured the other $105,600 division on Tuesday with HP Royal Theo, who also hit the wire in 1:52.2. The fan favourite and driver Louis-Philippe Roy took control of the race heading by the :55.2 half and fought off a challenge from Hot Wheelz in the stretch to score their second Gold Series and third straight victory. Pemberton’s stablemate Horse Trader finished third.
“Theo, he looked like he missed a start, but he raced real good,” said Baillargeon, noting that neither HP Royal Theo or Hayek had raced since their wins in the June 28 season opener. “I wanted to race them and Theo, I thought he fit the non-winners of five races and he didn’t, but I didn’t really want to put him in the non-winners of seven yet, so I said, ‘Ah, we’ll wait, we’ll race like that’. He did well, I’m very happy.”
Driver Roy said the Royalty For Life son may have been short a race, but he demonstrated the kind of grit in Tuesday’s win that sets good horses apart from great ones.
“I knew the horse was fast with a good set of lungs, but tonight he also proved to me he was a fighter. I thought he was getting a little short down the lane, but when Jody’s (Jamieson with Hot Wheelz) horse came to him, he wasn’t going to let him go by,” said Guelph resident Roy. “He’s definitely a special horse. I’m happy for the connections.”
Baillargeon trains HP Royal Theo for breeder Claude Hamel of Ayer’s Cliff and his co-owner Michel Damphousse of Louiseville, QC. Tuesday’s win boosted HP Royal Theo’s lifetime earnings to $403,040 and put him at the top of the three-year-old trotting colt standings with a perfect 100 points through two events. Hayek sits second with 75 points and Pemberton is tied for third with Hot Wheelz at 50 points.
Complete results for Tuesday’s event are available at Woodbine Mohawk Park Results.
Ontario Sires Stakes action returns to Woodbine Mohawk Park on Friday, July 24 with six Grassroots divisions for the three-year-old pacing colts. The colts kick off the evening at 7 pm in Race 1 and will also battle in Races 2, 4, 6, 8 and 9.
Featured Image: Trevor Henry drove three-year-old trotting gelding Pemberton to a 1:52.2 Gold Series win at Woodbine Mohawk Park on July 21, 2020. (New Image Media photo)