What started out as an idea from ASHA owners committee chair, Diane Bertrand, has now become a major project set for Sunday, August 14th at Century Downs. Diane, who’s also a director of Standardbred Canada, thought it would be a great promotion to invite 3 drivers from Ontario to come west, challenge the Alberta drivers, and raise some money for worthy charities. Jack Moiseyev, Jody Jamieson, and James McDonald answered the call. All 3 are looking forward to the event.
“I’ve never been out to the west before to drive,” said Moiseyev, who’ll be bringing along his significant other, and business partner, Joanne Colville, who also happens to be the Chair of the Standardbred Canada Board of Directors. “So it’ll be fun to see the country and drive some horses. And it’ll be good to raise some money for the charities. We all like to give back and all three of us will be donating whatever we make to a charity.”
Moiseyev will drive on behalf of breast cancer. Jamieson will team up with autism, and McDonald will donate whatever he earns to juvenile diabetes. All three charities will be on hand Sunday at Century Downs to be part of the festivities. The 3 drivers will sign autographs starting at 11:45 AM in front of the grandstand where the public is invited to meet and greet. Racing gets underway as usual at 1:10 PM.
The 3 men have impressive credentials in the sport. Moiseyev, who grew up in New Jersey, now runs High Stakes Farm with Joanne Colville. The property, which is just north of Mohawk Racetrack in Campbellville Ontario, is home to an extensive breeding operation. Moiseyev gets to train and develop the youngsters.
“I still like to compete and once in awhile it’s fun to jump in a bike and teach these youngsters how it’s done,” he told me. The two guys who are coming with me are both pretty good.” This from a man who’s gone over the 9,800 win mark this summer and whose horses have won more than $132 million at the races.
“I’ve been lucky enough to drive some really good horses,” said Moiseyev. “I won the Hambletonian with Giant Victory. And I’ve won the Little Brown Jug twice including once with Precious Bunny. Those two races probably stand out more than any others.”
At 45, Jody Jamieson is at the height of his career. He’s closing in on 7,400 wins and his horses have earned more than $116 million at the races.
“I love these kinds of challenges,” Jamieson told me. “I’ve driven a couple of times at Stampede Park. I’ve been watching some of the races from Century Downs, just to get a feel for where they start and how many laps of the track we make. None of us have ever driven on an 11/16ths mile course before. And I’m looking forward to facing Travis Cullen, who’s got some really impressive numbers as a driver and as a trainer. He was in Prince Edward Island last summer for a couple of races and he seems to win wherever he goes. So I’m hoping to stymie him a little bit. It should be fun.”
“And so far as the charities are concerned, we’ve all done really well in this industry. I think when we have a chance to give back, we should. It’s a no-brainer.”
McDonald, who’s 30, feels the same way. And his interest in coming to Century Downs is two-fold. One is to drive a different racetrack and raise some money for juvenile diabetes. The other is that he won the Ontario regional driving challenge back in June. If he wins the national final Oct. 14th in London, he’ll represent Canada in the World Drivers Challenge. The first leg of that challenge is set for Century Downs a year from now.
“It’ll give me a chance to get to know the track,” he told me. “Every track is a little different and the way the races go, it’s good to have a little knowledge about how to race on that track. I’ve never even heard of an 11/16ths mile track so it’ll be something to get used to. I’ve had a slow start to my season but it’s gotten a lot better lately. I guess you could say I’ve come from off the pace.”
The draw for post positions takes place on Thursday morning. It’s likely the visitors will get a bunch of drives so as to generate as much money as possible for the charities. ASHA executive director, Fred Gillis, tells me there has been good buy-in from the trainers, who traditionally list up to 3 options for who they want to drive their horse in a race.
Mid-Summer Classic: A Day to Remember
What a terrific day of harness racing Sunday at Century Downs. Even the weather office co-operated, turning off the rainfall and blessing the track with a warm sunny afternoon. All that for a 12-race card featuring nine stakes races.
