The 2017 Alberta Sire Stakes gets underway this coming weekend at Century Downs. Somewhere close to $970,000 will be handed out between now and Super Final Saturday which this year, will be at Northlands Park IN Edmonton on Saturday, Oct. 28th. We’ll start the countdown this Saturday with eliminations in the 3 year old filly division in a race called the Alberta Princess. The boys get their turn on Sunday in the Alberta Plainsmen. Depending upon how many pacers are entered on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, the top performers will be back the following week to compete in $50,000 finals in each division.
“I’ll go out on a limb and say we get four eliminations of fillies and three eliminations of colts,” racing secretary, Jackson Wittup, told me. “A lot of 3 year olds got a final race in this past weekend. I don’t know that there are any prohibitive favourites and that usually means owners and trainers will try and start building some qualifying dollars as soon as they can. That’s a big payoff in the fall and you want to be there if you can keep your horse healthy.”
The 3 year old filly series will consist of the Alberta Princess, the Alberta Diamond, which will be run in early July, and the Alberta Marquis, to be contested at Northlands Park in October. Horses will be ranked by dollars earned in those three series with the top 8 going to the Super Final championship series and the next 8 competing in the consolation races on Super Final Saturday.
The 2 year olds fillies get their turn starting with the Alberta Starlet on August 19th. The next race is the Alberta Starburst on Sept. 9th which will be the final weekend of the Century Downs meet, and the Alberta Stardust on Oct. 13th at Northlands Park. The colts race in the Alberta Rising Star on August 20th, the Alberta Lonestar on Sept. 9th and the Alberta Shooting Star on October 14th. In the case of the 2 year olds, the top horses will be decided on the basis of points earned. Since the 2 year olds race in divisions in each series, points awarded will be on a 50-25-12-8-5 basis for the top five finishers in each race. Each horse that starts a race, gets an extra point which might be crucial if horses are tied in the standings at the end of the Stardust and Shooting Star Stakes. The top 8 over the 3-race series go to the championship round on Super Final Saturday while the next 8 qualify for the consolation final.
Obviously, those horses that can finish well in each of the qualifying stakes have the best chance to be in the $80,000 championship final on Oct. 28th. But since we’re dealing with animals, not machines, it will be up to each individual owner and trainer to decide where and when a horse should race.
Two good examples were on display in the first two races on Sunday afternoon’s card at Century Downs. The first race was won by Outlaw Blue By You which competes for the Century Downs Racing Club. About 15 of the more than 90 members of the club were on hand in the winner’s circle to greet the winner which performed very well under the guidance of Jim Marino. “Blue” hit the accelerator just past the ¾ pole and cruised down the lane to win in 1:58.3, a new personal best time in his first win in seven lifetime starts.
The second race went to Outlawintriguedbyu, a half sister to “Blue” who races for the Fun For Fans Stable. Dave Kelly brought her home in 2:00.4 It was her first professional win in seven lifetime starts as well. Boys & Girls Club of Airdrie is this month’s beneficial charity for the Fun For Fans Stable. With one more week of racing before the end of May, the charity is probably getting around $2,000 in proceeds for the good work it does in the community.
However, don’t expect to see either 3 year old in the entry box for the coming stakes races on the weekend. “I don’t think Outlaw Blue By You is a stakes-calibre horse at this point,” trainer Darryl Cutting told me. “Maybe he will be as the summer goes along. Right now, though, we’ll try and keep him in the condition races and see how he does.”
Trainer Rod Starkewski offered a similar assessment of Outlawintriguedbyu. Starkewski already has 4 colts and 3 fillies scheduled to make it to the starting line on the weekend. “Getup Gideon and Retros Mystery have shown pretty well so far this season,” Starkewski told me. “They were first and fourth in the third race on Saturday. My other two colts, Mr Peterman and That’s Amore are still learning their jobs. Once in awhile you’ll think they’re ready to show what they can do. Then they’ll struggle a bit and show that as young horses, they still have some things to learn. As for the fillies, I’m particularly pleased with Little Bit o Jingle. We put her on Lasix a couple of weeks ago and it seems to have calmed her down on post parade. She’s not using all her energy before she gets to the starting gate.”
Driver-trainer, J-F Gagne, also has some decisions to make between now and Wednesday morning with respect to Pickles on Top, a 3 year old filly he acquired in partnership with Peter van Seggelen and Carl Warnaar.
“This will be her fourth stable so far in her career,” Gagne told me. “She’s in good health. I’ve talked to some of the trainers who have had her in the past, so I have some sense of what she needs and what she can do. Still, until you sit behind her and work with her a bit, there will always be some questions.”
Driver-trainer, Jamie Gray, with partners Dr. Jim Rhodes and Fred Gillis for the Fun For Fans Stable, have acquired Nogardeo, a 2 year old son of Custard the Dragon from the same dispersal sale. Gray, with Neil Malloch and Terry MacIsaac haltered Hot Flame, a 2 year old Camystic filly. Wild Chic, Heated Exchange and Debonator are headed to the Karen Sobey stable.
All Hail Good Owners
Calgary entrepreneur, Ray Henry, paid $20,000 on Monday afternoon to claim Outlaw Deacon Jim for trainer, Sanford Campbell. That, I believe, is the biggest claiming price paid so far this spring at Century Downs. Outlaw Deacon Jim finished behind the winner, Cool Cowboy, which broke his own personal best time for a mile en route to the winner’s circle in 1:53.1.
You can include J-F Gagne and his partners on this list as well. Gagne relies on Marjorie Dumont to handle a couple of his aged mares, Watch My Luck and Tajmeallover. He drove Taj on Saturday afternoon and chased home Watch My Luck and Jim Marino, setting a new standard for aged mares in the process: 1:52.4. The old mark was 1:53 set by Feelin Flush in May of 2015.
It’s indicative of the improving fitness of horses and the settling of the new racing surface that there have been a bunch of personal best times set over the weekend. Cool Cowboy, which pushed its lifetime earnings over the $227,000 mark on Monday afternoon, cut his personal mark by 2 full seconds for part-owner and driver-trainer, Kelly Hoerdt.
And speaking of good owners, it’s great to see Archie Benekos back at the track and supporting long time friend, Keith Clark. “I was with Keith a long time during the ‘80’s and ‘90’s,” Benekos told me. “I was in the pizza business for 40 years and I have always loved to come to the track and watch my horses compete and win. There’s just nothing like it. I got out when racing stopped at Stampede Park in 2006, but I sold my business about 8 months ago. So now, with racing back in the Calgary market, I can take more of an interest in it. And, I mean, where else would you want to be on a beautiful day.”