A warm spring – a new memorandum of understanding that stabilizes racing in Alberta – and the start of the season's stakes program. It's a great time to be a racing fan in the province. And it's a good time to be a participant in Alberta's oldest sporting enterprise too.
That's Cathy Reid's take on the business, anyway. The proprietor of Riverside Stables just north of Cochrane has a growing, active business on her hands and couldn't be happier.
"I bought my first yearlings 17 years ago," she told me Monday. "I was working in the marketing department of an oil and gas firm. My husband, Sandy, is a geologist. But I decided I wasn't cut out to spend my life in an office. I like business, I love competing, I like being in charge and I love horses. Three years ago, I took the plunge and bought a stallion, Trueland Hanover, who hadn't been getting much activity in Manitoba. I now have seven broodmares of my own. But the phone's been ringing since the MOU came down. My 22-stall barn is just about full as it seems more people are deciding that the business has stabilized and the sport needs a boost of new potential racehorses."
In addition to breeding some potential new stars, Cathy has several racehorses that she's training for the season at Century Downs. She took out her own training license last October because she likes to be in charge. She's teamed up with Cape Breton teamster, David Kelly, who has some of his own stock and drives all the Riverside racers.
"He's a quality horseman," she told me. "He trains the horses in the mornings at the farm and gives me good feedback on how they are doing and what needs to be done to make them race better. One of his horses, War Chant, is likely to be in the Prairie colt series this weekend. And I've got one of my fillies, Top It Up, for the Prairie filly series which is to start on Saturday. Between us, we've learned not to press her too hard off the start so that she can come from off the pace in the stretch."
Whatever they are doing appears to be paying dividends. The 3 year old Mystery Chase filly won for the first time on April 2nd and came right back to finish third last Saturday. She's one of 15 nominees for the Prairie Girls, a class that is considered wide open at the outset, with no clear favourite eligible to take part.
The Prairie series is an early closing event for 3 and 4 year olds which have not won $20,000 lifetime as of the end of December, 2015. There are 20 nominees for the boys, including Counter Strike from Travis Cullen's barn. Counter Strike was 3-wide down the backstretch on Sunday afternoon before taking the lead en route to his sixth straight victory. He has certainly stamped himself as the horse to beat in this class and Kelly's War Chant will be one of the challengers.
Briefly noted... Travis Cullen's astounding .650 winning percentage early this season has backed off a bit as more horses and drivers show up from other tracks and more stock comes off the farms to the racetrack. But the 23 year old horseman continues to lead the drivers and trainers standings and picked up nine awards at last Friday night's ASHA awards banquet... lots of worthy winners including veteran teamster, Rod Hennessey, who won the Ron Macleod Award saluting his long time involvement in Alberta's standardbred industry... Century Downs will celebrate its first anniversary of racing on April 23rd. General Manager, Paul Ryneveld, has a bunch of things planned, not the least of which is the finals for the Prairie series. Post time Saturdays and Sundays is at 1:10 PM. Century Downs adds Friday racing to its lineup, beginning May 6th at 5:45 PM.