Fortunately for Knows Nothing, his connections seemed to know what was in the horse’s best interest.
Last year, Knows Nothing had a bone chip removed and missed his entire 2-year-old campaign, which was disappointing to trainer Jeff Gillis as he was extremely optimistic about the colt’s potential. There could have been temptation to get him back on the track more quickly, but Gillis took a cautious approach.
“He probably could have raced late in the year but we didn’t think it was worthwhile, and that he could have a big chance at a big 3-year-old year,” Gillis said. “We were pretty excited about him from the time we basically got him.
“He had a very impressive yearling video. He did everything right, he trained down as one of the better colts before we had our setback.”
Whether an early return would have hindered Knows Nothing is now moot. One thing for certain – keeping him sidelined until this year certainly hasn’t hurt.
The son of Kadabra-Savvy Yankee won his elimination for Saturday’s $1.5 million Hambletonian final for 3-year-old trotters by 1-1/4 lengths over Guccio last weekend at the Meadowlands Racetrack. My MVP also advanced with a third-place finish.
CBS Sports Network will air the Hambletonian final from 3:30-5 p.m. Saturday.
“He didn’t race as a 2-year-old, so we were a little discouraged, but we knew he had a lot of potential,” said Knows Nothing co-owner Gerald Stay. “We waited around for him and he’s shown his appreciation.”
Knows Nothing has won seven of eight races and earned $217,152 this year for Gillis and Ontario-based owners Al Libfeld, Marvin Katz, Mac Nichol and Stay. Libfeld and Katz were co-owners of 2010 Hambletonian winner Muscle Massive.
In his Hambletonian elimination, Knows Nothing benefited from some patient driving and, according to driver Jody Jamieson, some good fortune.
Jamieson and Knows Nothing sat on the rail in the middle of the field before finding room to split Riccolo and Stormin Normand, who were battling side by side for the lead, near the top of the stretch and cruise to victory.
“Trond (Smedshammer) had a very good horse on the lead (Riccolo), but they weren’t going any so I didn’t want to compromise my horse and come first-up,” Jamieson said. “I guess we had a little luck getting here (but) the horse responded pretty much like he did all year. Every week he keeps impressing.”
Knows Nothing is the second Hambletonian finalist in four years for Gillis. But his first experience with Federal Flex in 2009 was marred by health issues for the horse.
“It’s hard to look back on it as a fond experience,” Gillis said. “Federal Flex came down there after winning the Goodtimes and then won the Dancer. Unfortunately, sickness and inexperience caught up with him, and he was never the same again.”
But to Gillis’ credit, he took something from that experience, which led to his patience with Knows Nothing.
“I hope I’ve learned something from it,” he said. “I truly believe that I ruined the career of Federal Flex by not having the discipline to scratch him from the final when he wasn’t 100 percent. I think it compromised his future. So hopefully I won’t make those mistakes again.”
Gillis, a 34-year-old from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, was voted the 2011 O’Brien Award as Canada’s top trainer after a career-best season of 112 wins and $3.92 million. He was also the leading trainer on the Woodbine Entertainment Group circuit and won his first Breeders Crown with Frenchfrysnvinegar.
Gillis spotted Knows Nothing at the Standardbred Horse Sale in the fall of 2010.
“There’s a bit of a story behind how we got him,” Gillis said. “We had found him and fell in love with him on day two. Once we saw his video that was it. It was breathtaking. So, we passed on a few other colts, and on the morning he was to sell he was pulled out for some reason. We were initially distraught, but Al Libfeld and Marvin Katz knew the breeder (Herb Liverman) and arranged to buy him.”
For Gillis, the Hambletonian final is another chance to go after the sport’s biggest prize.
“It’s absolutely terrific,” he said. “It’s a dream come true, really and truly. That’s a cliché, but I can’t find any other words to describe it.”
Those thoughts were echoed by Stay and Jamieson.
“It’s a feeling like none other,” Stay said. “I’ve been in the horse business all my life and never got here, so it’s the best feeling in the world.”
“It’s a humbling experience,” Jamieson said following the elimination race. “To come in here and sit third on the rail and come down the stretch and just win the Hambletonian elimination like there’s nothing to it, and everybody knows that there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, it’s an amazing experience.”
Jamieson then summed it up like this:
“Even though I’m doing a lot of talking,” he said. “I’m really speechless.”
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