CAMPBELLVILLE, ON — John Bax qualified four horses for Saturday night’s Super Finals at Mohawk Racetrack, but as the $2.4 million event draws near the Peterborough resident is faced with the prospect that he may be watching the whole thing from the sidelines.
The combination of damp weather and the arrival of yearlings from the fall sales often brings a bout of sickness into a barn and, unfortunately for Bax, this year’s strain has knocked his entire Ontario Sires Stakes squad to their knees. The veteran conditioner was forced to scratch his two-year-old Grassroots contestants out of their Semifinals at Georgian Downs on Nov. 2 and three-year-old trotting fillies Pepi Lavec and Natashas Kiss were unable to make the trip to Rideau Carleton Raceway for their last Gold Final on Nov. 7.
Super Final entries were due into the Mohawk Race Office on Tuesday morning and Bax took a leap of faith and dropped all four horses into the box, but he admits that the trailer may be a little light come Saturday.
“In my heart I’m thinking they’ll get better and we’ll be able to go, but in my head I’m saying forget about it,” he says. “It’s disappointing, but you know, that’s the way life is. I haven’t had any sick enough yet to worry about losing them so I guess I’ll count my blessings.”
Two-year-old trotting filly Aimees Image, two-year-old trotting colt Sno Goal and Pepi Lavec and Natashas Kiss will all have the opportunity to race if they are healthy — Aimees Image from Post 7 in the first race, Sno Goal from Post 6 in Race 2, division leader Pepi Lavec from Post 6 and Natashas Kiss from Post 8 in the sixth race.
Of the four Bax says Aimees Image is the least likely starter because she was the last to fall ill, coming down with a temperature just after the entries closed on Tuesday.
“I thought she was too rotten to get sick, but she fooled me,” says Bax of the Balanced Image filly owned by Glengate Farms of Campbellville and Kesons Stables Inc. of Cambridge. “She came down with a temperature (Tuesday) morning so I’m not optimistic about her.”
On the flip side Sno Goal seems to be on the road to recovery, having been among the first horses to contract the bug. The Balanced Image son missed the Nov. 2 Gold Final at Flamboro Downs, but he has been back in harness for one week and Bax is hoping he continues to show improvement in the next few days.
“I’m hoping it doesn’t flare up again on him. He’s been good now for a week so we’re just crossing our fingers,” says Bax, who shares ownership on the colt with Brian Parkinson of Sharon, Goin To The Show Stable of Peterborough and Kenneth James of Acton. “The vet is telling me to be careful because you think they are over it, and temperature wise they are, but you stress them and it flares up again.
“The vet will make the real call. If he can tell me it’s not going to do permanent damage I’ll likely listen to him, but if he goes the other way I’ll listen to that too. I definitely don’t want to jeopardize their lives or careers.”
Pepi Lavec, owned by Bax and Glengate Farms, and Natashas Kiss, owned by Al Libfeld of Pickering and Marvin Katz and Sam Goldband of Toronto, are the biggest question marks, having developed symptoms in between the other two.
“They are kind of on the same page. Their temperature has been fluctuating. It’s good in the morning and up in the afternoon, but even if the temperature is down you’re always worried about congestion,” says last year’s O’Brien award winner as Canada’s top trainer. “You have to err on the side of caution. The last thing you want to do is stress them, because if they are half sick and you stress them you can count on them being real sick.”
With the virus rumbling its way across the province Bax’s peers are also crossing their fingers. Number two filly Early Secret captured her first Gold Final at Rideau Carleton Raceway last weekend in Pepi Lavec’s absence and trainer Paul Walker is hoping she can maintain her fitness and health for a few more weeks.
“You just cross your fingers and hope it doesn’t get in your barn at the wrong time. It’s not nice to have that happen for any big race,” says the Owen Sound resident. “So far our mare’s healthy. She came back from Ottawa real sharp, so hopefully we can hang on a little longer.”
Early Secret will start from Post 1 in the sixth race on Saturday and Walker was pleased to see her draw inside for a change. In 10 Ontario Sires Stakes starts the Earl daughter has drawn Post 7, 8 or 9 on seven occasions and she has still managed to carve out a record of three wins, two seconds, two thirds and three fourth-place finishes.
“She’s had her share of outside holes. I’d like to try one inside for a while,” says Walker. “But she’s always raced good and come out of her races good. She goes her miles, she gets beat sometimes and sometimes she can win. We’ve been very happy with her.”
Walker trains the winner of $501,891 for breeder William Loyens of London and Malcolm MacPhail of Dover Centre and the veteran conditioner is expecting his protege and driver Keith Oliver to deliver a solid effort in the OSS season finale.
“If she races like she has been she should give a good account of herself,” he says. “If Pepi (Lavec) is in there we’ll have to race for it, but I think we could give her a run for it, especially at Mohawk. Our mare can drag down the stretch pretty good and Mohawk’s a track that favours that.”
Campbellville and area fans will be joining Bax and Walker in their superstitious finger crossing in hopes that all three fillies are fit and healthy and ready to deliver one last classic stretch battle in the sixth race on Saturday night’s 7:40 pm program.