One of the great things about Alberta harness racing is how big and small stables can compete on an equal basis and how a small stable can sometimes break through and win against a stronger, more powerful stable.
Take, for instance, trainer Dave Lamont and partner, Donna Wyse. Lamont has been a part-time trainer on the Alberta circuit since 1979. He had been primarily a food products distributor, while keeping a few racehorses as a hobby. Wyse has worked in the oilpatch in downtown Calgary for many years while spending her off-duty hours in stables, caring for horses.
“The oilpatch is my job,” she says, “but the horses are my passion.”
Then, last fall, things changed. Lamont decided to go full time into training. The couple bought 80 acres of land east of Airdrie, built a half mile track and a barn, and got into the sport big time. They now have 10 racehorses and a couple of broodmares. Wyse continues to hold down her office job, but the off hours are busier than they’ve ever been. She would not have it any other way.
Last winter, they went looking for some new racing stock and picked up a couple of horses in Ontario. One of them is Man of Many Arts, a 4 year old son of Major in Art from the Matts Scooter mare, Lady Ann Matthew. He finished third in Sunday’s $25,000 Prairie Boys final. The throw-in on the truck coming west was 4 year old named Twin B Breezeway.
“We bought Man of Many Arts because he filled a hole in our barn and because he fits all the conditions where we needed a horse to race,” says Wyse. “He hasn’t won a lot but he’s raced well for us in a tough class. Twin B was kind of an afterthought.”
That was before Saturday afternoon, when the filly took to the track with Phil Giesbrecht at the controls. “In warmup, the key is to keep her relaxed,” Giesbrecht told me. “She was starting from Post 8 but I had Credit the Shark and Keith Clark right alongside and they were the pre-race favourites. So I had someone on the inside to keep pace with and she did really well.”
Really well is an understatement. Twin B fought her way to the front and held on to win the $25,000 Prairie Girls final in 1:59.3. Helped, no doubt, by Donna Wyse screaming encouragement from the rail. It must have been that “passion thing” again.
“I think that’s the first time I’ve won a stakes final in 39 years of being involved in racing,” she told me a day later, still basking in the glow of Twin B’s second lifetime win. (editor’s note: Donna started going to the races when she was “really young”!)
Another small stable owner was smiling as well after a runner-up share in the Prairie Girls. Connie Kolthammer’s primary focus is on the breeding side of the business at Outlaw Stables in Falun, Alberta. But once in awhile she jumps in a bike and shows her competitive side. Green Light a 3 year old filly by Badlands Hanover from the Dream Away filly, Dream Card, just missed a second lifetime win in 18 career starts. Both Green Light and Twin B Breezeway are likely to join Alberta’s broodmare band after their racing careers are done.
And yes, the biggest and most active stable on the grounds, had another big weekend at Century Downs. Travis Cullen sent out 18 starters over two days on the weekend. Sixteen of them finished in the money and nine of them made it to the winner’s circle. Among Sunday’s five winners was Counter Strike, which doesn’t seem to know how to finish anywhere else but first. The 4 year old son of Camystic has won 9 of 10 starts this year, including Sunday’s $25,000 Prairie Boys final.
“I think we’ll have to give him next week off,” Cullen told me. “He’s eligible for the As Promised Stake eliminations on May 8th, so I think that will be his next start. He’s going to have to move up in class after his win on Sunday because he won’t fit the non-winners of 6 class where he’s been racing. But I don’t want him to start against tougher horses until after the As Promised.”
The As Promised and the Bev Sears for 3 & 4 year old fillies and mares, are the next stakes races on the calendar. The Sears eliminations go May 7th, with the colts taking to the track in the As Promised eliminations on May 8th. The finals are May 14th & 15th. Cullen has nominated L Dees Sunset Beach for the Bev Sears, although the well bred daughter of North America Cup champion, Somebeachsomewhere, has yet to fulfill her promising pedigree. She was fourth in the Prairie Girls.
In all, there are 30 fillies nominated to the Bev Sears and 26 colts eligible for the As Promised. The two series are for 3 and 4 year olds and are part of the Open Stakes calendar. The eliminations are being staged in and around thoroughbred racing’s Kentucky Derby celebrations, So, it means the first weekend in May, will be a great weekend to be at the races.
And maybe, just maybe, another small stable will show up in the spotlight.