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When the two-year-old pacing colts arrive at Kawartha Downs for Saturday's Grassroots harness racing event it will be a homecoming for Mikes Last Bet.

Owner and breeder Roger Burley broke and trained Mikes Last Bet at his Baltimore farm and the gelding was a regular visitor to Kawartha Downs for training and schooling miles.

“That’s where I used to take him, up there, and we’d train him and then we’d school him every Monday here once it opened up,” says Burley. “I schooled him three times before I took him up to Richard’s.”

“They were starting to announce the Ontario government pulling out of the partnership and so I decided, you know this horse looks like he has really got potential — to get down that far free-legged — I think I need to maximize everything I can do. So I searched out the trainer up above and asked him if he would think about taking him so that he’s got all the tracks right there, he’s got everything right there close by, and he said yes so I sent him up there on June 11.”

Once Mikes Last Bet landed in Moreau’s barn at Mohawk Racetrack the trainer schooled him once free-legged and driver Sylvain Filion felt the youngster was solid enough to qualify without hopples, so Moreau dropped him in to qualify on June 25. Unfortunately Mikes Last Bet made a break in the first turn when Filion attempted to back down his speed and allow another horse to take the lead, so the gelding’s connections decided to move ahead with hopples.

Back in to qualify on July 2, sporting a pair of hopples for just the fourth time, the son of Royal Mattjesty and Rambarans Gal delivered a solid runner-up effort in 1:58.4. The gelding’s difficulties continued however, as he developed a virus in the days following the qualifier.

“So he qualified quite nicely and after that qualifier he got sick,” says Burley. “He (Moreau) could still jog him because it wasn’t a real cough, deep sickness; maybe something from going from my barn out here in the country to up there.”

Once Mikes Last Bet showed signs of improvement, Moreau decided to enter him in an overnight event at Mohawk and the gelding rolled in behind the gate for his first pari-mutuel start on July 13. The pacer’s early season woes were not over however, as he broke a front hopple hanger before the start and had to complete the race with broken equipment.

Driver Jason Brewer navigated the seven-eighths mile oval carefully, but Mikes Last Bet still managed to lay down a :27.3 final quarter to hit the wire in 1:56.1.

Mikes Last Bet makes his Grassroots debut from Post 7 in Saturday’s first race, and Burley is hoping the return home marks a change in the gelding’s luck.

“So we’re hoping that we’re over the sickness and over the hopple issue, and that he turns out half decent for us,” says the horseman. “It would be nice to see a little better hole, but nothing we can do about that. Hopefully he’s tuned up by Saturday.”

Mikes Last Bet is the first foal from $91,499 winner Rambarans Gal, a mare Burley claimed in January of 2007 and raced until her retirement in July 2008. While the mare was racing in Toronto in February 2008, Burley’s father-in-law passed away, and Mikes Last Bet was named in his memory.

“It was real icy here at the farm so I decided I would send her (Rambarans Gal) up to Toronto. So I sent her up there and she got hurt,” Burley recalls. “So the night she got hurt my father-in-law had called and said, ‘What do you think about the horse, can I put a bet on her,’ because he lives in Toronto, and I said she might be worth a bet. He said, ‘Okay I’m going down and I’m going to make a bet on her anyway’ and that was the night she got hurt. He died that same night, he died the very same night, so we called her foal Mikes Last Bet. That’s how he got the name.”

Mikes Last Bet will be looking to do his namesake proud when he parades onto the Kawartha Downs oval at 7 pm on Saturday. The two-year-old pacing colts will also battle for Grassroots glory in Races 2 through 6 and 10 through 12.