Just over a month into the 2017 racing season, and I think everybody is ready for some stakes races. The first two stakes events on the calendar are coming up this weekend. Saturday it’s the Moore’s Mile for 3 year old fillies. Sunday it will be the Gord Rumpel Memorial for the 3 year old colts and geldings. Both are open stakes races.
The Moore’s Mile is sponsored by the veterinary clinic which has long been patronized by the racing industry. There are 29 fillies on the eligibility list at the moment and many of them were in action over the weekend. Steady Breeze, Jk Ellem Enoh, Perfect Mystery, and Queen of Thrones were the top four finishers in the 7th race on Saturday, a non-winners of 2 or $9500 lifetime. It’s likely that Jk Ellem Enoh, which paced a 1:57.4 mile to claim a runner-up share will be a starter in the Moore’s.
“I was really pleasantly surprised,” trainer, Rod Hennessy, told me. “She’s got a win and 2 seconds on her card so far this year and she’s been showing improvement. So I think we’ll give her a chance.” Which should please owners Bryan Brook of Leduc, Brad Walker of Ponoka, and Diane Harries of Falun, AB.
Others will take a little time to think about it with entries due to be taken on Wednesday morning. Doug Stout will want to talk to owners Willie Wychopen of St Paul and Walter Moroz of Edmonton about Perfect Mystery. Rod Starkewsky has a decision to make about Queen of Thrones.
“You want to give them a chance if they’ve showed they’re ready,” he told me. “But especially for the Alberta breds, there’s a long summer of racing and a lot of money down the trail. The Moore’s is an open event and a few of the likely entries have been racing longer than my fillies. So, I’ll be talking to my owners and we’ll see where we go from there.”
“I’ve got four fillies nominated, but at this point I’m inclined only to enter Alexas Princess,” trainer, Kelly Hoerdt, told me. “She broke stride at the start of Saturday’s Penny Bath Memorial final at Fraser Downs and finished well back. She was due back at the farm on Sunday evening. Assuming she shipped well and feels good, we’ll probably put her in next Saturday.”
What’s unclear at this point is whether Steady Breeze will be in the race. She paced the winner’s mile in 1:57.3 in just her second start of the season on Saturday. The Alberta-bred had an outstanding 2 year old season, earning more than $29,000, a lot of that thanks to a strong fall campaign. Still, she’s eligible for the Alberta Sire Stakes events and that may be a better fit. And with one good filly likely to be in the field, Hoerdt may feel that’s enough.
Others have some decisions to make as well. Grinandchaseit was the only 3 year old in a non-winners of 4 field on Sunday afternoon. The filly started from PP-8 and never really got going. Same for Lil Bit O Jingle which started in the second row off the gate. Again, both of them are homebreds and the Alberta Sire Stakes events may be more to their liking.
The Gord Rumpel Memorial goes on Sunday afternoon. It honours the late owner and businessman who owned two of the greatest pacers ever to grace an Alberta track: On The Road Again and Matts Scooter. Both of those horses went on to achieve greater fame and fortune in the east. Gord Rumpel held onto both of them. But he never forgot his Alberta roots.
If Serge Masse shows up from Fraser Downs with Da Magician, it may be possible to print the first place cheque even before entries are taken. Masse had a phenomenal winter meet at Cloverdale, finishing with a .606 winning percentage as a driver and a .506 winning percentage as a trainer. Much of that success was due to Da Magician, which dominated the 2 year old season last summer at Century Downs and doesn’t seem to have missed a beat during the winter campaign. The $18,000 (US) buy out of the Lexington select sale 2 years ago, has earned more than $47,000 so far this year, including the winner’s share of the Keith Linton Memorial last Friday night. The time was a snappy 1:53.1.
Since the plan is to run the Rumpel in divisions, and assuming more than 9 entries, which would mean more than one division, horsemen have to hope they can avoid Da Magician and still have a chance at a decent size payday. You can bet that Rod Starkewsky’s Getup Gideon will have his name in the entry box. He won the opener on Sunday afternoon at Century Downs in 1:55.3, a full 3 seconds quicker than his previous lifetime mark. Kelly Hoerdt indicated to me that American Dreamer, which finished third in the Linton final, will be in the Rumpel, assuming he was healthy when he got off the truck on Sunday night at Bedrock Farms in Beaumont.
Others will hem and haw and ponder the possibilities and the “what ifs” between now and entry time on Wednesday morning.
Don Byrne Memorial
The Alberta harness racing community lost one of its great owners last week with the passing of Don Byrne of St Albert. The 81 year old patriarch left behind a distinguished career as a businessman with a love of standardbred racing.
“He and I were partners and became good friends over a period of 15-20 years,” former driver-trainer, Don Monkman, told me. Monkman, who now serves as track superintendent at Century Downs, recalled a number of good horses the Byrne Stable kept over the years.
“Don usually bought yearlings, raced them during their 2 and 3 year old seasons and then sold them,” said Monkman. “Keystone Matt made about $176,000 at the races and we got $145,000 when we sold him to Ontario interests. They liked good horses for their late closing stakes events. He finished with more than $294,000 in career earnings, so the buyers got their monies worth. Same story with horses like Balanchine, Prairie Steel, and Stiletto Hall. Balanchine earned nearly $90,000 at the races for us. We sold him for $75,000 after his 3 year old season. He went on to earn nearly $780,000 at the races. I always thought we let him go as a bargain.”
“Then there was Prairie Steel, which won the Emerald Filly as a 2 year old and finished second in the Northlands Filly Pace in 2003. Stiletto Hall made about $425,000 racing in Alberta and BC. Second Fancy held the track records for aged mares at both Lacombe and at Grande Prairie. So, we had some good horses. And when Don made a dollar from a purse or a sale he would put the money right back into new stock. He always supported the ASHA yearling sale and for a lot of years he would spend money at the Harrisburg and Lexington yearling sales.”
“He lost a little interest after racing stopped at Stampede Park in 2006. But I’m glad to see his son, Michael, is going to carry on the stable.”
Michael Byrne has retained driver-trainer, Nathan Sobey, to handle the stable. Sobey finished 5thwith Pickles on Top in Sunday’s 9th race at Century Downs but hopes to have the filly in the Moore’s Mile on Saturday. “It would be a nice tribute to Don if she could do well,” Sobey told me on Sunday morning.
Don is survived by his wife of 50 years, Francoise, son Michael, daughter Tracy-Lynne, four grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. The family was to have a private service on Monday but there are plans to have a more public celebration of life at a later date.
Mateo, co-owned by Christine Cushing of Airdrie, was second to Da Magician in the Linton Final at Fraser Downs last Friday night. It wasn’t the best of weekends for another Alberta driver-trainer, Ryan Grundy. After winning an elimination of the Linton the week before with Senga Nitro, the 3 year old could do no better than 5th in the final. Grundy’s 3 year old filly, Shesamysterytome, was scratched from Saturday’s Penny Bath Memorial final because of sickness. On that same card, Kelly Hoerdt won the Open Pace with Get Thereovernight in 1:53.2. Grundy salvaged a win with Justabitcrazy in a $15,000 claimer in 1:55… now that Fraser Downs has finished its season, it’s hoped that a number of horsemen will make their way east to compete at Century Downs. Racing secretary, Jackson Wittup, tells me he thinks at least 50 horses are likely to make their way to Alberta. That will certainly help the goal of starting Monday racing next Monday, May 1st. The plan had been to start last Monday but there simply were not enough horses available. The hope is to attract a simulcast market with a worthy product that will be attractive on what is normally a quiet race day in North America. We’ll see what the entry box produces on Wednesday.