05/26/2016 11:14AM

Bergman: Kelley hoping Obrigado makes an impact in the Maxie Lee

Lisa Photo
Obrigado was installed at 5-1 from post 1 in Sunday's Maxie Lee Memorial.

Trainer Paul Kelley had reason to be excited for his top trotter Obrigado, who is entered Sunday in the Maxie Lee Invitational at Harrah’s Philadelphia.

“I can’t believe he drew the rail,” said Kelley.

While trainers always appreciate when the post odds tilt in their favor, it was easy to understand the relief in Kelley’s voice when speaking of Obrigado.

Since the beginning of 2014, Obrigado has raced 42 times and during that same time frame he has landed either posts one or two on exactly five occasions. The law of averages had to kick in at some point and apparently it did for the $200,000 event.

Kelley knows full well that post position is just one issue in a long season and that his main job is to get Obrigado to be at his best. Though the Lee is the first of what will be many stakes appearances, Kelley would like to find his 6-year-old in a specific event come October.

“I’d really like to see him in the International,” said Kelley. “It’s the perfect race for him at one and one quarter miles. He’s a lazy kind of horse but he keeps on going and doesn’t know the end of a mile.”

The key to any top trotter is to keep them sound and happy. Kelley said that over the winter while bringing his horse back that everything was on schedule. A key issue has been the shoeing and he’s made an attempt to lighten up his front shoes.

“Last year he got a little funky gaited at times. His feet were stinging him,” said Kelley.

“He won at Vernon with flip flops but we needed to get him something a little lighter than that up front,” said Kelley, who confirmed that Obrigado will be shod with what he termed a “razor” shoe which is thinner than the flip flops.

Much of the shoeing change was a result of Obrigado’s difficulties last August at The Meadowlands where he got a bit fumbly going into the first turn of the Cashman, perhaps costing him a victory in that prestigious stakes. Kelley went back to the drawing board and at years end he felt comfortable that Obrigado was on the right path to excel.

After closing out the season with a solid second in the TVG final at The Meadowlands, Obrigado has returned this year with three solid performances. His debut in the Mack Lobell Elitlopp Playoff had him placed third after coming from way off the pace. A trip the following week to Yonkers was more in keeping with the horse’s noted style as he marched up without cover and then wore down his rivals in a 1:54 2/5 clocking, defeating the best in class over the half-mile track.

Kelley was very happy with his last race, a second-place finish trotting home in 26 2/5 while individually timed in 1:51, which would have been a career best for him.

In the Lee on Sunday Obrigado will have regular pilot Mark MacDonald in tow and the two have grown together to an elite level. The field is a solid one with JL Cruze (post 4), Bee A Magician (post 7) and last week’s Graduate upset winner Maestro Blue Chip (post 8) in the group.

Kelley feels his horse can go with all of the top ones but at the same time respects the competition.

“I think Resolve and Bee A Magician are a little better than he is but I think he can go with any of them,” said Kelley.

Resolve elected to race in the Elitlopp on Sunday in Sweden while Bee A Magician remained stateside.

“They invited me to race in an Invitational at Solvalla on Elitlopp Day which is an honor,” said Kelley. “I just want to do right by the horse and I think the shipping may have cost him.”

Sunday’s contest will be tough enough for Obrigado despite the post advantage. JL Cruze has already won four of his five starts this season including a 1:53 victory at Harrah’s Philadelphia on May 19.

Shake It Cerry is winless in her three starts as a 5-year-old but has to be given respect especially following her 1:52 4/5 qualifying victory at The Meadowlands last Saturday. David Miller will try to help her gain winning form from post six.

Bee A Magician has looked every bit as imposing this year as she did as a 3-year-old back in 2013, her Horse of the Year and undefeated campaign. Second but placed first in the Mack Lobell at The Meadowlands, the Nifty Norman trainee has the capacity to rough it and still get the job done.

With 10 wins in 10 starts this year, even Maestro Blue Chip can’t be counted out of the Lee Invitational despite landing post eight.

Il Sogno Dream, a 1:50 2/5 winner at The Red Mile last year, can’t be dismissed despite making just his first start in 2016. Trainer Chris Beaver has been known for having his horses sharp at first asking and this son of Cantab Hall will need to be in this elite group.

According to Kelley, Obrigado is staked to everything this year as would be expected.

The trainer is currently finishing off the final preparations for the upcoming 2-year-old stakes season. He trains over a small track just a few miles from Saratoga but when it comes to getting his freshman ready he journeys to Vernon Downs.

“I’m taking eight of them to Vernon tomorrow (Wednesday) for a training session,” said Kelley. While it’s certainly a bit premature to speculate just how well some of these youngsters will turn out, Kelley did have glowing praise for a pair of colts he’s currently training, one eligible in New York and the other in New Jersey.

“I think they’ll be ready to baby race in a couple of weeks,” said Kelley.

The trotting season is just getting underway and Paul Kelley’s horses are primed to have a major impact.