There’s an old saying in horse racing. Breed the best to the best and hope for the best. That’s how champions are often made. As I look down through the list of qualifiers for this coming weekend’s finals in the Alberta Princess and Alberta Plainsmen, it’s clear that breeders of horses in this province have tried to do just that.
Last Friday, Blue Star Jet (Mike Hennessy – 1:54.4), Outlaw Turn N Burn (J. F. Gagne – 1:56.1) and Prairie Mystic (Brad Watt – 1:58) were the elimination winners of the Plainsman Series, the first event of the Alberta Sire Stakes program for 2016. Later on the same program, Jet Blue Burner (Travis Cullen – 1:58.1), Monstrous (Ed Hensley - 1:57.3), and Divas Dragonfly (Jamie Gray – 1:57.2) won the eliminations of the Alberta Princess and lead the list of qualifiers for Saturday’s $50,000 added final. The colts will get their turn on the Sunday afternoon, July 10th program.
A lot of us had to go back and read the rules after Joyful Sound and Apple Blossom Time finished in a dead heat for third place in the first of the Princess eliminations, the one won by Jet Blue Burner. After a discussion with the judges it appears that the top three finishers from each of the eliminations will go to Saturday’s final. That means that the connections of Joyful Sound and Apple Blossom Time will shake to decide which horse starts and which one becomes the “also eligible.” That horse will be a starter if one of the others is scratched.
All of that is scheduled for Wednesday morning when the draw is held for Saturday’s card.
The Princess field will include Jet Blue Burner, Glamorgal, and one of Joyful Sound or Apple Blossom Time, along with Monstrous, Outlawsurshotshark, Ba Bye Ceia Later, Divas Dragonfly, Outlawtriggerhappy and Cenalta Artistry. By rule, there cannot be more than 9 starters in a race on a track that is less than a mile in circumference. Century Downs is 11/16ths of a mile.
The Plainsman field for Sunday’s final will be drawn on Thursday morning. Blue Star Jet, Wrangler Cash, Gray Zee, Outlaw Turn N Burn, Blue Star Maverick, Make It Big, Prairie Mystic, Keep Coming and Icy Blue Scooter are the nine qualifiers.
Now back to the breeders story. Blue Burner, which stands at Connie Kolthammer’s Outlaw Stables in Falun, has two sons and a daughter which won eliminations. Blue Star Jet and Outlaw Turn N Burn, along with the filly, Jet Blue Burner, led the way in their respective eliminations. Mystery Chase, which is owned by Bill Andrew, Al Neurauter and Jim Rhodes, has the colt, Prairie Mystic, and the filly, Divas Dragonfly, into the finals as elimination winners. The other winning filly is Monstrous, a daughter of Allamerican Navajo, which stands at Bill Andrew’s Meridien Farms in Okotoks. All Monstrous has done this year is win the Bev Sears and the Wildrose Stakes.
And lest you think it’s only the stallion that determines a well bred horse, consider that Blue Star Jet’s mother is Movin Uptown, a mare that won nearly $160,000 as a racehorse. She, in turn, is a product of As Promised, one of the greatest stallions in the history of Alberta standardbred racing. He sired 816 horses that raced and earned more than $37.8 million before we lost him in September, 2014. Another filly, Ranch Dressing, has produced 5 foals that have gone on to race, earning about #363,000 so far. She’s the dam of Blue Star Maverick, which finished second to Outlaw Turn N Burn in the Plainsman elimination, and qualified for the final.
We need more good fillies who can become broodmares after their racing careers. The bonus program that used to be in place to encourage breeders to invest in breeding stock, needs to come back. If the industry’s revenue stream can be expanded, that will be one of the goals. But that’s a story for another day.
Two Year Olds Qualifying
It’s exciting for everyone to see some of the youngsters making their racing debuts. Keith Clark has the first 2 year old winner of the season, piloting Nightime Chase to victory on the Friday evening, June 24th card, in 2:02.1. Serge Masse has scored with a couple of sophomores. Saturday, he jumped to an early lead with Last Time to Play and scored in 1:59.1. Sunday afternoon he used the same strategy to get Da Magician to the winner’s circle in 2:01.
“If I know I have the horse, I like to get to the lead quickly,” he told me. “These are young horses, just learning how to race. If they don’t have to worry about a lot of traffic, I think they can concentrate better on doing their jobs. You have to have the horse, of course, but so far, that strategy has worked pretty well.”
Last Time to Play is an interesting story. She’s by Western Terror, out of the Dragon Again mare, Susurrus Hanover. That makes her a full sister to First Class Horse, which won 3 year old and Horse of the Year honours in Alberta last year. Masse paid $40,000 US for the filly at last fall’s Lexington Select Sale in Kentucky, and reportedly outbid Keith Clark who developed and raced First Class Horse through his 3 year old campaign. First Class Horse is now racing in New York State after Clark sold him to Vincent Laurenzo earlier this year.
A couple of dozen two year olds have now gone through qualifying. They are being spotted in maiden races to get them started, with inside post positions being assigned. Those that are furthest along are being prepped for the Emerald Filly Pace July 23rd and for the Century Bets Pace to be run the next day. Both stakes carry $50,000 pots and will be run in divisions if there are ten or more horses entered in each event.
Lasix: Coming Soon to Alberta Standardbred Racing
Given that horses move back and forth among various jurisdictions, Horse Racing Alberta has made the decision to introduce a Lasix program for Alberta standardbred racing. Lasix—a diuretic intended only to prevent pulmonary bleeding during extreme exercise in some horses – will be introduced sometime this summer.
“We have to re-write the regulations and the forms to make them standardbred friendly,” HRA’s Manager of Racing, Supervision, and Security, Doug Fenske, told me. “The racing forensics people are in charge of this and they’ll be recruiting some staff to come to Alberta and to assist in the introduction of the program. Any horse that goes on a Lasix program will have to stay on it for at least 100 days. We think the cost of the program will be in the $60 per horse range. I’m more interested in seeing the program introduced properly, than quickly. So I’m not going to put a specific date out there as to when the program will begin.”
A Postscript to the Packwood Grand Event
Some 1,500 fans turned out to celebrate Canada Day as part of the Packwood Grand event at Century Downs. They helped push the wagering number to a record $145,000. And, by all accounts, the group had a great time in its own enclosure in the infield.
“Eleven races made it a full day but the feedback we got was really good,” event co-founder, Tyler Rygus, told me. Even the $200 price point for the VIP package wasn’t considered onerous for most patrons. We had a premium package of food and beverage and Century Downs produced a “how to bet” video that was shown on the buses that brought fans to the track.”
This is the second year the group has come to Century Downs after the debut at the Millarville Races in 2014. “We may look at moving away from July 1st next year,” Rygus told me. “We don’t want to hurt the Millarville event (although the oldest race day in Alberta drew a big crowd this year and pushed better than $80,000 through the windows). And there are so many things happening on Canada Day, particularly when it’s part of a weekend. So we’ll talk about what to do in 2017. But we’ll be back.”