Saturday, July 21, 2012

Getting up to speed with Essence Hit Man and Jesse Campbell

It was a pumped-up Jesse Campbell that returned to the winner's circle with Essence Hit Man, Canada's reigning champion sprinter, on Wednesday night after winning a hard-fought speed duel with Eternal Rule in the Grade 3 Bold Venture Stakes, at Woodbine.

Campbell and Essence Hit Man
"He reached for that wire so hard today," gushed Campbell. "What a treat for a Wednesday night race. These horses threw it down today. That's a horse race, right there."

Essence Hit Man, carrying a field-high 124lbs, broke sharply from the gate in the five-horse field and set splits of :22.08 and :44.49 with the previously undefeated Eternal Rule stalking from third position. A determined Eternal Rule appeared to have Essence Hit Man collared with a sixteenth to run, but Campbell kept to task on the competitive chestnut and prevailed by a head.

On Friday afternoon, Campbell, a native of Twinsburg, Ohio, was still accepting congratulations over the rail from fans who appreciated his efforts aboard the speedball trained by Audre Cappuccitti.

"I've had so many people come up to me and say what a great race that was to watch, and how great that was for Woodbine," smiled Campbell.

And then, sneaking a peak at his arm as he tore off his silks following a second-place finish aboard Dixie Chicken in Friday's fourth race added, "Look at me, I'm still getting goose bumps!"

Campbell was keen to relate that final exhilarating push for the wire.

"The last sixteenth, I knew it was going to be close," started Campbell. "I've rode almost 15,000 races and it's rare that I get lost in the moment. And that last sixteenth, I kinda lost track. I was trying so hard, I didn't even know if we'd won it. It was cool the way it all went down."

The journeyman rider, who boasts more than 1,700 career scores, had steered Eternal Rule to victory in the Karl Boyes Memorial at Presque Isle prior to the Bold Venture, so not only did he have his choice of mounts on Wednesday, he also knew exactly what he was in for when Eternal Rule came calling down the lane.

"It was a decision I didn't want to have to make, but I've been with 'Hit Man' for a long time," said Campbell. "He has a little more experience than Eternal Rule and has been there, done that, but I think Eternal Rule will be a better horse off that race. Both horses gave 100 per cent. The horse that got beat ran a winning race. I don't want to run against him again, let's put it that way."

Campbell picked up the mount aboard Essence Hit Man on October 30, and he deserves a lot of credit for improving the already excellent gelding. Essence Hit Man has never been worse than second with his new rider, having notched four wins in six starts - - including a pair of Grade 3 wins in the Kennedy Road and Vigil Stakes.

His first trip aboard Essence Hit Man, a horse who has run a sub :44 half a handful of times, was a real learning experience for the jock.

"I had never worked him before that race, so I was going on what they told me," recalled Campbell, of the six furlong allowance tilt. "They said, 'Don't fuss with him and don't try to slow him down, just let him run'."

The 'Hit Man' opened up a five-length lead at the half, in a torrid :43.98, but has to settle for second behind a closing Paso Doble.
Essence Hit Man and his groom Errol

Although Campbell didn't win, he knew right away he had a serious horse.

"He's naturally the quickest horse I've ever rode," said Campbell. "His legs are going 100 miles an hour, and it's not that short, choppy stride of a horse going nowhere a hundred miles an hour, this horse is going somewhere. I don't want to say scary, but it's got a bit of an out of control feel to it. He's just going too dang fast."

It's not often you hear someone talk about a horse being 'too fast', but...
"It's a lot of power," laughed Campbell. "I'll tell ya, it's a real weird feeling to be pulling at a horse going :44 flat. Usually you're all out and going :44 flat. He puts confidence into you. He's a lot of horse."

But, finishing second in that allowance tilt made Campbell realize he needed to try and harness some of the millionaire sprinter's abundant speed.

"I got back home that night and I told my agent, 'I don't think I was ever going to win that race today, but I can ride this horse different'."

And since that race, Campbell has worked closely with Cappuccitti in the morning to help the 'Hit Man' try and chill out a bit.

"When I started working him, I knew I could get this horse to back off a bit," explained Campbell. "His training patterns have slowed down. I can get him to work in 1:01 every time now as opposed to :58. I'll try to work him 1:01 and let him gallop out a long ways."

Teaching the 'Hit Man' to enjoy his morning routine has been a key element in tempering his race day exuberance.

"I'll go over to the barn early and take my time walking over to the track with him," said Campbell. "If he wants to stop and look, I'll let him stop. On the track, I don't jog him right away, I walk him as far as he'll walk. Then I'll let him stand for ten minutes, and he watches the other horses train. He never used to do that. If I can get him to do that and he wants to do it, I think it's nothing but positive things."

Campbell noted that the training regime takes about 45 minutes stall door to stall door, which is about 20 minutes longer than a rider might usually spend galloping the average horse. But, Essence Hit Man is no average horse.

"A little bit of progress can go a long ways with a horse like that," said Campbell. "And it's better for his health and keeps him going longer. It's hard to keep those sprinters together."
TJ is the regular exercise rider for the 'Hit Man'

The new morning routine, and an equipment change by Cappuccitti outfitting Essence Hit Man with a ring bit, made a significant improvement in Campbell's second trip with the choice chestnut. Sent to post at odds of 7-1 in the six-furlong, Grade 3, Kennedy Road Stakes, Campbell eased Essence Hit Man to the half in :44.57 and sprinted home a length and a quarter winner in 1:08.75.

Since that score, Essence Hit Man has been remarkably consistent winning the Jacques Cartier and the Vigil and he even notched a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Highlander Stakes when carrying his speed through the stretch on Woodbine's extensive, and unforgiving, E.P Taylor Turf Course.

Campbell is hopeful that Essence Hit Man can maintain that consistency throughout the Woodbine meet, and replied confidently when asked if the Speightstown-El Prado Essence gelding could hold his own in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Jesse sharing a moment with some young fans

"I believe so," nodded Campbell. "He's the right kind of horse and he's going good right now. He's got so much confidence. I'd try to keep him right, keep his confidence, and then take a stab in the fall. Those are the kind of races, anything can happen...swing for the fences. If he's 100 per cent, take a shot.

For now though, Campbell is content to enjoy Wednesday evening's success and all the comments, hand shakes, and well-wishes that came along with it.

"A lot of people thought that (race) was a neat thing," smiled Campbell. "It's tough to move people who have been in the racing game a long time. It was definitely one of those moments."

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