Legends Day at Clinton Raceway always features a group of harness racing's most revered drivers and trainers, but fans attending this year's edition on Sunday, Aug. 18 may also catch a glimpse of several former stars from the National Hockey League.
Brothers Dave, Dale and Mark Hunter, best known for their careers with the Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues, respectively, will be on hand to watch 2-year-old trotting colt Strike It Big battle in the Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots event featured on the Legends Day program. And while Strike It Big has shown some promise in the early stages of his career, the novice trotter was not solely responsible for the gathering of the Hunter clan.
"My granddaughter is getting married on Saturday, Carol's daughter,” explained Richard "Dick” Hunter, who, along with son Dale and neighbor Randy Clark, comprise Chasin The Dream Stable of Petrolia and share ownership of Strike It Big with Alvinston resident Rick Podolinsky and Dave Hudson of Dallas, Texas.
Having the colt racing the day after the wedding was a stroke of luck Hunter was willing to take advantage of, however, and the family has arranged a bus to pick them up at their Oil Springs homestead Sunday morning and deliver them to Clinton for the trotter's fifth lifetime start.
"It just hit perfect, didn't it,” said Hunter, noting that the bus will hold 40. "We'll see how we do.”
Strike It Big will battle for a share of the $18,000 Grassroots purse from post eight in the 7th race on Sunday. The Striking Sahbra son started his season at the Gold Series level, but after failing to hit the board in two attempts, trainer Dan Creighton opted to drop the youngster down to the Grassroots level.
The strategy paid off as Strike It Big recorded his first win in his Grassroots debut at Georgian Downs on July 30. In the Aug. 8 test at Mohawk Racetrack, the trotter finished fifth, closing hard after getting away at the back of the 10-horse field.
"He's a very nice colt. Like others, he's had his struggles, but he's learning,” said Strathroy resident Creighton. "We have hopes for him to be a nice horse. He's definitely shown some ability.”
A $21,000 purchase out of the Forest City Yearling Sale last fall, Strike It Big initially caught Dick Hunter's eye because of his conformation, but it was the colt's number in the sale that sealed the deal.
"I was going by his stall and the owner was there, and another guy who was helping him. I got talking to the owner and he said, ‘This is quite a colt,'” recalled Hunter. "'He said, ‘This is quite a colt,' and I looked up and I said, ‘That's number 99, well I hope he's as good as Wayne Gretzky was.”
Should Strike It Big find success at Clinton on Sunday, it would cap off an exceptional week for the Hunter family. In addition to the much anticipated wedding, last weekend Dale and Mark Hunter returned to London from the Czech Republic sporting gold medals from the Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament where Dale served as the national team's head coach and Mark as the general manager, the same roles they perform with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights.
"How he gets around Clinton, we don't know, but hopefully he makes a good account of himself,” said trainer Creighton of Strike It Big's prospects. "Hopefully there will be a big crowd of Hunters up there. I know that Dick, he enjoys the horses because it does get the family together.”
No matter how the young trotter performs, or how many family members are on hand to cheer him home, Hunter is confident the busload from Oil Springs will enjoy Clinton Raceway's biennial Legends Day celebration.
"Ian [Fleming] does a heck of a job up there,” said the longtime owner. (OSS)