As the calendar moves to fall, Jean-Francois Gagne is on a bit of a roll. He’s got a number of producers in his stable, led by the 5 year old filly, Tajmeallover, who has turned out to be an outstanding performer in the open mare class. He’s got Outlaw Turn N Burn, acquired this summer from Connie Kolthammer’s Outlaw Stables. Outlaw Turn N Burn was second Sunday to Blue Star Jet in an elimination of the Alberta Maverick, but still qualified for the final. That final is coming up on Oct. 10th. Outlaw Turn N Burn is trained by Donna Sarin. He’s got Big Shir, a 5 year old, which won Saturday in a non-winners of six. She’s a BC bred filly and may have some opportunities at the Fraser Downs meet in Cloverdale which is underway on Oct. 6th.
He’s also got Bees Burner, a 2 year old, which has yet to show the promise of her breeding. A son of Blue Burner, from the As Promised mare, Western Bee, he has three third place finishes in 5 lifetime starts. And, Gagne’s got a son of Camystic, Blue Star Express, from the stakes winning mare, Movin Uptown, for which he paid $25,000 at the September yearling sale in Olds. If the colt is anything like its mother, Alberta harness racing fans are in for a treat.
And while he doesn’t take a lot of catch-drives, he is the regular teamster for Monstrous, one of the top 3 year old fillies on the grounds and a strong contender both for the Super Finals on Oct. 29th at Century Downs, and for 3 Year old Filly of the Year. She’s got 5 wins and 7 seconds in 12 starts this year and is closing in on $89,000 in seasonal earnings. And he’s taking over another Daryl Cutting trainee, the 2 year old Mateo, which has never been off the board in 5 lifetime starts, while piling up nearly $20,000 in earnings this season.
To top it all off, he has the prospect of a new racetrack in south Edmonton which might be ready by mid-2018. That would mean a 40 minute commute from his home near Wetaskiwin. It would also make it a little easier to take care of his farm, where there are about 30 horses including the stallion Tajma Hall, a number of broodmares, and assorted other racing stock.
On Tajmeallover: “She’s been really good this year,” J-F told me. “Nine wins in 20 starts this season, and nearly $159,000 in career earnings. Marjorie Dumont trains her and I share in the ownership with Peter van Seggelin and Tarpon Holdings of De Winton and with Carl Warnaar of Kelowna. She’s been racing against the top older mares on the grounds this summer. We’re looking at a $50,000 stake at Fraser Downs in November as a possibility when we get to that point. Right now, she’ll likely only get a couple of starts a month here at Century Downs because the class does not go every week.”
On Bees Burner: “We’ve had to slow his training schedule a bit. He’d get up to the gate at the start of a race and try and go too fast. I really like him but we’ve got to teach him a little patience. He’s not ready for prime time just yet.”
On another 4 year old filly, Watch My Luck: “She’s a half sister to Tajmeallover. She fits the class right below the Open level. I’m not sure she’ll be able to move above that class but she’s a homebred. She won 5 of 6 starts last season. In all, she’s earned just over $89,000.”
Not a bad little run for a man who started out in the business 26 years ago and has since piled up 1,240 wins and more than $8.1 million in career earnings. He’s turned some of those dollars into breeding stock, and some other dollars into a farm at Wetaskiwin. “And I’ve got some land I might turn into producing hay for the industry,” he told me. “Maybe I’ll have some to sell to Century Mile when it opens.”
Two Year Olds Back in the Spotlight to start October
A number of sophomores were on display this past weekend at Century Downs, tuning up for this coming weekend’s Neil Adler Memorial Pace for fillies and for the Horizon Pace for the colts and geldings. Best Advice picked a great time to break his maiden in just his fourth lifetime start, for owner Dr Fred Kruszelnicki of Brooks, trainer Bob Sabourin, and driver, Jamie Gray. The bay colt beat 7 challengers in 2:00.0. He’s earned a modest $8,100 to this point but will look to claim a good share of the $50,000 pot in the Horizon. That race will be run in divisions, so it depends upon the number of horses which enter on Wednesday morning and on how he does. But he did really well this past Sunday.
Also likely to be on the starting line in the Horizon is Retros Mystery, who was runner-up to Senga Nitro when that one set the two year old track record for colts last week at Century Downs, going the distance in 1:56.3. They’ll likely have a chance to renew that rivalry.
