The big news at Century Downs this week is the decision to move Friday racing dates to Mondays, effective April 24th. Post time will be 4:10 PM MT.
“We have a number of locations in the U.S. that will be picking us up,” Century Downs General Manager, Paul Ryneveld, told me in an e-mail. Pompano Park in Florida, Hazel Park and Northfield Park have signed up. We will have about 50 more sites, mainly off track locations through track networks, so right now, we expect to have at least 300 sites offering the product. We understand that some days, a location may not bet any money on our product, even if it is available. I’m hoping this will prove to be popular with other tracks across Canada as well. Smaller Canadian harness tracks are not an easy sell but I’m prepared to try.”
That means the onus is now on Alberta’s harness racing community to put on a good show. It’ll help a lot that some horses that have had some time off are now returning to racing. An influx of stables from Fraser Downs in Cloverdale BC is anticipated when the racing meet ends there.
“We’re very supportive of what Paul’s trying to do,” ASHA executive director, Fred Gillis, told me. “Not many tracks race on Monday, particularly standardbred. We think our western time zone will give us an advantage in that racetrackers won’t have many other options at that time of the day. If we can develop a following at more sites, perhaps they’ll be willing to take some or all of our weekend product as well. More entries in the box every week means more options for horseplayers which is what they like. I’ve wanted to see this tried for some time, so I hope we can make it work.”
ASHA AGM Elects New Board
A couple of new faces and some old faces in new roles highlighted Saturday evening’s meeting of the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association. President Blair Corbeil, secretary treasurer, John Hind, and breeders committee chair, Connie Kolthammer, along with driver-trainers Rod Starkewsky Jamie Gray and Kelly Hoerdt all retained their positions. So did owner Diane Bertrand. Owners Bill Andrew and Norm Kennedy surrendered previous roles as Vice-President and Past President, respectively, but were re-elected as directors. Sam Johnson and Ryan Grundy have left the Board to be replaced by Don McDougall and Jean-Francois Gagne.
It’s a good group and it takes charge at a time where Century Casinos is taking an active role in promoting both harness racing and the entertainment and gaming experience. It also will lead the planning to transition Edmonton’s racing scene from its longtime home at Northlands Park to a new facility, Century Mile, to be built in Leduc, AB, near the international airport. Members got a brief overview on the planning for that facility at their meeting. Construction of the mile racetrack, barn space for 800 horses plus a fully equipped racing entertainment centre and grandstand is set to get underway this summer.
Meanwhile on the racetrack at Century Downs the season is settling in nicely, as is the racing surface. Of the nine races on the Sunday afternoon card, four of them produced winners with new lifetime marks. It’s an indication that fitness levels of the animals are improving, but it also suggests that the new racing surface which was installed just before the start of the meet, is maturing nicely. It was a cool, overcast day on a track rated as fast.
And the work done to improve the grading of the third turn is already paying dividends. Look no further than the 7th race where driver David Kelly took Gray Zee three-wide midway down the backstretch and zipped by the field to take the lead by the time the race entered the homestretch. Gray Zee cruised home and claimed one of those new lifetime marks in 1:55.4, much to the delight of owners David Lamont and Donna Wyse of Airdrie. Driver-trainer Kelly Hoerdt reported to the AGM that the investment by Century Downs in improving the turn has proven popular with drivers and trainers.
Some other notes…
I was sitting with owner, Norm Kennedy, when he said to me… you know I own that Lizard King (with Hugh Jackson of Foothills). Did you see how he won the third race? And he’s won a bunch of money for a lot of folks over the years.”
I checked. The now 9 year old bay gelding has a win and a third in 3 starts this spring. He’s been claimed seven different times in Canada, six of them last year. He’s been in ten different shed rows. And in 172 lifetime starts, he’s posted a 20-20-23 record and earned nearly $266,000. That list of wins includes a snappy 1:54.1 mile for $7500 claimers on Sunday afternoon… look for Century Downs based American Dreamer, Senga Nitro and Shesamysterytome to be in the entry box at Fraser Downs this week for a couple of $75,000 stakes events. Eliminations for the Keith Linton Memorial for 3 year old colts go Friday evening. The fillies get their turn in the Penny Bath Memorial on Saturday. The finals go the following weekend, April 21st and 22nd. Then it’ll be a fast trip home if owners want to participate in the first stakes events of the season at Century Downs. The Moores Mile for 3 year old fillies is set to be run in divisions on Saturday, April 29th. The colts get their turn in the Gord Rumpel Memorial on Sunday, April 30th. Both races carry $40,000 purses. Getup Gideon was impressive in his qualifier for that event on Saturday, pacing the mile in 1:58.4. Outlaw Imahotvixen and Perfect Mystery came through the same race for trainers Joe Ratchford and Doug Stout, respectively……and the last of four qualifiers on Saturday featured some of the stars of the circuit: Rumour Mill, Cool Cowboy, J-F Gagne’s sensational mare, Tajmeallover, Karate King and Big Shir all came off well deserved breaks to qualify. Rumour Mill, for new owner, Michael Arnold and Melinda Smith of Airdrie, set the pace in 1:57.3 under the guidance of Brandon Campbell. That would be the Brandon Campbell who will represent Canada at the World Driving Challenge this summer.
From the Breeders’ Shed
There’s been a long and fruitful relationship between a number of Alberta breeders and Olds College’s equine studies program.
“Al Neurater was one of the first breeders to provide mares for our program,” instructor, Marion Anderson, told me. “Students in our 2 year program get extensive training in handling horses in both breeding and foaling aspects. We’ve got Al’s stallion, Custard the Dragon here and we have a quarter-horse stallion. We expect to breed between 80 and 100 mares this spring. We’re able to offer both live cover and semen shipping options. And we’ve got a six stall foaling barn, complete with digital technology and cameras that allow our students to monitor pregnant mares that are due to give birth. They can do this on their devices. They get training and experience in all aspects of the breeding process and learn some things about the business side as well. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Speaking of breeding, the ASHA Yearling Sale is now accepting entries for this year’s event to be held on Sunday, Sept. 10th in Olds. Forms are available on the ASHA web site at www.asha.ab.ca. A form must be completed for each entry and the fee is $150 per entry plus GST. Be sure to include all stakes engagements on the nomination forms. Entries will close on Monday May 1st.
Saving the Courses
Budget cuts have put in question a couple of programs that have delivered great value to the Alberta horse industry over the past few years.
“We started a racehorse grooms program back in 2003 because of a shortage of qualified grooms in the province,” program co-ordinator, Teresa Sealy, told me. “Then in 2006 we added an exercise rider program. Both are open to students 18 years of age and older. We have graduates from both programs working actively in the industry today. Probably the best known graduate of the riders program is Omar Moreno who was a Sovereign Award winning apprentice jockey in Canada and now competes regularly at Woodbine. Omar also won an Eclipse Award as the top apprentice in North America.”
The program operates under the auspices of the Dept. of Continuing Education at Olds College. “Tuition is $700 a year for the grooms school and $1,000 a year for the rider program,” Sealy told me. “We can take up to 15 students a year in each program.”
“Last week, I met with the people in charge of gifting and scholarships at the College, to see if we could add some dollars to the program. They are developing a list of options. I want to take that out to the industry at large and see if we can get some gifts in kind or a tax receipt for financial contributions to try and keep these programs going. There are any number of examples of graduates scattered across our industry and delivering good value for what they have learned. We’d like to keep that going.”