Hockey legend Serge Savard hopes for 'Cup'

05:35 PM 17 Jun 2011 NZST
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Eighteen Rockabillie
Eighteen - who has now won eight races and $235,350.
Rockabillie

Serge Savard, the former Montreal Canadiens standout defenceman and General Manger, is looking to add a different kind of 'Cup' to his collection on Saturday, June 18 at Mohawk Racetrack. The 65-year-old Savard has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup eight times as a player, but he's hoping to add his name to the list of winners of the Pepsi North America Cup, the continent's richest harness racing three-year-old pacing event.

The Hall of Famer owns a piece of two Dr. Ian Moore-trained colts, Rockabillie and Eighteen, who will both go postward in Saturday’s $1.5 million final.

The long-time standardbred owner started purchasing horses in the 1970's as a hobby while he played for the Canadiens. Savard and his closest friend and teammate the late John Ferguson, would often spend their downtime at the racetrack.

Savard became the Canadiens GM from 1983 to 1995, putting his hobby on hold for awhile.

After a 12-year hiatus, Savard was ready to get back in to the racing game. He met Moore, a native of Charlottetown, P.E.I., after he moved a junior hockey team he owned from Montréal to Charlottetown.

“Dr. Moore had some success with good horses like Astronomical and I asked him, ‘If you buy a horse, I’ll be interested in buying a piece of it,’” recalled Savard. “He came back to us a year later and said, ‘I got one.’ It was Shadow Play and you know the story of Shadow Play.”

Shadow Play was Savard’s Cup contender in 2008. The son of The Panderosa did not advance to the final, but carved out a stellar, high-profile career.

The black colt banked $1,559,822 in career earnings with a record of 20-9-5 in 49 starts for owners Moore, Savard and R G McGroup Ltd. The same partners own both Rockabillie and Eighteen.

Savard admits winning the famed Little Brown Jug in world record fashion for two heats (a then sizzling 1:50 stakes record in the first heat and 1:50.1 in the final) is still something special.

“I’ve had a lot of sensational moments in my career,” said the man who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986. “As a hockey player and GM, I’ve been involved in 10 Stanley Cups. I also won the Little Brown Jug, it’s different, but still a great thrill. When I won the Jug, it’s probably the best thrill, sports-wise, in my career after hockey.

“Being in the winner’s circle for the Pepsi North America Cup would be a great thrill, too. It’s already a great feeling to have two horses in the final. It would be awesome beating the best three-year-olds in North America.”

Rockabillie finished second in his NA Cup elim to Powerful Mist. Eighteen, named after the number Savard wore in hockey, finished third to Up the Credit and Shadyshark Hanover in his elim.

The Saint-Bruno, Quebec resident says his horses are improving every week, which the June 11 eliminations have proved. Savard thinks post six and eight are the best two positions, based on their win percentage. Rockabillie drew post six.

“I looked at the stats and post six is the position that’s won the most times at Mohawk since the beginning of the meet, 21 per cent,” said Savard of Rockabillie’s spot on the gate. “There is nothing wrong with that position.”

Eighteen drew the eight-hole, which he explains has the second-highest win percentage at 15.

It’s clear that Savard is not just a silent partner in the ownership group considering his analysis of post positions at Mohawk.

Savard acknowledges the competitive nature of the harness racing drew him to the sport, which is why it may not be surprising that several hockey players, including John Ferguson, Mats Sundin and Tie Domi, have all dabbled in horse ownership.

Perhaps, Savard offers, it’s because a young hockey player is just like a young racehorse, both are on a journey to be at top of their game.

“I like to buy young horses and bring them to races. It’s like taking a hockey player at the Midget level and then you bring him to the Junior level then to the National Hockey League,” he explained.

“It’s trying to build a champion, that’s what I like to see, the way they improve. I like to buy horses at the sales and build them up with your team. I like the challenge.”

Savard also loves the thought of raising another ‘Cup’ aloft.

Doors at the Campbellville oval will open at 5 p.m. on Saturday evening, with first race post time at 7:10 p.m. and the Pepsi NA Cup scheduled for 9:40 p.m.

Legends Of Hockey - Serge Savard

Ashley MAYOTTE

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