Desperate Man has provided the Cecchins with many family memories over the course of the year and now the team behind the North America Cup champion will get to enjoy another special evening together as they celebrate their O’Brien Award finalist next month.
“We are incredibly honoured and thrilled to be nominated for an O'Brien Award. It's a very coveted and prestigious nomination,” said Kathy Cecchin, who trains and co-owns Desperate Man with husband John, daughter Nicole and son-in-law Paul Davies. “We would all (myself, John, Nikki and Paul) like to congratulate all the other nominees and wish them all future success.”
While the 2021 O’Brien Black Tie Gala will be a virtual affair, the Cecchins will celebrate their stable star together at their Arthur, Ont. home on Sunday, Feb. 6 as they tune in to watch the awards show on the Standardbred Canada website.
“Protocols are changing. We were hoping to have a small gathering with family and friends here at the house to enjoy the festivities,” said Cecchin. “We may have to have fewer people with new announcements but are really hoping we can be with immediate family and [driver] Trevor and Shannon [Henry]. I think everyone is excited about the ‘20s theme.”
Desperate Man is a finalist in the glamour boy Three-Year-Old Pacing Colt division along with fellow Ontario-sired rival Bulldog Hanover.
A hometown horse adored by his connections, Desperate Man took the Cecchin family on a ride of a lifetime during his sophomore year.
“Although cliche, Desperate Man's 2021 campaign far exceeded even our wildest dreams,” said Cecchin, reflecting on the Shadow Play gelding's successful season that was highlighted by a victory in Canada’s million-dollar race for three-year-old pacers.
“I think winning the NA Cup, surrounded by family and friends, was just a surreal experience. We were so proud of him, and very overwhelmed by the whole experience.”
Under perfect handling by driver Trevor Henry on that Saturday, Sept. 11 evening, Desperate Man stormed home off cover to defeat U.S. divisional champion Perfect Sting in a career-best 1:49.3 effort at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
He later matched his lifetime mark with an October 16 victory in the Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final over Bulldog Hanover, ending his sophomore year with a Canadian season-leading bankroll totalling $767,594 and a record of 3-3-2 from a dozen starts.
Cecchin recalled a key moment early in the season that set him up for success prior to his first OSS win.
“Maybe odd, but we took him to Grand River to train before the Gold at Georgian,” she recalled. “Turned out we were the only people there that day, so he had the track all to himself. We had never trained him on a really good half before and the track was awesome. He was so good that day, I really think it was the turning point of his season and all of our confidence in him.”
From that peaceful solo training mile to the buzz of a packed winner’s circle on one of harness racing’s biggest nights of the year, the Cecchins handled being thrust into the spotlight with grace and humility every step of the way while expertly managing their prized pupil with a team of supporters.
“It's an understatement to say we have never managed a horse like him before, and there were all kinds of challenges for us, not necessarily due to anything going on with him, but just the hurdle of trying to have him at his best at the times he needed to be,” said Cecchin. “We had a great deal of support from both of his blacksmiths, dentist and, of course, vet – everyone had significant input into his schedule.
“I think he is a super smart horse, and a true competitor. He did everything right, without fail all year. Of course, nothing would have been possible without John, who goes all the miles and has the patience of a saint, with both the horse, and also me!
“I really think we have to acknowledge Trevor's role in the development and progression Desperate Man made throughout 2021," noted Cecchin. "He always drove him with his future and best interests in mind. He built his confidence over the entire season, he never asked more of him than he had to offer and always kept him safe. For that, we are truly grateful. We wouldn't be where we are now without Trevor.”
While Desperate Man took the Cecchins to new heights, they are no strangers to the O’Briens.
John campaigned Canada’s 1992 Two-Year-Old Trotting Filly of the Year, Suspicious Image, and O’Brien finalist Jailhouse Rock the following year.
They will be hoping to add more hardware to their mantle while Desperate Man eagerly awaits the start of his 2022 campaign.
“Desperate Man stayed home for his holiday and has been blessed with the best weather we could possibly hope for here,” said Cecchin. “He is thoroughly enjoying tormenting the old horses he is turned out with; he literally runs circles around them daily and they ignore his exuberance. He has grown a lot and filled out. We are planning to start back with him mid-month.”