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Can 21-year BC drought end?

October 26, 2006

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Kelly O’Donnell was having a pretty good Friday night. The 48-year-old trainer had just seen his 2-year-old filly Western Montana pace a very big mile in a Breeders Crown elimination at Woodbine, going uncovered and still finishing second to earn a spot in the Crown final this Saturday. The Western Hanover filly had missed only 1½ lengths to winner Little Miss Dragon, and had photoed out the favorite, the previously-unbeaten Hana Hanover, for runner-up honors.

“She had been out uncovered for the last three-eighths and just kept on coming,” O’Donnell recounted.

Yes, Kelly O’Donnell was feeling pretty good last Friday – until the post position draw for the Crown final. Western Montana drew post 10, on the extreme outside.

“With post 10, we’re totally up against it,” O’Donnell lamented, then added a familiar horseman’s refrain, “From there, we’ll be at the mercy of the fractions.”

But whatever the result Saturday, Western Montana has had a good season for O’Donnell and the Diamond Creek Farm LLC of Kentucky. She’s been first or second in seven of her eight starts going into the Crown final, with earnings of more than $113,000, two good seconds in Grand Circuit showings at Lexington, and success in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes.

And the trainer has a good reason not to mope about his filly’s unfortunate starting position – for he is preparing another Breeders Crown finalist in on Saturday, the 2-year-old pacing colt Spin Rate.

Spin Rate is still a maiden after eight starts, but he’s had some big races – the son of Allamerican Ingot was second as a 30-1 shot to Metro winner Yankee Skyscaper at Lexington, and at Woodbine last Saturday he finished in overdrive, coming from last at the quarter to be third, beaten less than three lengths.

“He hasn’t had the best of luck either,” O’Donnell noted.

But if O’Donnell is looking for a “lucky sign” to counteract Western Montana’s post 10, he can take comfort in the fact that Spin Rate has rolled three “natural sevens” – post seven in his last two starts and again in Saturday’s rich Crown finale.

Actually, O’Donnell is enough a veteran of the sport to know all about its ups and downs. Son of Bob O’Donnell, who operated Hobby Horse Farm in Ohio and was a longtime USTA director, Kelly tasted success in the Breeders Crown before most people in two senses – he won the 1985 Three-Year-Old Filly Pace with the great Stienam, in only the second year of the Crown series, and when he was age 27.

O’Donnell has had a steady rate of success in the intervening years, and last season he had the ultimate victory for a native of Ohio, as his trainee P-Forty-Seven won the prized Little Brown Jug at the Delaware (OH) fairgrounds.

Western Montana may have the, well, western Montana of post positions on Saturday, way off the main path, but she and Spin Rate both should be closing strongly, and “if the fractions are kind,” O’Donnell could well wind up in Breeders Crown victory lane – 21 years after his last triumph. And post 10 won’t have meant a thing. (BC)
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