CLINTON, ON — When Neighsayer makes his Grassroots debut at Clinton Raceway on Sunday afternoon, it will be a bittersweet moment for the two-year-old pacing gelding’s owners.

Bud Sinclair, Lindsey De Block and Dr. Norman Amos selected the colt at last fall’s Canadian Open Yearling Sale, but 85 year old Amos passed away six weeks ago, just before the pacer made his first start. On Sunday, the longtime St. Mary’s resident will be foremost in the thoughts of his family and friends as Neighsayer debuts in the provincial program Amos supported through its 35 years of existence.

“Norm’s wife just turned 80. Their kids are bringing her up Sunday,” says Sinclair, whose partnership with Amos stretches back to the start of his training career.

Leona Amos will make the trip from her son’s home in Guelph to cheer on Neighsayer, who Sinclair expects to be the underdog in more ways than one.

“He’s just a wee little guy,” notes the Stratford resident. “He’s smaller than most of the yearlings selling this fall.

“Million Dollar Cam himself was just a little horse when he raced, so we weren’t worried about his size,” recalls Sinclair of the decision he and Amos made to branch out from their usual Apaches Fame purchases and take a $6,000 gamble on the diminutive colt last fall. “His conformation was good, and from day one he’s had a huge, huge gait.”

Neighsayer’s size never presented the youngster with any challenges on the racetrack, Sinclair calls him fearless, but it did make for a few awkward moments around the barn.

“I couldn’t do anything with him, my partner Lindsey (De Block) had to do everything. I think he was scared of me because I’m so much bigger than him,” admits the six foot five Sinclair. “I couldn’t catch him in his stall, I couldn’t harness him, I couldn’t put hopples on him, I couldn’t walk him. It’s finally getting to the point where I can do a few things with him, but he’s been Lindsey’s horse.

“When I was on the racetrack, he was perfect,” adds the trainer. “From day one I could do absolutely anything with him on the racetrack, but in the barn he was absolutely petrified of his own shadow.”

Neighsayer’s Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde personality caused Sinclair to take a very slow, laid back approach to the young pacer’s training regimen. The gelding demonstrated early in his lessons that he could become very aggressive on the racetrack, so the horseman selected equipment and routines designed to encourage laziness rather than speed.

As a result, when driver Bruce Richardson qualified Neighsayer on July 28 at Grand River Raceway, his instructions were to provide the gelding with a solid education and not sprint away from the gate or make any other aggressive moves — Neighsayer finished fourth, pacing his own mile in 2:04.4. Sinclair repeated those instruction before the pacer’s Aug. 3 debut at Clinton Raceway and Alex Lilley steered the colt to a steady sixth-place finish in 2:05.3.

With the Grassroots on the horizon, Neighsayer needed to log a quicker mile in his second start, so Richardson got the okay to test out the youngster’s wheels in Aug. 2 overnight at Clinton. Neighsayer responded with an impressive effort that saw him finish second by a quarter length in 2:01.1.

“He got lost on the front when he got there, he’s still green,” explains Sinclair. “But 2:01.1 is a pretty good mile over Clinton.”

Neighsayer will start from Post 4 in the tenth race on Sunday, one of only two first time Ontario Sires Stakes starters in the seven horse field. Sinclair is hoping the youngster acquits himself well and can earn a share of the $20,000 Grassroots purse.

“Hopefully he can get a cheque,” says the horseman. “Like Norm always said, if you’re not happy with fifth, you haven’t been sixth enough times.”

A total of 42 two-year-old pacing colts will be gunning for a top five finish in Races 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, and 10 on Sunday, with the first division rolling up behind the Clinton Raceway starting gate at 1:30 pm.

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