The Canadian dollar isn’t worth as much as Canadians might like when they’re buying something south of the border. But that reality didn’t stop a bunch of Alberta shoppers from spending a lot of dollars last week in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. The occasion was the annual harness horse sale, one of the biggest in the world. Sixteen horses: 6 yearlings, 3 two year olds, 1 three year old and 6 broodmares are headed to this province. The total outlay: $351,500 US (plus exchange, plus shipping and handling).
More than 1,500 horses went under the auctioneer’s hammer over 5 days, generating more than $53.3 million US in sales.
Some of the stock is already at Century Downs thanks to a rapid roadtrip from Harrisburg by hauler Don Tracey and Don Monkman. The trailer unloaded 3 yearlings for Rod Hennessy, two broodmares and the 2 year old racehorse for Connie Kolthammer, and two yearlings and an older mare for Keith Clark.
“I got two of the yearlings out of a first crop from Betterthancheddar,” Rod Hennessy told me. “The other one is an Artsplace colt called Flash Your Lights. They all look good. We’ll see what they do when we get them to the races, hopefully next year. I know the owner of Betterthancheddar, so I had a chance to talk to him before the sale about the two colts I bought, Marlons Magic and Cheddar Jack.”
Connie bought the two mares for Gi Gi Van Ostrand and the two will share in the ownership of the 2 year old filly, At This Hour. When her racing career is finished, she’ll join the breeding activities at Outlaw Stables in Falun. As for the two broodmares, Panagler, a 9 year old daughter of No Pan Intended, is in foal to Artspeak and has already produced 2 foals, one of which has made it to the races. Panagler had 14 wins during a 70-race racing career and a career mark of 1:51.4 at Mohawk Racetrack in Campbellville Ontario.
The other broodmare is Say Anything, an 8 year old daughter of Rocknroll Hanover who is presently in foal to Somebeachsomewhere. She too had a distinguished racing career with a 19-21-21 record from 154 starts, a mark of 1:52.3 and career earnings of $158,790.
“We knew we’d have to pay to get what we got,” Connie told me. “But we have to keep working to upgrade the quality of our breeding program in Alberta and you can’t do that with just local stock.”
Al Neurather and Jim Rhodes are doing their part too. Neurather signed the ticket for Cays Blessing, a 2 year old daughter of Western Ideal, who someday will hopefully become a broodmare after her racing career is completed.
I’m trying to do what I can to support our own stallion, Custard the Dragon,” he told me at the time of the September yearling sale. Dr. Rhodes, meanwhile, acquired Dial Romance, a 12 year old daughter of American Gigolo, who has 6 of her 8 foals to date at the races.
Meridien Shuffles its Stallion Lineup
It looks like there will be 5 stallions based at Meridien Farms in High River in 2017. “We’re keeping Mystician, Riverboat King, and Vertical Horizon,” owner, Bill Andrew, told me. “I’m bringing back Westward Ho Hanover, which has been standing at Meridien East in Prince Edward Island. And I’m really pleased to be adding Santanna Blue Chip to the lineup. He won $1.6 million at the races during his career, and won a Breeders Crown as a 2 year old. He started his stallion career in Ontario, then went to Australia for four years before spending last season in Ohio. He’s already sired offspring that have won more than $8 million and one of his sons, Windsong Jack, already has a mark of 1:49.2. So it’ll be interesting to see what the level of interest will be among owners of broodmares.
Andrew dispatched farm manager, Terry MacIsaac, to Harrisburg, and MacIsaac is coming home with the broodmare, Two Nts With Her and the 3 year old filly, Heavenly Kouttar. This one was a $33,000 buy at the Harrisburg yearling sale 2 years ago. Meridien gets her for $7,000. Two Nts With Her had a respectable racing record going 8-11-4 in 44 lifetime starts, earning $147,063 in purses and posting a lifetime best mile of 1:56.1 at The Meadows in the US.
ASHA President, Blair Corbeil, was also active in Harrisburg. He added the broodmare, Mad Over U Hanover, a 2 year old named Delmonica and a yearling daughter of Artscape named Promised Treasure.
Meanwhile at the races
The 95 day meet at Century Downs came to a close on Remembrance Day. Mystery Mania with Nathan Sobey at the controls won the final race of the year at the Balzac track in 1:58.2. Keith Clark,who trains and co-owns the 3 year old filly with Doris McDougall of Cochrane, was coming back from Harrisburg. Sobey and Gerry Hudon finished strong on the final day with three wins apiece.
