Even though Intimidate still has work ahead of him, trainer Luc Blais feels the toughest job is completed.
Intimidate is the 5-2 morning line second choice in Saturday’s $555,000 Breeders Crown for 3-year-old male trotters. His connections – Blais and co-owner Judith Farrow – paid $62,500 to get the colt into last weekend’s eliminations, so advancing to the final was of paramount importance.
Especially considering the supplemental fee represented nearly 47 percent of the colt’s then $134,078 in lifetime earnings.
Intimidate not only advanced to the final, but won his elimination race by 1-1/4 lengths over multiple-stakes-winner Market Share in 1:53.1, which equaled his career-best time.
"It was exciting last week to make the final,” said Blais, a 50-year-old from Quebec who bred Intimidate with Farrow. "When you’re in the final, it’s not like the elimination; I think there is a little less pressure. We supplemented, and we’re not a big outfit, and you want to make the final.
"The elimination is a big part in a big race like this. You need a good performance.”
A son of Justice Hall out of the mare Fabulous Tag, Intimidate has won 12 of 16 races and finished second on three occasions while earning $143,285 this year. His only previous stakes race was a second-place finish to Little Brown Fox, in 1:51.4, in the Simcoe Stakes on Sept. 1 at Mohawk.
In his Breeders Crown elimination, Intimidate was sixth at the midway point, 10 lengths behind leader Archangel. He was seventh entering the last quarter-mile, still nearly seven lengths from the front, before trotting home in :26.3 to overtake Market Share, who had opened a two-length lead on the field at the top of the stretch.
"It was an amazing performance,” Blais said. "In the last turn, I hoped he was going to finish two or three, but he was strong at the end. He showed that (kick) the last two or three races. When you keep him for the end, he’s got a good kick. He’s always had that.”
Sylvain Filion drove Intimidate in his elimination, but will sit behind Prestidigitator – who was second to Little Brown Fox in last weekend’s other Breeders Crown elim – on Saturday night. Ron Pierce, who drove Intimidate in the Simcoe, will go with Intimidate from post three.
Pierce has won 25 Breeders Crown titles in his career, third most in the history of the series.
"I think for this kind of race, he’s a good guy to have; he’s a pro,” Blais said. "He knows that game.”
Market Share, who with driver Tim Tetrick has won the $1.5 million Hambletonian and the $1.03 million Canadian Trotting Classic on his way to a national-best $1.77 million in purses, is the 2-1 favorite in the race and will start from post eight for trainer Linda Toscano.
Toscano’s Chapter Seven won last season’s 3-year-old colt trot and she is bidding to join Chuck Sylvester as the only trainer to win this division in back-to-back years. Sylvester did it with Pine Chip in 1993 and Incredible Abe in 1994.
Little Brown Fox, who starts from post four for driver Yannick Gingras and trainer Jimmy Tatker, is 3-1 on the morning line. Takter is the all-time leader in Breeders Crown purses, with $6.36 million, and is tied for second in victories, with 12.
Despite Intimidate’s limited stakes credentials, Blais was impressed enough with the colt’s performance in the Simcoe and three subsequent wins by a total of six lengths to suggest to Farrow, a 71-year-old who raised Intimidate at her farm in Quebec, they enter the Breeders Crown.
"After the Simcoe, his next three races he did very easy,” said Blais, who set a career high in earnings of $1.22 million in 2001; a year that saw him occasionally listed as the trainer of that season’s Breeders Crown Open Pace champion Goliath Bayama. "It helped me to make the decision.”
Now it is looking like a wise investment and reaching the Breeders Crown final with a win last weekend is already a special moment for Blais.
"I’ve been in the business for 30 years,” he said, "and it’s the biggest thrill of my life.”