Chad Harden went into Day 7 of the GMC Rangeland Derby and came out of it heart broken.
The 2009 champion is believed to have lost two of his wagon horses and possibly one outriding horse when his left leader stumbled and fell, causing a pileup among his horses approaching the three-furlong mark in the fourth heat Thursday night.
One of Harden’s outriders, believed to be Dustin Gorst, slammed into the back of the wagon, flew through the air and appeared to knock Harden out of the box.
Both men walked away in the first major incident in the 89th running of chuckwagon racing’s richest show.
Although Harden understandably wasn’t immediately available for comment, he was full of optimism earlier in the day after he’d posted the second quickest time Wednesday night to hurdle from 12th to fifth spot.
Top eight after Friday night advance to Saturday’s semifinals.
All that after he’d had to make a last-second switch of horsepower during the nightly pre-race warm up laps around the barn.
“Did a half lap and had to pull out the kingpin that we won the 09 Stampede with,” he explained, prior to Thursday night’s races. “I think he’s a little sore on the front end so we had to switch out after a half lap and throw a new horses in there.”
The switch was performed in front of his barn, which meant he held up the pre-race parade of warm-ups.
“My barn crew gets a lot of credit because they went and got a horse out of the barn and we got onto the racetrack on time,” said the 41-year-old resident of Mulhurst Bay, Alta. “It worked out but I felt sorry for the other three drivers behind me because they were trying to warm up their horses and I was parked in the middle lane blocking everything.”
Once to the track, Harden laid down a wire-to-wire run of 1: 15.95 to not only scoop second day money but jump from 12th to fifth spot in the aggregate.
“Sometimes the good Lord looks out for you and that’s what he did (Wednesday).”
He wasn’t so lucky Thursday.
Parked two-wide beside a swift-running Cliff Cunnigham, Harden saw his left leader go down and bring his wagon to a dead stop when the rest of his horses piled into it.
Needless to say the incident not only knocked Harden out of the aggregate and dashed some high hopes of gaining his third spot in the final dash in the past four years but left his barn devastated.
Harden had hopes of not only finishing in the top eight but possibly taking a run at No. 1 in the eight-day run for the Richard Cosgrave Memorial Trophy and the keys to a brand new GMC Sierra pickup truck.
“Winning that aggregate truck is huge,” he said.
“I mean, it’s a nice truck worth $60,000-$70,000 and that to me is actually the best award to win. To beat everybody over eight days and not just three in a dash. . . .
“To be champion in Calgary is great but to win the aggregate would be a feather in anyone’s cap and that’s what we’re vying for now.”
Harden had flown under the radar for the first five days.
He was in the top 16 but wasn’t throwing a scare into anyone until he stole the rail off the No. 2 barrel Wednesday and hung up that sub1: 16 run.
“Yeah, we’ve just been plugging along trying to be consistent,” he admitted. “We thought we had two good teams when we come in, thought we were contenders and one night we were contenders and then we were pretenders . . . back and forth.
“We ran good in Ponoka (preStampede show), placed in the top 10 five out of six days so we thought we had the horsepower and just had some bad luck the first part of the week.”
Not nearly as bad luck as Thursday.