There was a pall hanging over the racing scene at Century Downs on the weekend. Two of the driver-trainers, Brandon Campbell and Nathan Sobey, were caught up in a random drug test last week. The penalty is 30 days and a $100 fine. Both men met with the judges and both are moving forward with what they have to do next.
“The rules on this are clear,” ASHA executive director, Fred Gillis, told me. “They both have the option of applying to the HRA backstretch program which is now run by Theresa Sealy. She, in turn, can recommend that they go through an appropriate treatment program run by the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission. If they get written documentation that they have gone through the program, and if a subsequent test in 14 days is clean, the judges “may” allow them to return to racing.”
There have already been some unintended consequences. Michael Byrne, who had taken over the operation of Don Byrne Racing Stables in the wake of the passing of his father, has decided to exit the industry. He had been in the process of transferring his horses into the Sobey Stable before the events of the past few days. He’s now in the process of selling six horses and several folks have expressed interest. The best known horse is the 3 year old filly, Pickles on Top, which is nominated for the Alberta Sire Stakes. So is another 3 year old filly, Heated Exchange. And there are 4 two year olds, the fillies Hot Flame and Noisy Nora along with a colt, Newport Art, and a gelding, Nogardeo. All four of those animals are paid up for the Alberta Sire Stakes two year old season which begins in August. Mr. Byrne is also offering Pillage and Burn which finished third in the Open Pace on Monday afternoon in 1:55.4.
Smaller Stables Doing Well
They may not have the most horses, or the most talented horses, but trainers Greg Manning and Joe Ratchford seem to know what they are doing with the stock they have.
Manning and his family have made training and racing harness horses a family affair. His significant other, Jody Earle, is a speech pathologist during the week. His daughters, Camryn, who’s 10, and Caily, who’s 8, can be found in the barns on weekends and when they are not in school. “I don’t have to clean stalls when they are around,” grinned Greg. “They’re both good little workers.” While Greg and I were chatting, Camryn came over with an overnight sheet to ask her father if a particular horse would have to change classes if it won. “Yes it would,” he told her, and then turned to me and said “it’s nice to have someone who can remind me that a horse is moving up or down in class, depending upon performance.”
Not that Manning needs a reminder. He’s been a part of harness racing most of his life, beginning with his introduction to the sport in his home province of Manitoba. Over the years, he’s driven more than 1,100 winners. He’s raced on the Prairies, in Ontario, and in California. He’s happy to be settled in Alberta where he’s set up shop on property east of Didsbury.
“It’s an easy commute to Century Downs and I really like the peaceful atmosphere of the country,” he told me. “My horses like it too. I think they are more relaxed by being able to come home and run around in the pasture instead of standing all the time in a stall. Then when they come to the track, they seem to know it’s time to do their work.”
The Manning Stable has one potential star in the 3 year old Blue Burner colt, DBLK Oadie. It has posted a 1-2-2 record in 5 starts so far this spring, after not racing at all as a 2 year old. It’s nominated for the Alberta Sire Stakes 3 year old races which get underway with eliminations of the Alberta Plainsman series on May 28th.
“When I first qualified him, it was the first time he’d ever been out on a track with other horses,” Manning told me. “We didn’t race him at 2, preferring to let him grow and mature a bit. He seems to be catching on to how to do his job. So we’ll see if he can be competitive in the Sire Stakes races.”
“I’ve also got Odds Western Three which finished second on Sunday in a non-winners of $35.000 class. He’s won seven times for me since we bought him out of Quebec last year. I got Jet Blue Burner qualified on Saturday. She hasn’t raced since the Ralph Klein last August when Travis (Cullen) had her. I also got Royal Dragon qualified on Saturday. He’s been off almost a year with behavioral issues. But I think we’ve solved those problems, so we’ll get him a race and see how he does. I claimed Take On Da Boys last week and he got a fourth place finish against $4,500 claimers in his first start for me. I’ll change a couple of things with him and we’ll see where we go from there.”
