You can tell from talking to trainer Luc Blais that he’s familiar with the old adage-If you take care of the horse the horse will take care of you.
Blais, the trainer of last year’s sophomore Breeders Crown champion Intimidate, seems to have no set plans other than to let his horse dictate a course of action. After capturing the $214,000 Credit Winner at Vernon Downs on September 6 in 1:51, it appeared as if Intimidate would have the division at his mercy.
“We had him entered at Mohawk (9-30) and I had to scratch him,” said Blais when Intimidate came up sick.
It wasn’t until the eleventh hour that the Blais stable veterinarian cleared Intimidate to race, paving the way for entry this past Tuesday in the $600,000 Crown Final at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on October 19.
There were no eliminations necessary for the race with just nine declared, so Blais has elected to race Intimidate on Monday (10-14) at Mohawk.
“He needs the race,” said Blais who expects to ship Intimidate to Pocono on Wednesday and hopefully give him enough time to acclimate to the track surface.
Last year Intimidate came on strongly towards the end of the season and capped it off with an awesome performance when supplemented to the Breeders Crown, taking down Hambletonian winner Market Share, among others, for driver Ron Pierce.
This year the altered son of Justice Hall needed some extra time to get his act together and Blais has been more than willing to accommodate him.
“He wasn’t ready for the big track (Mohawk or Woodbine) so we gave him some easier races on the small track starting out,” said Blais.
It was August 19 when Intimidate finally made his debut at Mohawk, which meant missing some big races, including the Maple Leaf Trot, a race he surely would have been favored to win.
It may have been late in the season, but Intimidate was set to go when he first raced at Mohawk, and fortunately was eligible to compete in a level below the top class in his first assignment. With Sylvain Filion in the bike Intimidate showed the same impressive late stride, scoring in 1:52 1/5 with a :26 3/5 final quarter. He followed that up by taking on the best horses at Mohawk and winning in 1:52.
When Intimidate shipped to Vernon for the Credit Winner he was not only on foreign soil for the first time in his career, but was also pitted against some of the best and more seasoned older trotting performers in North America. Reunited with Ron Pierce, Intimidate was able to knife his way out of traffic and finish with incredible acceleration to post a track record 1:51 mile.
What caught the attention of Pierce and many of those watching was the relative ease with which Intimidate accelerated and passed horses.
But this year’s Breeders Crown will not be contested on a mile or seven-eighths mile track. Pocono’s circumference is a five-eighths mile and the track is known to favor speed horses as opposed to closers.
Blais deflected any concern for race strategy.
“I’ll leave that up to Ron (Pierce). He showed speed last year in the Simcoe,” said Blais, recalling the first trip Pierce sat behind Intimidate. It was an awesome effort in which Pierce got Intimidate down to the three quarters in 1:22 4/5 only to get beaten on the wire in a 1:51 4/5 stakes record mile. Prior to that effort Intimidate had never gone a mile faster than 1:56 1/5.
While the number of races under his girth this year have gone down, Intimidate continues to do what all trainers want most-win races. Last year he captured 13 of 17 starts and heading into Monday’s prep for the Crown Intimidate has won six of seven starts, losing one early after making a break.
Other than the number of starts Blais sees Intimidate as a bigger and stronger horse. His careful management with the horse has set Intimidate up for the big miles and many experts in the field believe the horse is capable of trotting a mile in 1:50 or better. Given the track surface and the impressive number of world records already set this year at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, it’s within reason to expect this year’s Breeders Crown Trot to go in that neighborhood.
“I definitely think he’s got the speed,” said Blais in the response to whether Intimidate could get that type of record.
But Blais is not counting his money just yet. He admits that the group of horses Intimidate is in with in the Crown is much stronger than the field he beat in last year’s Breeders Crown.
“This is a nice bunch of four-year-olds. It’s good that the fans will get to see so many good older trotters in one race. We’re lucky to have so many,” said Blais.
Despite some bumps in the road Intimidate is likely to enter the Crown just as sharp as he was a year ago. Blais was fortunate that the gelding recovered from some minor ailments and has been cleared to attempt back-to-back Crown victories.
After the Crown Blais doesn’t seem to have any specific goals in mind. He wouldn’t commit to sending the horse to Europe to race as a five-year-old or even whether he would continue to race him this season.
No doubt he’ll let Intimidate tell him what the next move should be.
By JAY BERGMAN for Breeders Crown
New Image Media photo (Intimidate wins 2012 3-Colt Trot Crown at Woodbine)