SKOWHEGAN — Eleven minutes to post time for the Hight Invitational, Achilles Blue Chip was at 50-1 odds in a five-horse field. Four minutes later, his chances had improved to 37-1.

Ron Cushing of Albion — Achilles Blue Chip’s driver and trainer — didn’t know this. But Cushing did know something a lot of people didn’t.

“I bought him off a friend of mine for that big race in Bangor (the Paul Bunyan Invitational),” Cushing said. “He was a favorite in the race. He should have been good. He ended up being sick, and just a bunch of things happened that day. He ended up actually dislocating his pelvis, so I had a chiropractor work on him a couple weeks ago. He’s been a pretty good horse most of the last couple years. We bought him to be a good horse.”

On Saturday afternoon, 6-year-old Achilles Blue Chip was more than a good horse — he was better than any horse ever to run a one-mile pace in Maine. Achilles Blue Chip won the race going away and set a new track and state record with a time of 1 minute, 51.4 seconds.

The former Skowhegan and state record of 1:52.3, set by Rodeo Du Ruisseau, had stood since 2010. The record-setter was worth a $4,000 bonus. Art of Illusion finished second, with Western Victory third.

Achilles Blue Chip paid off $36.80 on a $2 bet to win. Art of Illusion was the obvious favorite entering the race. Just this year, Art of Illusion had set the track record at Topsham and won the $10,000 Dirigo Pace Invitational.

In his last two races, both in August, Art of Illusion had gone head-to-head with Achilles Blue Chip. Art of Illusion won both races with times in the 1:53 to 1:54 range. Achilles Blue Chip was in the money in both races, but with times of 1:56.1 and 1:56.2 — and that 1:56.1 was the fastest he had run since Cushing became his driver and trainer in mid-July.

“My horse, on paper, looks probably as good or better than that horse,” Cushing said. “But my horse has been off his game for the last three weeks, so he well deserved to be the clear favorite going into the race.”

Art of Illusion shot out early, and as the horses came around in front of the stands at the half-mile mark, he held the lead with Southern Swan in second. But as the horses turned, Achilles Blue Chip made a charge on the outside and seized control.

“I planned on leaving with him, but it looked like there’d be a lot of early speed,” Cushing said. “He’s a real good front-runner, and he leaves really well. But with the 1 and 2 leaving as hard as they could, they wanted to follow, if anybody, the favorite (Art of Illusion) to the outside.

“I had to yield and change my strategy. But once they went the strong fractions the first quarter, I knew they were going to have to take a breather somewhere in the middle of the mile. So rather than wait a little while longer and let that horse rest, I came right at the half, and attacked him before he had a chance to gather his strength back up. It worked out today this way, but it worked out the other way so far with that same horse three times.”

Cushing also won the seventh race, guiding Orderingin to the victory in a not-posted open trot. Naturally, the $12,000 Hight Invitational was the highlight of his day, but part of that was because Achilles Blue Chip finally turned a corner.

“I was really proud of him today,” Cushing said. “I expected him to be this good. But he really came back strong. He deserves to be where he’s at with the track record and the state record, because he’s a good horse. But I’m more thrilled with the fact that I know he’s good now, and I can keep him that way.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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