As the calendar turns to May, stalls are filling up very quickly at Century Downs. Jim Marino and Justin Currie have shipped in from Fraser Downs, bringing more than twenty racehorses with them. Reportedly, John Hudon and Anne Chappell are on their way to stable horses at Olds. Century Downs regulars Brent Bodor and Rene Goulet raced at Fraser Downs all winter and have now returned to Alberta. So, the barns have filled up quickly, which explains why there were enough names in the entry box to fill three cards over the weekend including a Monday matinee.
“I want to sit down with Paul (Century Downs General Manager, Paul Ryneveld) and see if we can find some temporary stalls for the backstretch,” ASHA executive director, Fred Gillis, told me. “We’ll need more as the season moves along and we start to get some 2 year olds coming in for gate schooling and works. Right now, it’s a little tight.”
It reminds me that when the original concept of Century Downs was developed, the thought was that training farms scattered around the area would be the preferred stabling option, rather than making a major investment in infrastructure at the racetrack. That proved to be problematic for the northern stables which wore down people and equipment commuting up and down the QE II. A few trainers like Kelly Hoerdt, and Sam Johnson still ship-in from the Edmonton area for races. The barns at Olds Agriculture Fairgrounds have proven to be a godsend. Sanford Campbell has access to a training track and stabling in Langdon. Others like Cathy Reid and Keith Clark have a more reasonable commute where they can stable at home and provide some outdoor paddocks to give their horses a little break from staying in the backstretch. Carl Archibald has taken over use of a 54 acre property not far from Century Downs for the same reason. Even those trainers who have stabling at Century Downs will be rotating horses in and out of their shed rows throughout the season.
Marino, who runs a public stable, had a strong season at Fraser Downs. He was third in the drivers’ standings with 38 wins from 202 drives. And he led all trainers with 29 wins from 161 starters. His major owner is Rick Mowles of Prince George BC, racing under the JJJ Stables banner. That stable earned almost $193,000 during the winter campaign at Fraser Downs. One of its current stars is Yoga Pants, a 3 year old BC-bred filly which has won five straight races, including the final of the Penny Bath Memorial Stakes at Fraser Downs in her last start.
“I’ve got 17 stalls here at the moment,” Marino told me. “I’m going to have to figure out what to do with some other horses including the 2 year olds. I must say, I do like the new surface here at Century Downs. It’s much better than last year. I’m looking forward to driving in a few races and seeing how the re-design of the third turn impacts racing strategy.”
The First Stakes Races of the Season
The Moore’s Mile for the 3 year old fillies and the Gord Rumpel Memorial for 3 year old colts and geldings drew lots of interest from horsemen and from the sponsors on the weekend. About 30 folks from the Moore’s Clinic were on hand in the winner’s circle on Saturday afternoon to congratulate Kelly Hoerdt, Kyle Anderson, and Peter Giannakopoulos, owners of Alexis Princess which claimed one division of the Moore’s Mile and made it her first career win. She won it impressively too in 1:57. The Moores’ folks were back in the winner’s circle a few minutes later as Wedding Dance swung in to have her picture taken after a 1:55.4 new mark for owner, Don Richardson, and trainer, Harold Haining.
Sunday, the boys got their turn in the Gord Rumpel and it was a pleasure to see Gord and Illa Rumpel’s son, Glen, and his family on hand to congratulate the winners. Ryan Grundy steered home Senga Nitro impressively in 1:54.4, a new career mark for the pacer which is owned by Ken Gunn of Magnolia Texas. Rod Starkewsky’s Getup Gideon rolled to a 1:56.1 win in the second division. Both horses are homebreds and both will be headliners for the Alberta Sire Stakes races which get underway at the end of this month. The Starkewsky-trained Retro’s Mystery, owned by Robert James of Camrose, claimed a third place share in the division won by Getup Gideon. So, it was a good day for one of the biggest fans of the Calgary Flames in the backstretch.
I had a few moments to visit with Glen Rumpel, whose Lexus dealership has stepped up as a participating sponsor.
“I used to go to the races with my Mom and Dad,” he told me. “It wasn’t really my passion as much as it was theirs. But it’s hard not to have a few good memories. I have an oil painting in my office of Palmbays Duster, the first horse my father bought for my mother. And I was lucky enough to celebrate my 30th birthday with them at the Meadowlands in New Jersey when On The Road Again won a race. I remember that Yankee great, Joe Dimaggio, was in the winner’s circle to congratulate my parents. They loved the sport and they loved the horses. I think they were both watching from Heaven today.”
“I know they’d be happy that I’ve taken some interest in a race named in honour of my dad. I want to sit down with Fred and see what we can do to enhance it.”
By the Numbers
Mike Hennessy continues to lead the drivers’ standings through Monday’s card at Century Downs. Hennessy has 23 wins, 2 more than Brandon Campbell. Kelly Hoerdt is closing in on leading trainer Rod Hennessy. He’s up to 17 wins now, just two behind Hennessy. Hoerdt closed ground quickly on the weekend with 4 wins Saturday, and 2 more Monday.
Ricky Schneider had his picture taken twice on Saturday afternoon. He drove his first winner in four years in the second race, guiding Dickie’s Motel around the racetrack in 1:57.3. After a stop in the winner’s circle, he was on his way back to the barn when Tyler Redwood got him with a pail of water. Amidst the applause, a number of camera phones captured the moment. Schneider was the ringleader a couple of days before, when he placed an Oilers logo on the side of Rod Starkewsky’s truck. As noted earlier, Rod is a Flames fan… Nathan Sobey has picked up the 6 year old gelding, Pillage and Burn for the Byrne Stable of Edmonton. The horse came from Jim Marino’s barn. Marino has a number of aged pacers. Now, Sobey has one as well… Warren Fuller’s 4 year old mare, Monstrous, qualified on Saturday. She’s made nearly $165,000 at the races, including $130,000 during her 3 year old season. “We may run her in another qualifier on Saturday before we look for a race for her,” trainer Darryl Cutting told me. Monstrous has had 4 months off from racing.