Patience Key for Carroll With One-Eyed Canadian Triple Crown Hopeful Mighty Heart

Racing
The connections of Mighty Heart, with trainer Josie Carroll on the left, lead Mighty Heart into the winner’s circle after his victory in the Queen’s Plate Sept. 12 at Woodbine. (Woodbine/Michael Burns photo)

After being struck by adversity almost at birth, one-eyed wonder Mighty Heart seemingly has everything going his way as he bids for a sweep of Canada’s Triple Crown in the Oct. 24 Breeders’ Stakes at Woodbine.

The colt was only two weeks old when his left eye was irreparably damaged in a paddock accident, forcing the eye’s removal. His early efforts on the track for Josie Carroll were not promising as he struggled to get a grasp on his surroundings each morning.

“He’s good now, but initially he did lack a little confidence with it,” said Carroll, who is attempting to become the first woman to train a Triple Crown champion.

Mighty Heart used to toss his head violently. He handled turns poorly. He shied away from kickback.

Owner-breeder Larry Cordes became so discouraged that he all but threw up his hands in surrender.

“I almost gave up,” he said. “I said, ‘Josie, maybe I shouldn’t keep investing in this horse.’ ”

Carroll’s keen eye for potential and her unending patience helped lead to her induction into the Canadian Hall of Fame last year. She refused to become discouraged. She was convinced that the bay son of Dramedy possessed abundant talent – if only it could be unearthed.

“We did a lot of work with him behind horses where he got accustomed to kickback, so that it was not a thing that frightened him,” Carroll said. “It hit him and it didn’t do anything. It was just a bit of dirt.”

He went unraced at 2. His first two career starts brought more frustration. He lugged out when he ran fourth in a one-mile race that was taken off the turf on Feb. 21 at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He bore out badly on the turn in his next start, a one-mile turf contest at Fair Grounds one month later, and struggled home 11th of 14.

Then a career-changing discovery was made. According to Cordes, a chiropractor noticed that something appeared to be amiss with the 3-year-old’s jaw. Closer inspection revealed a troublesome wolf tooth that needed to be removed.

A much more manageable Mighty Heart broke his maiden at 1 1/16 miles on July 11 on Woodbine’s all-weather Tapeta surface. He was brought back on three weeks’ rest for an allowance race. With the benefit of hindsight, that might have been a bit too soon. He finished third, beaten by 1 ½ lengths.

Mighty Heart dominant in Queen's Plate. (Woodbine/Michael Burns photo)

Mighty Heart was viewed as more of a curiosity than a contender when he was entered in the Sept. 12 Queen’s Plate, the opening leg of Canada’s Triple Crown. Sent off at 13.25-1 odds, he delighted his backers by leading at every call of the 1 ¼-mile contest. He dominated on the all-weather track, turning back Belichick by 7 1/2 lengths.

The plan all along had been to skip the second leg, the Sept. 29 Prince of Wales Stakes, run at 1 3/16 miles on the dirt at Fort Erie in Ontario, Canada. Cordes began to rethink things after receiving a call from Jennifer Perrin, his granddaughter and an equine massage therapist.

“Papa, you wouldn’t even know this horse ran in a race,” she told him. Carroll agreed that the horse had come out of his unexpected romp incredibly well.

In the Prince of Wales, Mighty Heart showed he could from off the pace for jockey Daisuke Fukumoto. He prevailed by 2 1/2 lengths, positioning himself to become the first Triple Crown winner since Wando in 2003. Seven horses have completed the sweep, as it is now constituted, since 1959.

In a sense, Canada’s Triple Crown presents a sterner challenge than its United States counterpart because it requires sophomores to succeed on three different surfaces. Mighty Heart now must show he can handle a mile and a half on turf on Woodbine’s massive E. P. Taylor course.

Cordes draws confidence from knowing that sire Dramedy won the Grade 2 Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes on Keeneland’s turf course at that demanding distance in 2015.

Mighty Heart has already proven his stamina. No race appears to be too long for him. As for surface, Cordes said, “It doesn’t matter what he runs on. He can run on glass or stone or dirt.”

He spoke with the understandable pride of a breeder and owner whose horse has overcome much while coming so far.

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