While the current stars of harness racing are putting on a show in the afternoons at Century Downs, the crop of future stars is putting in the training miles and learning how to be racehorses in the mornings. An informal poll of a dozen trainers indicates at least 60 youngsters are building up their conditioning and going through starting gate training prior to qualifying.
“We won’t have any qualifiers on June 26th which is the Regional Drivers’ Challenge, or on Canada Day, July 1st,” racing secretary, Jackson Wittup, told me. “Normally, I’ll wait until there’s at least 3 of the youngsters ready to go before I schedule qualifiers. Once we get a few horses ready to race, they’ll take up the inside posts in maiden races until we get enough to stage a race just for them.”
Trainers tend to take their time with the babies, wanting them to grow and mature before they are put to the test in a race.
“I like 2 year olds that were born in April or May,” veteran conditioner, Rod Hennessy, told me. “Some of our best racehorses seem to come from those foals. They have enough time to develop both physically and mentally. Anything born later than May probably won’t be ready to race at 2, unless it’s very late in the 2 year old season. That’s been my experience, anyway.”
Those trainers who can get their horses ready are doing so with an eye to July 23rd and 24th when the Emerald Filly and the Century Bets stakes for 2 year old colts and geldings are set to be staged. That will be a “coming out” party to be anticipated by owners, trainers, and fans alike.
Guess Who’s Back….
It’s been six years since Serge Masse has raced in Alberta. He has, from time to time, sent the odd horse to race in this province. He showed up on the weekend with 8 horses and got 3 of them qualified on Sunday morning. Two of them, Phone Terror and Remember Terror, are owned by Lucy Raymond of Edmonton and have been racing at the Meadowlands. Phone Terror has a lifetime mark of 1:51.2, albeit on the 1 mile surface at the Meadowlands. She has 42 wins from 130 lifetime starts and career earnings of nearly $450,000. She looks to be a strong new entry in the open fillies and mares class at Century Downs.
The 4 year old Remember Terror was a $15,000 yearling buy at the Lexington Select sale and most recently paced a 1:56.3 mile and finished 4th against $10,000 claimers at the Meadowlands. The third qualifier, Telegraph Hanover, is a maiden. She most recently raced on April 1st at Fraser Downs, finishing 3rd in the Penny Bath.
Masse himself has been driving horses for nearly 40 years, amassing 2,857 winners and more than $11.4 million in career earnings in the sulky.
Still with Sunday’s qualifying, Brandon Campbell posted an eye-popping 1:57.2 with Sterling Cooper for owner, Jeff Elchuk, of Surrey BC. Sterling Cooper was nearly 5 seconds ahead of Fire Watch which is returning to the races after some time off. Fire Watch was Alberta’s top 3 year old Alberta-sired filly in 2015.
Supporting the Stollery
For the second straight year, a big crowd is expected at Kelly Hoerdt’s Bedrock Stables for a fund raiser in aid of the Stollery Children’s Hospital of Edmonton. Last year’s event drew about 700 people and raised $12,000 for one of the great causes in Alberta. Hoerdt tells me he hopes to double those numbers this year and he’ll take Sunday June 19th off from driving at Century Downs to welcome fans to his home.
“Horse Racing Alberta, ASHA, Standardbred Canada, and Nitza’s Pizza have all stepped up to help me with this,” says Hoerdt. “We’ll have a bunch of activities for the youngsters including pony rides, face painting, and inflatable obstacle courses. We’ll break out the jog cart for the older folks. And we’ve got about 150 items for the silent auction. The only charge to join us is a donation for the Stollery. And we’re hoping that a few of the youngsters who are patients at the hospital will be able to join us as well.”
Great cause and a great day. Bedrock Stables is at 50268 Range Road 240 in Beaumont, AB.
4-H at the Races
This is the centennial of the 4-H program in Canada, one of the great schools of learning about life on the farms and ranches for youngsters. Theresa Sealy has put a lot of time into the Alberta program aimed at children interested in equine studies, and she had a group of 4-H’ers from the Cremona chapter with her Sunday at Century Downs.
“For some of them, it’s their first trip to a racetrack,” Theresa told me. “We talk about the groom’s program and the exercise rider program which are offered through Olds College and which are supported by Horse Racing Alberta. We’d especially like to get some of them enrolled in the groom’s course. In 4-H, they learn about anatomy, equipment used in racing, how to identify injuries, exercise bandages and wrapping, nutrition, and conformation. Ashley Grundy and Kim Scott are two of our graduates and they’re both working in the racing industry here in Alberta.”
Meanwhile at the Races…
It was a good weekend for the Travis Cullen and Rod Hennessy barns. Both came through with double wins in the two stakes races for 3 year olds. Saturday, Outlawsurshotshark (1:57.1) and Jet Blue Burner (1:58.1) won divisions of the Wild Rose for the fillies. Darryl Cutting’s Monstrous (1:58.2) followed up her victory in the Bev Sears on May 14th by taking the third division of the Wild Rose.
Then on Sunday afternoon, Mike Hennessy piloted Blue Star Maverick (1:56.3) to victory in the first division of the Gordon Rumpul for 3 year old Alberta colts and geldings. He came right back in the next race and used the same strategy of charging into the lead off the gate with Blue Star Jet. He then held off Wrangler Cash at the wire to win the second division in 1:56.
Maverick is a son of the great As Promised. Jet’s mother is the multiple stakes-winning mare, Movin Uptown, which is also by As Promised. Outlawsurshotshark by Smart Shark, Monstrous, by Allamerican Navajo, and Jet Blue Burner by Blue Burner raise the stature of the Alberta breeding industry as a producer of competitive racers. Hopefully the two year olds now being developed can raise the bar even higher.