“We’ve decided to pay the $2,800 supplementary fee to enter the Horizon,” trainer Rod Starkewski told me. “The option would be to race in non-winners of 4 (since Retro’s already won 3 times as a two year old). That means racing against older horses. I talked it over with owner Robert James of Camrose, and we agreed that it would be better to let him race against his own age group. Given the way he’s raced in his young career, he deserves the opportunity.”
Starkewski has Lil Bit O Jingle tuned up and ready to take on filly challengers in the Neal Adler. You may recall that this one was moved to the Starkewski shedrow by owners Kathy & Kurt Schmidt of Leduc after Travis Cullen’s departure from Alberta. She’s 4-1 in 7 lifetime starts with more than $26,000 on her card. The wins include the Alberta Starlet on August 7th, and the Alberta Starburst on Sept. 17th.
And there’s a nice story developing in the backstretch. In just her sixth lifetime start as a trainer, Chelsea Chase earned her first career win with Never Say Sorry on Saturday afternoon against six challengers in a maiden condition race. The time was 2:00.3. Chase shares ownership in the filly with breeder, Jim Rhodes. The filly got the benefit of Mike Hennessy’s touch at the controls and now gets ready to take another step in her young career this coming weekend.
Since both the Neal Adler and the Horizon are open stakes, it means the Alberta-breds will have to contend with some really good outsiders. Serge Masse’s Da Magician tuned up for the Horizon by finishing third against non-winners of 3 on Sunday afternoon. He was the only 2 year old in the race. He’ll be a lot tougher in the Horizon.
In Case You Missed It…
Outlawsurshotshark (1:59.2), Ba Bye Ceia Later (1:57.4) and Divas Dragonfly (1:57.1) won eliminations of the Alberta Marquis on Saturday afternoon. They’ll join Funkmeister, Astrid the Axe, Outlawtriggerhappy, Glamorgal, Monstrous and Fun For Fans Stable’s Outlawburntpopcorn in the Marquis final on Oct. 10th. That same day’s program will also feature the finals of the Alberta Maverick for 3 year old Alberta Sired colts. Eight finalists emerged from the two eliminations on Sunday afternoon. Prairie Mystic was a 15-1 upset winner of the first elimination for co-owner trainer and driver, Brad Watt in 1:55.4. The second elimination went to Blue Star Jet with Mike Hennessy steering the winner home in an identical 1:55.4 The other qualifiers for the final are Blue Star Maverick (another one from the Hennessy stable), Flamingbluestar, Wrangler Cash, Outlaw Turn N Burn, Make It Big, and Classy Artist.
Century Mile Reaction
As you might imagine, there’s a lot of positive feedback from the harness crowd over the prospects of seeing a new race-track in Edmonton by 2018. Century Casinos has won the competition to be the developer on land immediately west of Red Tail Golf Club and immediately north of Edmonton International Airport. The enthusiasm level is particularly strong among Edmonton and area based trainers who have faced massive commuting costs over the past few summers.
“I love it, and I especially like the fact that Red Tail is right next door,” said veteran horseman and avid golfer, Gerry Hudon. “I’m especially pleased it’s Century which has won the bid. They’re a great operator and they work at marketing both racing and the racing entertainment centre. And it’ll be about 40 minutes from my farm to the track.”
Similar sentiments from others I spoke with. All are cognizant of the reality that the industry needs to grow its revenue base, what with the Province set to earn a larger share from the horse racing industry over the next decade. Plans call for a one mile racetrack (hense the Century Mile moniker) with stabling for up to 800 horses and provision for up to 1,100 slot machines. That, together with food and beverage options and good seating, should make a very attractive home for horse racing in the metropolitan area. The developers have lots to do, though, to be ready to open in 2 years time. Century officials are to brief the ASHA Board this coming Saturday on what the plans are and how the project will proceed. There are likely to be some questions as well about whatever other improvements are to be made to the Balzac facility.
Briefly noted… Travis Cullen made it into the winner’s circle Saturday night at Flamboro Downs as he opened his Ontario campaign with Outlaw Gunpowder against $8,500 claimers. The very next race, his sister, Ashleigh Hensley, and brother-in-law, Ed, rolled to a win against $6,500 claimers with Terrorizer.