Trainer Per Henriksen is old enough to know that you’re never too old to take a shot in the Breeders Crown.
The 70-year-old native of Norway, who is based out of Norwood, Ontario, is back in this year’s Breeders Crown presented by Mullinax Ford at the Meadowlands in New Jersey on Saturday night, seven years since he last raced in the championship event.
He sends out Muscle Hustle in the $500,000 Three-Year-Old Colt Trot, a race stacked with some solid contenders, including Bar Hopping, Southwind Frank and Marion Marauder, each of whom has won some prominent stakes races this season.
Muscle Hustle has been a topnotch horse this season on the Ontario Sires Stakes circuit, including setting a Canadian and OSS record on a five-eighths mile track, banking almost US$200,000 in 14 starts.
The horse was sent to Henriksen as a two-year-old by Robert Bergh, Sweden’s top trainer, who was having some issues with the son of Muscle Mass. Henriksen is considered somewhat of a horse whisperer because of his ability to figure out the head cases. In the case of Muscle Hustle, Henriksen decided to put trotting hopples on the colt early in his career. This will the last time Henriksen harnesses the colt, who is scheduled to be sent back to Sweden after the Breeders Crown.
“If I didn’t think my horse had a shot to win, I would not spend $7,500 for to go in the race,” he said.
“It’s always a pleasure going back to the Breeders Crown when you have horses that you think are good enough to compete. I thought I had three that were good enough to compete, but I got one to the final and he qualified really good (with driver Chris Christoforou) and Chris said he’s as good as any of these horses with the right trip. We drew the five hole, which is good, so we’re optimistic.”
Henriksen has had 22 previous starters in the Breeders Crown for $1.2 million in earnings and has won three times, all in the Three-Year-Old Filly Trot: Expressway Hanover in 1993, Oolong in 1999 and Southwind Serena in 2007. Expressway Hanover and Oolong won at short prices, Southwind Serena at 50-1. She is notable for being Yannick Gingras’ first Crown win and is also the dam of the world champion and Breeders Crown freshman winner Mission Brief.
“Any time you can win a Breeders Crown it means a lot, there’s no doubt about that,” Henriksen said. “That’s something special. Yes, I’ll take a new owner if they pop up with a good horse, don’t misunderstand me. Not that I need it, that’s not the point. I’m 70 years old. I just don’t want to live in a tent when I’m done doing this.
“I just had a (physical) and the doctor said he couldn’t find anything wrong with me. He said, ‘Per, you’re like a 55-year-old – your heart rate, everything. You don’t have any aches or pains. You’re so lucky, you don’t know how lucky you are.’
“If I can win the Breeders Crown, it will be such a pleasure, most of all for the people around me who support me all the time – my owners, my support staff. It’s not going to change my lifestyle, let’s put it that way, but it’s a joy.