05/10/2012 10:58AM

Meadowlands: Mister Herbie tough to beat in Arthur J. Cutler

Fred Brown
Jody Jamieson will drive Mister Herbie on Saturday.

When the first offspring of Here Comes Herbie came out in 2009 Jeff Gillis was there. The first-crop sire had sparked interest in Ontario not only because of his ability on the racetrack, but the very fact that his younger half-brother Donato Hanover had captured the Hambletonian and gone on to be Horse of the Year in 2007.

It was September of 2009 that Gillis first laid eyes on Here Come Herbie's son Mister Herbie, the favorite to capture Saturday’s $210,000 Arthur J. Cutler Memorial at the Meadowlands.

“He was hip number nine,” recalled Gillis. “I found out that Carl Jamieson was going to bid on him. I won’t bid against Carl,” said Gillis, who regularly uses Carl's son Jody on his horses.

Jamieson bought Mister Herbie for $67,000 at the Canadian yearling auction, making him the most expensive colt from his sire’s first crop.

Flash forward two years and suddenly Gillis had the chance to purchase Mister Herbie.

“He was entered in a mixed sale, but we approached Carl and purchased the horse privately,” said Gillis who along with Mac Nichol took ownership in October 2011.

While Mister Herbie raced well as a three-year-old it has been his post-sophomore stakes career that has brought the most attention upon him. Over the last few months under Gillis’s care he has blossomed from Ontario Sire Stakes also-ran to one of the top trotters in North America.

“I think Carl had him on his way," said Gillis, adding that a change in shoeing by Jamieson was a key to the horse's improvement.

Mister Herbie was improving each week against winter overnight and open types at Woodbine but it wasn’t until last year’s Horse of the Year San Pail returned to the racetrack that the horse was able to be fully tested. The results of that test were more than conclusive. In the $126,250 Glorys Comet final at Woodbine on April 7 Mister Herbie not only got up to San Pail’s flank, he forged past him in the final strides. The 1:51 3/5 clocking was a personal best.

It’s rare that four-year-old trotters can reach the level of more seasoned veterans but Mister Herbie did just that.

“I don’t think he has to take a backseat to anyone,” said Gillis. That being said, Gillis might have been wise in turning down an invitation to the Elitlopp in Sweden later this month because of that lack of seasoning.

As for this Saturday the trainer didn’t appear overly concerned that the horse hasn’t raced competitively in a month. He has kept him in training and, according to Gillis, Mister Herbie went over and trained a mile in 1:56 at Mohawk to get tight for Saturday.

Many trainers make changes when racing at Woodbine and then shipping to the Meadowlands since the surfaces are not alike.

“I’ve sent horses down here before and I won’t be making any changes,” said Gillis.

As for the ship down causing any concerns Gillis pretty much laughed it off while paying tribute to Mister Herbie: “I think an eight-year-old can take care of this horse. He’s that easy to be around.”

With Arch Madness off in Norway and San Pail not named to the Cutler, Mister Herbie’s major competition should come from Winning Mister, who scored in a 1:51 3/5 clocking in last week’s prep but drew the outside post nine for the final.  While Gillis didn’t see the mile he was well aware of Winning Mister’s talent.

“He’s a very good horse that broke at the start in the Glory’s Comet,” he recalled.

Like most trainers Gillis is more concerned about his own horse staying on course and doing what he’s been doing. Jody Jamieson, Mister Herbie’s regular pilot, will be making the trip to New Jersey for the mount. They start from post two.

While Saturday may be the first time local fans get a chance to see the budding star, Gillis said that he’d like to return later for the Nat Ray. The gelding is eligible for the Maple Leaf (Mohawk) and Breeders Crown (Woodbine) as well as the Credit Winner (Tioga).

Another four-year-old with high-class potential in the Cutler is Big Rigs. The son of Andover Hall showed sharp trot early and late in last week’s prep and seems to be on the verge of a breakout year. He drew post five with Dave Miller driving for trainer Kelly O’Donnell.

Hot Shot Bluechip, a career winner of more than $800,000 for trainer Jonas Czernyson, drew the rail and has John Campbell in the bike for the Cutler. The strong closing six-year-old was a solid third in the prep.

The Cutler is slated as race six on the 12-race Saturday card at the Meadowlands. Post time is 7p.m.