07/31/2012 8:46PM

Hambletonian: Canada's Kadabra has two sons in the final

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The appearance of two sons of Kadabra in Saturday’s $1.5 million Hambletonian is anything but magic. Knows Nothing and Prestidigitator earned a berth in the final with solid efforts and represented their home Ontario in a way that may not have been possible pre-1998.

That was the year that an agreement was reached and slot machines were installed at harness tracks throughout the province. With the added purse money, farms began to build and grow, and Ontario became a shining example throughout North America of what the marriage of gaming and racing should be like.

Kadabra is the leading trotting stallion in Ontario of two and three-year-olds, but it’s the emergence of these two in the Hambletonian that has separated the stallion from the rest.

[HAMBLETONIAN: Watch race previews, see Saturday's full card LIVE]

“That’s the best part of the Ontario program,” said David Heffering proprietor of Tara Hills Stud, the home of Kadabra. “Our Sire Stakes program is tiered. It gives horsemen the option of finding races in Ontario.” What Ontario has done is improve its local product while integrating into the mainstream in North America.

“About 65 percent of the mares bred are Canadian with the others coming from the U.S.,” said Heffering of Kadabra. The blend is representative of the power of the Ontario program primarily, but it also represents a belief south of the border of Grand Circuit potential.

There is much at stake North of the Border as this Hambletonian approaches. Perhaps lost in the political struggle are the results of a program that took proper time to develop. The fruits of the long labor have borne a product that can compete internationally. It has also spawned programs throughout the U.S. trying to emulate its success. Just this year the New York Sire Stakes program, which is also supported by slot revenue, divided its base program into two divisions and the results have been impressive.

Heffering didn’t care to speculate what might happen should no alternative answer come forward and slots cease to exist under current terms in Ontario in 2013.

“I don’t want to speculate what the numbers would be,” he said. “We’ve bred over 1,000 mares at this farm each year since the slots began. This year was the first time we bred last than 1,000.”

Heffering remains optimistic that an effective solution can be found to maintain the funding for horse racing in Ontario. His farm was purchased by his father, the late-Peter Heffering, in 1995 and went from a low of two stallions to as many as 12 during a period of tremendous growth in the province. Such investment and growth would not have existed without a strong program and a strong plan in Ontario.

Asked what separates his stallion Kadabra from others David Heffering said in one word “intelligence.”

Anyone who watched last week’s Hambletonian trials noticed that both colts were well behaved in quite different trip scenarios. Prestidigitator was forced wide around the opening turn and the final turn and didn’t lose his cool on either occasion for Ontario-based trainer Dustin Jones and top pilot Sylvain Filion. Knows Nothing and driver Jody Jamieson had to keep their cool as well sitting inside without racing room until midway down the homestretch. The Jeff Gillis trainee knew exactly what to do when room developed and responded with a victory.

Intelligence is a key factor on the racetrack and hopefully it will be a major factor in Ontario as a smart solution is necessary.

A lot of hard work and planning goes into making a racing program succeed locally and internationally. Ask any horseman just how difficult it is to reach the Hambletonian. Thousands have tried to make it to the sport’s most recognized race and very few have arrived.

It’s crystal clear by the presence of Knows Nothing and Prestidigitator, two strong contenders in Saturday’s race that Ontario has arrived.

The spotlight will be in New Jersey on Saturday but perhaps some politicians North of the Border will pay attention and find themselves proud of what they have achieved.