Outlaw Fireball (1:56.1), Wedding Dance (1:57.2), Lil Bit O Jingle (1:58.1), and Triple Thick Shake (2:00.0) claimed divisions of the Alberta Starlet for 2 year old Alberta-sired fillies. Ima Dude (1:57.4), Senga Nitro (1:57.1), and Retros Mystery (1:57.2) each led the way in the three divisions of the Alberta Rising Star for 2 year old Alberta sired colts and geldings. Blue Star Jet posted a snappy 1:54 clocking in the final of the Brad Gunn for 3 year old colts and geldings. And Monstrous claimed her fifth stakes victory of the season by nipping Outlaw Surshotshark at the wire in 1:55.2 in the final of the Ralph Klein for 3 year old fillies.
It was an especially good day for veteran conditioner, Harold Haining. He sent out Wedding Dance in Race 2 and Triple Thick Shake in Race 4 to claim divisions of the Alberta Starlet for owner, Don Richardson, of Cochrane. Then he jumped into a bike behind Little Bit Faster in the 8th race and went wire to wire in 1:56.4 to win for his daughter, Kaitlin, who owns the horse. Presumably he paid attention to pre-race instructions to go to the lead off the gate!
It was also a good day for driver-trainer, Ryan Grundy. The 2 year old Senga Nitro poured it on down the stretch to take a division of the Rising Star. And in the Klein final, Senga Naptha finished 4th. Both horses share the same parents: sired by Blue Burner from the Falcons Future mare, Nells Sweet Future.
And it was a good day for trainer, Daryl Cutting, who picked up a second place share with Mateo in a division of the Rising Star, and then came back to take the Ralph Klein with Monstrous for owner, Warren Fuller of Sherwood Park. In fact, it was a day to celebrate in a lot of shedrows with the purse money spread around pretty liberally.
The only clouds are that the Appeal Tribunal has some work to do with respect to the Ralph Klein field. The connections to Divas Dragonfly had appealed that horse’s placing the week before in the eliminations when it won but was placed 8th. An injunction allowed the filly to race in the final where she finished 7th. However, that decision to allow Divas Dragonfly to race, cost Apple Blossom Time to be dropped from the final because the rules state the race should go with a maximum of the top four horses from each of two eliminations. Her connections have objected.
One interesting feature of the day was the presence of Peter Lurie, who is Hoosier Park’s racing analyst. “He’s an old friend of mine,” Century Downs boss, Paul Rynevald, told me. “We’ve worked together in the past and he’s never been here before. So we brought him in to help tell the story for the simulcast audience. We also brought in Sugar Doyle from Western Fair in London and Matt Jukich from Northlands Park to call some races. That, in turn, allowed our regular announcer, Murray Slough, to take a turn as a handicapper. I thought it worked out very well. And on Sunday, we’re bringing in Mark McKelvey who’s part of Mohawk Racing’s broadcast team to help tell the story of Pacing For Charity.”
It’s a step that enhanced what is usually offered to the simulcast audience because it allowed participants to be interviewed about performances throughout the afternoon. It’s the kind of package that needs to be offered more often if the goal is to grow interest and handle in the sport.
New Rules Coming Soon to Alberta Harness Racing
At the urging of ASHA, and to comply with what other racetracks are doing in Canada, HRA is about to bring in new rules on how whips can be used during a race. Absolutely no contact with a horse will continue to be the rule. However, drivers will be permitted to take the reins in one hand at certain points during a race and use the whip on the shaft of the sulky or on the saddlepad to keep the horse focused on its task.
“We want to promote safety first of all,” ASHA executive director, Fred Gillis, told me. “It’s actually safer to control the horse with the reins in one hand and use the other hand to apply the whip, than it is to try and use the whip while still holding the line in the same hand. That’s the way we did it when I drove.”
The other change is to bring a retention barn into effect. That is due to start August 19th. The judges will have discretion to require all the horses in one or two races or some combination of horses from a particular trainer to be in the retention barn 24 hours before they race. Seventeen stalls will be set aside for this purpose and 24-hour security will be provided. Access will be limited to one person from each stable involved and will be permitted only at feeding time.
“Again, this is something that is done at other tracks and we feel it’s time to try it here,” Gillis told me.