Beautiful weather – good crowds – fuller fields – and 2 barns jammed with racehorses. Twenty more horses qualified on the weekend and racing secretary, Jackson Wittup, has more entries than he can use at the moment. That will even out when harness racing adds a third day to its calendar beginning Friday, May 6th.
Several new stables are showing up at Century Downs. Rene Goulet, Travis Bowman, Travis Tracey and Tyler Redwood have moved east after Fraser Downs in Cloverdale BC ended its season. And Brandon Campbell has returned to Alberta from winter racing in Cloverdale as well. Bowman is just about to 1,700 career wins and he’s raced and won at more than 40 tracks across North America during his career.
Ed Hensley has been at Century Downs since the beginning of this year’s meet, and like Bowman, he’s plied his trade all over North America. The California native was most recently at Pompano Park in Florida before coming to Balzac in February. He’s got more than a dozen horses stabled on a farm not far from the racetrack. The string includes Baliska Hanover, a winner Sunday in 1:54.4 and a candidate for the Bev Sears series starting on May 7th.
“I bought her out of an Ohio sale,” Hensley told me. “She’s won 4 in a row (now 5) here at Century Downs. I’ve also got Stutz (4th Sunday in a non-winners of 6 event for colts) and they’re both eligible for the open stakes program.”
But Hensley is likely going to need a little help for a few days and so is driver-trainer, Ryan Grundy. The two were shaken up in a spill during the 8th race on Sunday afternoon and went to hospital to be checked out. They will both be fine, but will likely miss some time on the track. Grundy, who has a chance to be involved in the regional driving challenge to be held June 26th at Century Downs, has had a decent start to the spring meet with 10 wins in his first 72 starts.
Speaking of the Regional Driving Challenge, the one day event brings together the top drivers from the Prairie provinces. Don Howlett will represent Manitoba while Brandon Campbell, Paul Davies and Jim Marino have qualified to represent BC. At the moment, Travis Cullen, Phil Giesbrecht, Mike Hennessey and Dave Kelly hold down the four representative spots from Alberta with Gerry Hudon and Grundy close enough to still be in the conversation. Alberta qualifying ends on May 15th. Regional events will feature either eight or nine drivers who will compete in a minimum of eight races. Drivers will receive points based on their finishing position and the top two point earners will advance. The 2016 National Driving Championship will take place at The Raceway at Western Fair District in London on Friday, October 14. The winner of the 2016 National Driving Championship will represent Canada in the World Driving Championship, to be hosted in concert with the World Trotting Conference in Canada in August, 2017.
In the meantime, this Saturday, April 23rd, Century Downs will celebrate its first anniversary as the home of standardbred racing in southern Alberta. General Manager, Paul Rynevald, tells me the track has big plans for the day including a “behind the scenes” workshop for the public starting at 11 AM that day. There will be a series of talks on everything from advanced wagering to how to harness a racehorse. The day includes backstretch tours including a session with long time harness racing trainer, owner, and breeder, Carl Archibald, as well as a chance to meet some of the other stars of the Alberta harness racing scene. And it includes the Saturday race card, featuring the final of the Prairie Girls series for Alberta foaled, sired or owned, 3 & 4 year old fillies which had not won $20,000 lifetime as of the end of December, 2015. The eight starters qualified this past Saturday and include Credit the Shark (Keith Clark), Twin B Breezeway (Phil Giesbrfecht), Green Light (Connie Kolthammer), Top It Up (Dave Kelly), Lovethatsixpack (Travis Bowman), L Dees Sunsetbeach (Travis Cullen), My Camalina (Brandon Campbell), and Mods Mystery (Bowman again).
The Prairie Boys final will go Sunday, April 24th. Qualifiers include Counter Strike (Cullen), Man of Many Arts (Giesbrecht), Flamijngbluestar (Campbell), Tripper (Jean-Francois Gagne), Big Magick (Bowman), Make It Big (Rene Goulet), Appellate (Clark), and Outlaw This Is It (Hennessey).