09/25/2008 11:00PM

Lesson is, if Morden sticks around, stick around


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Long after most racing fans had departed following a recent Fort Erie card, a few diehards were inside betting on the simulcast races, including the day's finale at Woodbine, and a solitary soul sat in the Fort Erie grandstand.

Interested in finding out why someone would sit all alone in a sea of empty seats, I maneuvered my way through the empty rows and found trainer Lyle Morden. Just in front of Morden was a television tuned to the 10th race at Woodbine.

Before a question could be asked, the laid-back trainer said, "I have a 2-year-old in the 10th, No. 5, Chilkoot Pass, and just walked over from the backside to see how he goes.

"My son Richard is paddocking him," he added. "This looked like the perfect quiet place to watch the race."

Chilkoot Pass, bred and owned by Herb Chambers, was in a maiden special weight race at Woodbine and was about to go 5 1/2 furlongs in the third start of his career.

The youngster had shown some speed in his previous two races, the first an open maiden in which he finished eighth and the other in a $32,000 claimer in which he again showed speed before tiring in the final furlong and finishing third.

The Woodbine odds on TV with 10 minutes to post were 17-1, which suggested that the public had others in mind to win the track's final race of the day.

"I think we have a good shot," said Morden. "We put him on Lasix for his last race and the improvement was notable. I can't believe his odds are that high after what he showed in his latest."

Morden, stabled primarily at Fort Erie, has won with 20 of 65 starters for a solid 30 percent win figure here this year, and he was looking forward to his second win of the season at Woodbine.

Chilkoot Pass broke sharply and settled just outside the front-runner, again showing good speed. Slade Callaghan, aboard for the third time, waited patiently, then drove for the lead on the turn and they took command in the stretch, opening a gap on the rest.

Watching Morden view the race was a lesson in quiet calmness. As the horses neared the finish line and runners began to close on Chilkoot Pass in the final sixteenth, Morden never flinched as he pronounced matter of factly, "We did it."

A moment later, once the official sign was posted, Morden smiled, said, "See you later," and began walking back to the barn.

Chilkoot Pass paid $36.10, $20.90, and $7.50.

Following up on that brief encounter the next day, Morden said that he and owner Herb Chambers had been at the September yearling sale and that Chambers had made a few purchases.

"He bred Chilkoot Pass," said Morden, "and that brings on even more of a thrill when a win comes about. But there is also plenty of satisfaction when a sales yearling comes through for you, and young horses do bring the dreams of the future."

Morden, a perennial top-five trainer at Fort Erie, said that travelling back and forth to Toronto, Fort Erie, and the farm can be a chore, but his son Chris serves as assistant trainer at the Fort and Richard fulfills the role at Woodbine.

Rounding out the family business is Rachelle, Morden's wife, who helps out along the shed row as well as takes care of the Morden house and home.

"It can be hectic at times for all of us," said Lyle Morden, "but when everyone pitches in like they do, it makes life much easier."

Why not 6 1/2 furlongs?

The rainy summer weather has continued into September, causing many turf races to be moved to the main track. Some observers may have noted that a seven-furlong turf race for maidens that was moved to the main track went at six furlongs and not at the next nearest distance, which at the Fort would be 6 1/2 furlongs.

The answer is that maidens at the Fort are not asked to run out of the chute. If experienced runners and winners are sent from turf to dirt, the move would be from seven to 6 1/2 furlongs, but maidens go a half-furlong shorter.