By Bill Finley
The tale of a one-eyed horse who has come from nowhere to sweep the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown has been the feel-good story of the year at Woodbine, but the next chapter could end with an uncomfortable twist. Mighty Heart (Dramedy) is the even-money favorite in Saturday’s Breeders S., a role he earned after decisive victories in the Queen’s Plate and the Prince of Wales S. But there’s a rapidly improving, dangerous horse in the field named Belichick (Lemon Drop Kid) who should relish the mile-and-a-half on the turf and is the second choice at 7-2 in the morning line. Like Mighty Heart, Belichick is trained by Josie Carroll. That means that the Canadian Hall of Fame trainer will be in the unenviable position of perhaps costing herself and Mighty Heart a Triple Crown sweep.
“I think I would have really mixed emotions if that were to happen,” she said. “Putting it in human terms, it would be like you coaching two kids and one has a chance to do something extraordinary but it’s the other one that you are bringing along who steps up. You are proud of both of them but there’s going to be a bittersweet factor, of course.”
Owned by NK Racing and LNJ Foxwoods, Belichick is still a maiden after three starts, but showed dramatic improvement when second behind Mighty Heart in the Queen’s Plate when he was beaten 7 1/2 lengths. Carroll kept him out of the Prince of Wales and should have a fresh horse who has continued to get better as the races have gotten longer.
“Belichick is a strong, athletic horse.,” she said. “He is a horse I expected from his first start would be a dominant horse on this circuit. It ended up taking him longer to come around than I expected. Certainly, he’s just coming into his own.”
Neither of Carroll’s horses were considered serious Queen’s Plate contenders as late as early July. After finishing out of the money in his first two starts, both of them at the Fair Grounds, Mighty Heart broke his maiden July 11 at Woodbine. After finishing third in an allowance race, he was dismissed at 13-1 in the Queen’s Plate and was overshadowed by still another Carroll horse, Curlin’s Voyage (Curlin). A filly, she finished fifth as the 5-2 favorite as Mighty Heart ran away from his competition.
“He really enjoys running and once he figured out what it was all about he just steadily improved,” Carroll said. “I don’t think it was one thing that suddenly turned him around. He just got better.”
Seventeen days later and now the 4-5 favorite, Mighty Heart, who is a homebred owned by Lawrence Cordes, had no problem winning the second leg of the Canadian series, the mile-and-three-sixteenths dirt race at Fort Erie. That put him within one win of a Triple Crown sweep. The Canadian Triple Crown has been won seven times and not since 2003 when won by Wando (Langfuhr).
Mighty Heart became an easy horse to root for. He lost his left eye in a paddock accident when he was just 2-weeks-old, but has overcome that setback for Carroll and Cordes, a small owner/breeder. His sire, Dramedy, stood in two different states, Kentucky and Oklahoma, during four years of study duty in North America before being shipped off to Saudi Arabia. Mighty Heart is one of only 17 foals from his first crop.
Mighty Hearty grew to be so popular that Woodbine set up a special media day for the horse on the backstretch Monday and Carroll, Cordes and jockey Daisuke Fukumoto were on hand to answer questions.
“It’s wonderful when our sport gets a horse that captures the public’s imagination,” Carroll said. “It lets people see the human side of racing, that it’s more than just a sport. It is these wonderful animals and the wonderful people that are involved with them. You’ve got this horse that came into Queen’s Plate as the underdog and won it decisively. He overcame the one eye. He’s got as small owner who only owns a couple of horses but is intense about racing. I think the whole story has caught on with everybody. And the name. The name is exactly who he is.”
There is some question as to how Mighty Heart will handle the switch to the turf. He has raced on the surface once, in a Mar. 21 maiden at the Fair Grounds where he finished 11th. He bore out badly in that race, which Carroll said, was due to the fact he has just the one eye.
“He got some kickback in his face,” she said. “He has only the one eye, so I think when it hit his blind side it really startled him and he ran to the outside. Since then has had a lot of schooling in behind horses and after that race we put a one-eyed blinkers over that eye. There’s a cup we put on that covers the sensitive area and that helped turn him around a lot. I don’t think it was the surface that time. I think it was the kickback.”
While Carroll isn’t too worried about the turf, she admitted that Mighty Heart’s schedule is a concern. Just as was the case with the American Triple Crown, the Canadian races had to be rescheduled because of the pandemic and there are just six weeks between the first leg and the last.
“We are asking a horse who is very young in his career to do a great deal,” she said. “Certainly, it’s a concern. He’s acting great going into the race and his blood work is great. Everything says he is on go but you really don’t know how much those two races took out of him.”
If they did take something out of Mighty Heart that could set things up for Belichick, who has had six weeks off. Carroll will be seeking her second win in the Breeders. She won the race in 2014 with Ami’s Holiday (Harlan’s Holiday). She could get her second Saturday, but the question is, with which horse?