Horse comes back from ill health to set track record
Langton's Merlin and Denise Howse hold the Ontario Sires Stakes blanket won by their horse 'Sportskeeper' on May 29, 2015. The three-year-old won the $70,000 Gold Series event and set the Western Fair Raceway track record in the process. JACOB ROBINSON/Simcoe Reformer
Last spring, anyone could've purchased an ailing horse named Sportskeeper from Langton owner Merlin Howse for pennies on the dollar.
That offer is no longer on the table.
In his latest appearance on the track, the three-year-old gelding galloped to a Western Fair Raceway (London) harness racing track record, capturing an Ontario Sires Stakes $70,000 Gold Series victory in the process.
The winner's circle was a long way from the Guelph hospital where Sportskeeper spent time fighting a disease as a youngster.
“At the point I saw him when he came (back) from Guelph, $50 would've bought him,” Howse admitted. “He was totally sick, his hair was all falling out – he just wasn't in very good shape.”
Howse figures Sportskeeper picked up a disease through his food. Things got so bad, veterinarians gave the horse a 50/50 shot to survive. He survived, but after getting through the worst of it, the hopeful racer still wasn't fit enough to travel with trainer and part-owner Casey Coleman of Cambridge to Florida for conditioning last winter.
“He just hadn't matured,” Howse explained. “He wasn't scrawny or anything, he just wasn't filling out properly, so we kept him here in Canada.”
Under the watchful eye of Gerry Belore and Heather Hicks in Mt. Elgin, the horse that was nearly sold became fit enough to begin training in the spring.
“They babysat and looked after him and finally when Casey came home from Florida, she took the horse then because he was ready to start,” Howse said. “We just didn't know what we had. She got him up in the barn and tuned (him) up a little bit.”
Sportskeeper's first qualifying race was a lot like his life – touch-and-go out of the gate before coming on strong. For that fateful day, Coleman was his driver.
“She couldn't believe the heart he had, she just couldn't believe it,” Howse said.
“He got in behind everybody, and coming around the last turn he wanted to go. He damn near ran over everybody – that was it.”
Sportskeeper went on to win two Ontario Sires Stakes trophies, one Grassroots and one Gold, and banked $95,200 last year. His track record of 1:53 in London on May 29 is yet another chapter in the horse's incredible rags to riches story.
“It's unbelievable,” said Howse, a horse breeder since 2001. “I was up to London on Friday night and just to see him race, he took off and it was just like, 'catch me if you can'. That's just the way he ran that race. You don't go gate to wire too often, and that's just the way he raced it, 'catch me if you can'. He's been a real story, that one.”
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