Laddie concentrates on winning

by David Mattia

New Brunswick, NJ — If the harness racing industry were to run late-night infomercials, it’s quite possible that Canadian trainer Paula Wellwood would be one of their most loyal patrons. After all, that’s basically how she wound up with a gifted trotter who goes by the rather pleasant sounding name of Laddie.

“I bought him straight off the television,” said Wellwood. “I watched him on the Peninsula Farm video, and when I got to the Harrisburg sale I went directly to his stall. He’s the one I wanted – sight unseen…well almost.”

Of course she had to pay $50,000 for him, which is a lot more than a Popeil Pocket Fisherman, but just like infomercial goods, Wellwood did have to pay for shipping and handling, and, boy, was the “handling” an expensive attachment.

Just like most things one buys from television ads that promise, “no assembly required” or “just minutes a day,” Wellwood had more than her fair share of problems with this hard-to-handle son of Angus Hall-Victory Dreamer (Valley Victory).

“He has, let’s say, concentration issues. In training, and up to his first start, he couldn’t get it together because his mind wandered,” said Wellwood. “He was always distracted and overly energetic. He just likes to play. If the snow was high in the paddock, the other horses would run along the fence where there’s a dirt path. Not Laddie. He was contented to pounce through the deep stuff…that’s the kind of horse he is.”

As far as his racing career is concerned, the often-distracted Laddie got an early start. He made his debut at Mohawk on June 9, 2006, in a qualifying race for driver Paul MacDonell. He trotted evenly but came out of the race sick.

Wellwood recalls, “I took my time bringing him back because he was pretty under the weather for quite a while. During his illness, I’d been really easy on him. His concentration issues were coming back too, so I started doing a lot of voice control with him. I brought him back to Mohawk for a qualifier on August 4 and when Paul (MacDonell) got up I told him to growl at him.”

This seemed to do the trick because he trotted to a second place finish in a spiffy 2:02.

His first Ontario Sire Stake (OSS) race at Flamboro saw him make a jump at the head of the stretch while perfectly poised for a good stretch drive.

“There was no explanation for that whatsoever,” said Wellwood. (It’s likely that Wellwood was doing the growling that day.)

A few weeks later, following a solid qualifier at Mohawk, Laddie returned to Flamboro where his concentration problems caused him to break approaching the half.

“He heard a noise in the parking lot…just a noise and he was looking all over the place,” remembered Wellwood. “That’s when I came to the conclusion that he was either going to get his act together, or he’d be gelded and turned out.”

Laddie must have got the message because he was pretty much all business after that.

Racing from well off the pace, Laddie closed strongly to win a $98,447 Champlain Stakes division at Mohawk in 1:59.3 for driver Jody Jamieson.

He then went on to race in the Wellwood Memorial elimination. The Wellwood Memorial is named after Paula’s father, the great horseman Bill Wellwood, and, despite the ancestral connection, it’s safe to say that Laddie was not at all a sentimental favorite. Going off at odds of over 30-1 from post 10 with Paul MacDonell back in the bike, Laddie, displaying incredible trotting ability, made a sweeping move past the three-quarters and drew away easily in 1:58.2. He was now a true force in the 2-year-old trotting ranks – but was Donato Hanover looking over his shoulder?

“This is where he started to develop a come from behind style,” said Wellwood. “He was becoming a really good racehorse and was finding his own technique.”

The following week Laddie had the family name to think of once more as he lined up behind the three hole for the $467,428 Wellwood Memorial final. This time the public was either sentimental or smart because he was sent off at much shorter odds.

Again the son of Angus Hall did not disappoint. Grinding out a long, parked-out trip, he stalked the leaders as they approached the stretch. When asked, he fired home to win easily over a very sloppy track in 2:00. He raked in $233,714 that night. (Try doing that with a Ginsu knife.)

Laddie’s next two races were cakewalks. He won back-to-back Ontario Sire Stake Gold races at Mohawk, and his 1:56.4 victory in the Gold final saw him whip out an overpowering three-wide brush from off the pace. “He just looped the field that night,” recalls Wellwood.

A subsequent race at Woodbine, the OSS Super Final, with Jody Jamieson back in the bike, found Laddie making a break past the three-quarter pole.

“It had nothing to do with the horse or his previous problems,” said Wellwood. “It was just an unfortunate set of circumstances.”

He was an overwhelming favorite that night and the purse was a hefty $264,000. Suffice it to say that there were a lot of unhappy people.

On October 10, 2006, Laddie had a date with destiny. He went to post at Woodbine in his Breeders Crown elimination. He won that easily, and he did it with a :28.4 last quarter. Now he was going to have to face the ultimate challenge – a race in the Breeders Crown final – a match-up against some tough horses and one of them was Donato Hanover.

The race turned out to be the ultimate anti-climax as Laddie made a break early in the race and was never a factor. Donato Hanover went on to win as expected.

“He just got on the line that night,” lamented Wellwood. “Funny thing is that he usually grabs the left line. That night he grabbed the right line…no reason for it.”

As far as Laddie’s future is concerned, he is back in training.

“He’s filled out really well and we’re looking forward to a start sometime in May,” projects Wellwood. “He’s got some Sire Stakes and then we’ll race him in the Goodtimes.”

It’s to be mentioned here that Paula Wellwood is continuing on in the grand tradition of her late father, Bill Wellwood. “Dad passed away and I took over the business of training the horses…it’s been three years,” says Wellwood proudly.

Prior to her father’s passing Paula had worked with some pretty good horses like Peach Pit and Village Jiffy just to name a few.

So, be it a horse she finds on a TV screen, or one she breeds, or one she finds at a yearling sale, this “trotters only” lady is going to stir up a lot of action on the track for years to come.

And Laddie’s “concentrating” on 2007…or is he?

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