Henriksen, Benn hope for hometown edge
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Stormont Ventnor and North And South will be lined up one in front of the other in the first $19,150 Grassroots division at Kawartha Downs on Saturday night and the connections of both two-year-old trotting geldings are hoping their insider knowledge of the Peterborough oval lands them in the winner's circle.
"I schooled him there — it's the closest track for us —and qualified him there myself," said trainer Kevin Benn of Stormont Ventnor, who toured the five-eighths oval in a July 8 qualifying event. "The rail isn't always the best for a trotter, I don't think, but he's got a capable driver and he knows the track so he should be okay."
Stormont Ventnor will start from Post 1 with Kawartha's leading driver Reg Gassien of Lindsay, ON in the race bike. Lined up behind the pair at Post 9 will be North And South, with trainer-driver Dagfin Henriksen at the helm.
"He's never had the nine-hole; it will be new for him, so just get him off from the start and see how he handles it. I think he'll be all right, he's pretty handy," said Henriksen, who called Peterborough home during the early stages of his career. "I had my start down there, so it's kind of my home track still. I'm comfortable down there for sure."
Through the first three regular season events, not much separates the trotters in the point standings either. With a win in the July 18 event and a seventh in the Aug. 3 test, both at Mohawk Racetrack, North And South currently sits in sixth spot with 52 points. A pair of runner-up finishes in the same events has Stormont Ventnor sitting in a two-way tie for seventh with 50 points. The top 10 point earners through six regular season events will compete in the $50,000 Grassroots Championship on Sept. 30.
"He's been decent, he's been good," said Napanee, ON resident Benn of Stormont Ventnor. "I had his brother last year as a three-year-old, (Stormont) Dundas, and he was just an honest horse, he never made any breaks. This horse seems to be faster than him though, so that's a good thing. So, you know, we'll keep him healthy and sound and hope for the best."
Saturday's start will be Stormont Ventnor's third. The son of Justice Hall and Lady Grenville, bred and owned by Eric Baker of Long Sault, ON, has just the two Grassroots starts under his belt, while North And South also has an appearance in the Gold Series.
After a pair of qualifiers at Mohawk in June, North And South made his debut in the July 9 Gold Series season opener at Georgian Downs, finishing seventh. The move to the Grassroots for the July 18 event resulted in a win and Henriksen was not dissatisfied with the Southwind Lustre son's effort in the Aug.3 event, in spite of the seventh-place result.
"I drove him from the back and the flow didn't really move much. He had a good last quarter, so he raced good, but didn't have the race luck we needed that day," said the trainer. "That's how it is with the young ones I find. You need a little bit of race luck when you teach them to race."
Henriksen, who now calls Cambridge, ON home, shares ownership of North And South with Dr. Brett Anderson of Port Hope, ON and Kyle Anderson of Edmonton, AB. The partners purchased the half-brother to $165,000 winner Cracker Zack for $10,000 from last fall's Canadian Yearling Sale and have recouped $9,400 to date.
Both trotters will be keeping an eye on Chief Justice from Post 2, who currently sits second in the point standings with a pair of seconds and one third in the first three Grassroots events. Former Peterborough resident John Bax trains the Justice Hall colt for Midnight Sun Partners of Delray Beach, FL and Stephen Byron will be in the race bike.
Bax and Byron also have the top ranked entry in the second division, sending division point leader Delcrest Holiday after his second Grassroots win from Post 8. Bax, who now resides in Campbellville, shares ownership of the Holiday Road gelding with Gaelic Stable of Sharon, Ken Bax of Cavan Monaghan and John Houston of Cobourg, ON.
In addition to the on track Ontario Sires Stakes action, Kawartha Downs fans will have an opportunity to win OSS ball caps and Ontario Racing flip-flops throughout the evening. The youngest fans will enjoy the Kawartha Downs Kids' Activity Centre, which sees one lucky youngster join the winner's circle celebrations following Race 5, making a presentation and taking home a commemorative photograph. And, as always, fans are encouraged to drop their non-winning wagering tickets into the second chance ballot box, with draws held after the third, sixth and ninth races.
The first race on Kawartha Downs' Saturday evening program goes behind the starting gate at 7 pm and the two-year-old trotting colts and geldings will square off in Races 2 and 7. (Ontario Sires Stakes)