“And I’ve got Steal The Diamonds, which I’ve had off and on throughout his racing career. I started him as a 2 year old in Manitoba. He went on to race in Ontario and at The Meadowlands where he went in 1:51.3. He’s 9 now and this will be his last season at the races. I think we’ll turn him into a riding horse for the girls. He went in I:57.2 on Sunday and finished second. He’s won twice in seven outings this year. He’s one who loves the farm, so I think he’ll be happy to retire there.”
Robert Parish only has a couple of horses, but one of them, They Call Me Rosie, is like owning a bank. She’s posted a 2-7-2 log from 14 starts this year, primarily against $4,500 claimers. She’ll get the coming weekend off after a busy spring, which is likely to disappoint the racing secretary, Jackson Wittup. He loves racehorses who can be counted upon to race every week.
Another veteran conditioner who’s having a good spring is Joe Ratchford. In the midst of a busy Sunday afternoon, he had time to tell me he’s got five horses in his shed row. They’ve accumulated seven wins, four seconds, and two thirds through Sunday from just 24 starts, for a UDRS of .412.
“I got Fixed Price from Bill Tainsh,” Ratchford told me. “He’s won three times for me and for owners Willie Wychopen and Walter Moroz. He’s moving up a bit in class, so we must be doing something right. And I’m really hopeful that Outlaw Imahotvixen can do something in the Alberta Sire Stakes starting next week. Then I’ve got Itchin To CU which has a win and has made the board in three of his four starts. He was fifth in his last start on Saturday against non-winners of 2, but he paced a personal best mile. That’s one of the challenges of winning. He has to move up a class and learn how to go a little faster and be more competitive against better horses.”
Meet the Newest Winning Trainer
It was a special moment in the winner’s circle at Century Downs last Saturday as Jennifer Clark proudly gripped the halter of her first winner. Her husband, her mother, and her brother and his girlfriend were on hand for a picture with Legs Like Tina, a 3 year old filly that had just paced a mile in 2:00.1 under the guidance of veteran teamster, Keith Clark (no relation).
“I’ve been around horses most of my life,” Jennifer told me. I started out walking thoroughbreds for Ely Rutherford and Gary Marks. Then I spent three or four years harnessing chuckwagon horses for Don Chapin on the World Pro circuit. Then I trained riding horses on my parents’ farm near Strathmore. And then I had my daughter in 2005 and I got away from the horses for awhile.”
“Four years ago, I decided I wanted to get back into horses. We had moved around a bit and finally settled in Ponoka. I found a standardbred mare and foal at what was then Conrich Racing Stable. The foal had a club foot and never made it to the races. I bred the mare back to Lil Dude Starrbuck and that mating produced this filly. My husband and I thought about putting her in the ASHA yearling sale in 2016, but we decided at the last minute to keep her. At that point I knew nothing about what it would take to train a standardbred for the races. I had never driven one, I had never harnessed one. When we started, I got on my riding horse and led the filly over long slow miles through a farmer’s fields to build up her muscles. We did 120 miles over 3 months leading into the fall of 2016.”
“I went to Michelle Damron who was stabled at Alberta Downs last September and she agreed to help me. But before we could get started, the track closed and so we were back to square one. Then I contacted Connie Kolthammer, who lives about 35 minutes away from our home. I took Legs out to Connie’s in December and tried her out on Connie’s jogging track. Connie must have liked what she saw because she told me to turn the filly out for a month and come back to see her in January of this year.”
“In the meantime, I was studying to take my trainer’s exam and trying to learn how to jog a rated mile. The first couple of times I tried was pretty entertaining for the judges. But I finally managed to do the required mile and pass my trainer’s test. I was trading helping out at Connie’s for stabling for Legs Like Tina and for a 2 year old colt I also have named Whiskey Throttle. He’s in training now too. Both of them are nominated for the Alberta Sire Stakes series.”
“I’m so grateful to Connie, to Harry England, who taught me how to harness horses, to Michelle, and to a bunch of other people who have helped me get to this point.”