After spending most of the past five years racing on the Alberta circuit, the Travis Cullen stable is headed east to Ontario.
“We’ve been talking about it in the family for a bit now,” Cullen told me on Sunday evening. “I’ve been able to sell several horses including Outlawsurshotshark and Pickles on Top. Don Byrne is taking over full ownership of those two. I’ve sold all my 2 and 3 year olds. Singlikeanangel is probably the best of what I’m taking east. I’ve still got 14 horses although I’m trying to move at least four of those. I’ve got 6 horses already in Ontario. I just bought two more out of the US this weekend. So we’ll have 16 or so to start. I’ve got 2 mares in foal which I’m probably going to leave here, at least for the moment.”
Cullen will race this coming weekend at Century Downs and probably leave the following week. He’ll head to the Saunders Training Centre, just north of Hamilton to join his sister and brother-in-law, Ashleigh and Ed Hensley, who shipped east a couple of weeks ago.
“I’m going to take my time with the ship,” Cullen told me. “It’s a long way to go, so we’ll likely stop three or four times along the way. Once we get settled, we’ll likely start to race at Flamboro Downs, which is just across the way from the training centre. Depending upon how the horses are doing and what other horses I’m able to pick up, I may try to race a bit at Mohawk.”
Cullen departs Alberta after compiling an impressive record during his time on the circuit. He’s won 201 races this season in 551 starts as a driver. He has 186 training wins from 497 starters. Lifetime, he’s had his picture taken 878 times in 3,012 races. His owners have collected more than $3.7 million in purses during his time in this province.
“I’ll still have a house in Airdrie,” said Cullen. “We’ll see how things go in Ontario before I decide what to do with that. We’re just renting our farm, so we don’t have to worry about selling that property. It’s just time to see what other opportunities are out there.”
Meanwhile at the races…
What a good weekend for veteran conditioner, Rod Starkewski. His 3 year old colt, Classy Artist came through as a 10-1 upset winner in Saturday’s Alberrta Marksmen final. With Gerry Hudon at the controls, Classy Artist took advantage of a break just past the ¾ pole by Blue Star Jet and cruised across the finish line in 1:56.3. Mike Hennessy managed to get Jet back in form and got up to be third behind Outlaw Turn N Burn. Four races later, Hennessy steered Ba Bye Ceia Later, 3-wide off the final turn and down the stretch to the finish in 1:57.3. Outlawtriggerhappy finished second to give the Starkewski barn a first and a second and about $41,000 in earnings, just in those two races. A good Saturday! And nice to have a little jingle in the jeans heading to Sunday’s ASHA yearling sale in Olds. More on that in a moment.
The two stakes finals are the second of the three series leading to Super Finals on Oct. 29th. Saturday’s results move Ba Bye Ceia Later to the top of the 3 year old filly class with $34,948 in qualifying earnings. Outlawsurshotshark, Monstrous (which was scratched from the Alberta Diamond final due to sickness), Outlawtriggerhappy, Divas Dragonfly, Cenalta Artistry, Top It Up and Apple Blossom Time round out the top 8. The next 8 money winners have a chance to move up to the Super Series championship race if they can push past those eight in the Alberta Marquis which will be conducted in eliminations on Sept. 23rd. The final is set for Oct. 10th.
As for the colts and geldings, Wrangler Cash, which finished third in the Alberta Marksmen final, holds down top spot with $39,798 in qualified earnings. Classy Artist, Outlaw Turn N Burn, Blue Star Maverick, Blue Star Jet, Keep Coming, Icy Blue Scooter, and Prairie Mystic round out the top eight. Next up for this class on the road to the Super Series are the eliminations for the Alberta Maverick on Sept. 24th. The final goes Oct. 10th. As with the fillies, the colts in the second group of eight have a chance to push their way into the Super Final if they can perform better in the Maverick.
“The next six weeks are really important,” Starkewski told me. “We’ve got to get the bubble-wrap out to keep them all healthy. I’m really happy for Tim and Clauzette Byckal who own half of Trigger. They were so nervous before the race. And it was really fun to watch Tony Chan who owns a piece of Classy Artist. I think he did the last quarter himself in about 26.4. He was in and out of the winner’s circle while I was warming up the next starter.”
Next on the agenda…
The 2 year olds move into the spotlight this coming weekend in the second leg of three, leading to the Super Finals. Unlike the 3 year old class where money earned in qualifying races determines what horses go to the championship and what horses go to the consolation race, standings for the 2 year olds are based upon points earned in qualifiers. At the moment, trainer, Harold Haining has two of the top fillies in Wedding Dance and Triple Thick Shake. Outlaw Fireball and Lil Bit O Jingle are also atop the standings with 50 points apiece. The results are based upon performance to date in the Alberta Starlet series which was run on August 7th. After the Starburst on Sept. 16th, which will be run in divisions, the third and final leg will be the Alberta Stardust to be run on Oct. 14th.
Among the colts and geldings, Ima Dude, Senga Nitro, and Retros Mystery share top spot with 50 points apiece. Twenty-one colts have at least a point in the series so there’s lots of time for the standings to change. Starkewski has Retros Mystery and Getup Gideon, which won an overnight race on Saturday, ready for this Sunday’s Alberta Lonestar. The third leg for this class is the Alberta Shooting Star which is set for Oct. 15th. After that, we’ll know who’s made the Super Final championship in this class for Oct. 29th.
Now then, about the ASHA Yearling Sale…
Seventy-one horses in the catalogue – 54 were actually sold on Sunday at the ASHA Yearling Sale held in Olds. The final numbers showed a gross sale of $682,999, an average of $10,940.74. Top price of $34,000 was paid by Edmonton owner, Lorne Duffield who bid on Tap The Keg, a son of Camystic out of the Cams Card Shark mare, Tapioca Hanover. Custard the Dragon offspring attracted a lot of interest with eight of his 13 sons and daughters selling for $12,00 pr better, apiece. Test Flight and Mystery Chase each had ten offspring find buyers. Vertical Horizon, which stands at Jim Rhodes breeding farm in High River, was well received as well with nine colts and fillies finding new homes.
“I think that’s awfully good especially with the economy struggling a bit,” said Fred Gillis, executive director of ASHA.
The sale attracted interest from as far away as California. Mark Anderson paid $21,000 for Marilyn, a daughter of Custard the Dragon out of the Artsplace mare, Lady Luvs Diamonds. The cheaper Canadian dollar makes buying here a relative bargain. There is a budding relationship between harness racing in California and western Canada and Gillis has told me in the past that he’d like to pursue a stronger alliance. Already, a number of trainers including Kim & Quentin Schneider and Andy Arsenault are heading to Cal Expo in Sacramento to race this fall and winter. Others have done that in the past and might be encouraged to do so again, particularly if reciprocal opportunities are presented.
A note here as well about three horses prepared for the sale by Sierra Macdonald from Lacombe, Nyla Wright from Longview, and Cheyenne Widdecke from Delburn AB. The young women are all members of Alberta 4-H. They received the yearlings at the end of December and worked with them over several months before Sunday’s sale. All of them said they enjoyed the experience, learned a lot, and were grateful for the opportunity. Breeders Bill Andrew and Jim Rhodes supplied the yearlings. The three young women have their expenses covered and will share in the proceeds which the yearlings brought at auction.