It was a day to salute the year’s top performers but none of them were on hand. Leading owners by dollars won were Ashleigh & Ed Hensley, who last raced in Alberta in mid August. Travis Cullen who led all drivers with 197 wins and all trainers with 187 wins, last raced in Alberta in mid September. They’re all racing now in Ontario and look like they’re intending to stay there. Cullen has put his Airdrie condo up for sale.
Now that Farm Fair and the Canadian Finals Rodeo are over for this year in Edmonton, the harness fraternity can move into the barn area in preparation for a meet that begins on Friday evening at 6:30. The meet is likely to last until the end of February with 2 days a week of racing in November and December, and Saturday matinees for the first two months of 2017. The racetrack is set to open for training on Wednesday morning.
At Fraser Downs on Friday night, Ima Dude, owned by Jodie Loftus and Steven Robinson of Calgary, and Tim Kane of St Albert, became the fastest 2 year old colt pacer in Fraser Downs history when he claimed the winner’s share of the $100,000 Robert Millbank Memorial Breeders Stake final. Brandon Campbell was at the controls for the 1:53.4 mile. The news wasn’t so good for Don Richardson’s 2 year old filly, Badlands Palace, which finished last in the 2 year old filly Breeders final.
Then on Sunday, American Passion (Campbell) and Tajmeallover (J-F Gagne), finished one-two in the first elimination of the Lady Elements Stakes for older mares. It took a photo to determine the final placings with both horses crossing the wire in 1:54.4. Jet Hot Stuff, owned and trained by Brent Bodor of Calgary, was third. All three should move on to the final in two weeks time. Phone Terror, owned by Lucy Raymond of Edmonton and That’s Extra, owned by Blair Corbeil and Kelly Hoerdt were first and third respectively in the second elimination and they too, should be moving to the final on Nov. 27th.
Sterling Cooper frpm the Brandon Campbell barn and Get Thereovernight from Kelly Hoerdt’s shedrow should be in the final of the Jim Vinnell Stake for older horses after finishing second and fourth respectively in their eliminations. The Vinnell final is set for Nov. 27th as well.
Alberta’s Representatives on the Standardbred Canada Board
Diane Bertrand will continue to represent the breeding industry on the Board of Standardbred Canada. Century Downs racing secretary, Jackson Wittup, will continue to represent the race tracks. Both were acclaimed to their positions. Dr. Maurice Stewart returns to the Board after a brief absence. Their appointments provide knowledge and continuity to a Board which has a lot on its plate looking ahead to 2017.
“It’s going to be a big year,” Standardbred Canada’s new President, Dan Gall, told me in an e-mail. “We’ve got the World Trotting Congress bringing people from all over the world to Canada in August of 2017. We’ve got the World Driving Challenge to organize. That’ll start at Century Downs next August and continue through three other racetracks in Ontario and Quebec before winding up in Charlottetown August 25th. We’ve got a lot to do to grow the industry and provide more value for our members and customers.”
Growing the industry starts with growing the customer base. There have been sporadic efforts mounted by various players all over North America to do that. On a localized basis, Century Downs has tried to do this through food and beverage, through its machine gaming program, and through considerable promotion of its activities in a variety of ways. Those methods are likely to see further development once Century Mile opens in Nisku in late summer of 2018.
The one area that, in my view, needs some work is the simulcast product. I look at Fraser Downs which doesn’t attract a lot of folks to its track but which regularly bets double or triple what Century Downs wagers. Some of this is due to its west coast location and evening hours of racing. Some of it is due to the willingness to race when other tracks on the west side of the continent are not operating. Fraser, thus becomes the only pari-mutuel event available to punters around the country.
What is clear to me is that the racetrack is like a stage and the world becomes the potential audience. That audience is reached via television. What a racecard is, therefore, is a 3-3.5 hour television show, multiple times a week. The presentation of that show has to be attractive, researched, and well equipped, and it has to stand out from all the competition that is out there from other racetracks. That’s what will draw viewers and handicappers which will help the Alberta industry’s bottom line. And doing anything to help the bottom line is becoming increasingly important because of the fact that the Province of Alberta is now taking more money out of the gaming industry under terms of the new ten year agreement.
Alberta hasn’t got this quite right yet, and needs an industry group and some marketing dollars to make this a reality. I think back 20 years to the startup of the Alberta Racing Corporation, the forerunner of what is now Horse Racing Alberta. One of its initial mandates was to promote and market the sport of horse racing in the province. What better way to do that than through a television system it controls that creates stars among its participants and delivers that product to the world in a first class way. It would be a great way to get the New Year of racing off to a promising start.