By Perry Lefko
The owner of Traceur Hanover said he almost quit the business earlier this year after 45 years in the sport and spending $1 million a year to buy yearlings because of the fallout from last year’s tainted Breeders Crown win by the two-year-old pacing colt.
Quebec businessman Richard Berthiaume told Harness Racing Update on Thursday he came close to leaving the business because of the grief he endured over a matter in which he feels he was personally wronged without being at fault.
“I spend $1 million a year (buying horses) and I never know what I have on my hands when I buy a colt or a yearling,” he said. “Last year was a really, really bad year. I was so disappointed I was going to go out of the game. But I have a passion racing horses and I’ve had Normand Bardier and his brother Claude with me for 30 years (managing the operation), and before that their father was my trainer.”
Berthiaume was prohibited from racing his horses at the Meadowlands in the off-season as a penalty for standing by trainer Corey Johnson, who had one of his horses test positive for excess levels of total carbon dioxide at Woodbine Racetrack a week before Traceur Hanover and stablemate Voelz Hanover had already qualified for the Breeders Crown, and Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural felt that Berthiaume should have scratched the horses from the races rather than disgrace his track and the Breeders Crown. Neither Gural nor the Hambletonian Society or the New Jersey Racing Commission had any jurisdiction to scratch the horses after the state attorney’s office pointed to a precedent that ruled a trainer could not be banned until having a hearing.
Traceur Hanover won his final, while Voelz Hanover was a non-factor in the Open Mare Pace. Johnson had only been training the two horses for a month because Berthiaume needed someone to condition the horses in the U.S. The Bardiers, who are based in Montreal, were unavailable due to family commitments.
Traceur Hanover had shown little initially in Johnson’s care, but came to hand for the Breeders Crown, winning his elimination race in a career best time at over 22-1 odds, and the final at just under 4-1 odds. Johnson told Harness Racing Update earlier this year he worked hard to correct a problem he had with Traceur Hanover, specifically one leg kicking another leg, known as crossfiring. He claimed shoeing the horse differently and icing made a major difference and it all came together with a victory in the Breeders Crown elimination race, followed by the final.
Johnson, who was only in his fourth season as a trainer, was suspended 13 months for violating terms of the probation for a positive drug test (also for TC02) he had less than two years before. He did not contest the suspension in a hearing with the Ontario Racing Commission.
Pat Lachance trained some of Berthiaume’s horses in the winter in the U.S.
In January, Gural announced that blood samples taken from Traceur Hanover and Voelz Hanover a few days before the Breeders Crown finals and sent to Hong Kong for analysis revealed cobalt levels five times higher than the threshold level typically found in a horse’s system.
In addition to banning Berthiaume’s horses from racing at the Meadowlands, Gural is refusing to allow Traceur Hanover to be entered in the Meadowlands Pace. Gural returned the sustaining payments Berthiaume had made to keep his horse eligible for the race.
“When I tried to explain to him, he said ‘I don’t want to see you or your horses,” Berthiaume said. “That’s his decision. I’m not a gambler, I just like (racing horses). I’ve never had problems with anybody.
“I didn’t understand the reason why Gural (did what he did),” Berthiaume added. “He said ‘you need to know who you do business with’, but I have four different trainers and I can’t know what they are doing (all the time). How am I going to know what they do with my horses? All the trainers that (work) for me, they never know me. I don’t go to the races. I watch the races on television in Montreal. I just send them the horses and they call Normand Bardier. The only (trainer) who knows me is Ben Baillargeon. He trained 14 horses for me for two or three years and we won a lot of races in Toronto.
“I really like the Meadowlands Pace and I don’t know why they refuse to let me race (in it). It’s not the fault of the horse, it’s not the vault of me, the owner. After racing in Toronto, I have to send Traceur to some other trainer in the United States? Who am I going to (hire)? Do I have call the FBI to take a survey on them?
“I really don’t know (who will train the horse in the U.S.). Pat Lachance did a good job for me in December, January and February. I’ll probably send it to Pat Lachance. But there’s one important point for me: I like the same driver. I want the same driver to drive Traceur Hanover all year. It’s best to have the same driver. It’s not an easy game to race horses.”
Randy Waples drove the colt for all of his Canadian-based races last year and is slated to drive him in a qualifier Friday at Mohawk Racetrack. Traceur Hanover is being pointed to the Somebeachsomewhere Stakes June 6 as his first start en route to the North America Cup, which begins with the eliminations June 13 and is followed by the $1 million final June 20.
Earlier this week, Berthiaume sold five-year-old pacing mare Request For Parole, a winner of nine of 45 career races and almost $200,000, to trainer Ron Burke for an undisclosed amount. She has won four of 12 starts this year and $40,250.
Voelz Hanover was retired in the off-season after failing two in four races and bred to Mach Three.
Go Daddy Go Returns To Racing: Go Daddy Go, Canada’s top two-year-old colt pacer, makes his season debut Friday night at Western Fair Raceway in London. John Campbell drives for trainer/breeder Bob McIntosh, who owns the colt with Dave Boyle and Diamond Creek Racing, which bought into the partnership earlier this year.