Cowgirl Hall - this month's national season's record holder on a five eighths harness racing track - should be dead! The daughter of Cash Hall - Centerfold Hall (Garland Lobell) set a 3yo trotting filly's record of 1:55.1 at Tioga Downs on May 6. The time was just three fifths of a second outside the track record.
But had her part-owner-trainer-driver not been Gaetan (Gates) Brunet, Cowgirl Hall would more than likely have been put to sleep last July – after just three lifetime starts.
The odds were never in Cowgirl Hall’s favour. She suffered a serious shoulder injury. An injury so severe that 90 per cent of horses who endure it are put down.
And then there was the almost $10,000 operation at one of the USA's top veterinarian Universities to "hopefully" keep her alive.
But Brunet didn’t hesitate dipping into his pockets.
“I knew just how good the filly was. She took my eye from the day I bought her on behalf of others at the Harrisburg Sale. I didn’t think twice about coming up with the money for the operation.
“Even when the vet told me that there was still a high chance she could die during and after the operation, I still insisted on paying the money. She meant that much to me,” Brunet said.
He said his filly must have kicked her Vernon Downs Stall so hard that a nail had protruded out. She would have then somehow managed to ram the nail right through her shoulder joint.
“It was the worst possible injury. If it had been flesh or muscle it would have healed. Thankfully it was not a cartilage injury. It was a serious operation and Dr Lisa Fortier and the Cornell University (NY) team did an outstanding job. I can't thank them enough.
“It is the most famous vet school in the state of New York. I’m so pleased I took her there,” Brunet told Harnesslink.
No wonder he was pleased. The operation was so successful Cowgirl Hall recovered brilliantly and was racing within three weeks – winning her first race back in a $36,050 Trot at Vernon Downs on September 2 in 1:57.
Since then Cowgirl Hall has won six of her 11 starts (two firsts and a second in 2012) and placed four times for $87,958.
In fact she and Brunet won at Saratoga Raceway yesterday (May 16). They were victorious in a $60,000 trot in 1:57.4 – last quarter in 29.3 (see video of how he took her straight to the front).
She paid $3.10, $2.10, $2.20.
“The Empire Breeders in a couple of weeks on our home track (Vernon Downs) is the next goal,” Munnsville (New York) based Brunet said.
Cowgirl Hall was one of two winners for Brunet yesterday. He also saluted the judge with Love Me Do in the first event at Saratoga (see video).
In 40 years of training and driving standardbreds Brunet has had some nice horses, but would only rate Cowgirl Hall in his top five.
“I’ve trained, owned and driven most of them. Some Girls was a nice trotter. She set a track record for 2yo trotting fillies at Vernon Downs in August 2010 (1:57).
“Muscle King was fairly good too. He was beaten a nose in the Canadian Classic. He won more than $600,000. Then there was Hay Goodlooking and Star Dust. There's been a few nice ones over the years,” Brunet said.
Brunet is a French-Canadian who was born in Ottawa and came to the United States as an 18-year-old.
He was fresh out of High School and his father Aime asked him if he wanted to float some horses to California.
“That was about 1970 and Dad was starting to get out of the business and I didn’t hesitate when he asked me to go there.
“That’s where I met my now wife of 40 years – Debbie. She was from California and we stayed there for about six years before heading east to New York. She is a wonderful wife and a very good horsewoman as well,” Brunet said.
They have no children but both work their team at Vernon Downs, which is just 10 miles away.
Brunet credited a lot of his success to prominent American owner Ted Gewertz.
“Ted is a great owner and a friend. He is one of the country’s most notable owners and has achieved so much in the sport with some great horses. I have known Ted for the last 12 years and he has allowed my stable to get up and race in a better league.
“In other words Ted has made it possible for me to race a better quality of horse. For that I am extremely grateful,” he said.
“He also owns Cowgirl Hall,” he added.
Brunet has had more success in the sulky than training over the years.
Since 1977 he has won 639 of his 4,063 starts and also placed 1,152 times and $3.01 million in purses. He has won three of his 14 starts this year.
Brunet’s training record from 1992 reads: 1,069 starts, 180 wins (three this year), 306 placings and $2.74 million.
A heart attack in 2010 slowed him down and he and his wife don’t work the large numbers that they used to.
“I have a better appreciation of life now. I will always love the horses but I do realise there is more to life than just racing,” the 60-year-old said.
"But it is a great job though isn't it - especially when you think a lot of people train horses when they retire from their regular jobs."
By Duane RANGER (editor)
(1) Gates Brunet and Cowgirl Hall winning at Saratoga Raceway yesterday (Wednesday May 16, 2012):
(2) Gates Brunet and Love Me Do winning at Saratoga Raceway yesterday(Wednesday May 16, 2012):
(3) Gates Brunet likes the music of Van Morrison:
(4) He also enjoyed the movie: Rocknrolla
(5) Gates Brunet also likes the TV show: Whale Wars.