Add two more wins to Keith Clark’s Hall of Fame totals after Maverick Joe took the 4th race and Eh Senor won the 10th race at Century Downs on Monday afternoon. The career total is now 6,499, making Clark 17th on the all time list of Canadian drivers.
“I’m not concerned about the number and it’s not a big deal to me,” the veteran teamster told me. “I’ve had some great owners like Bob Jones and Doris McDougall and I’ve had a lot of great horses over the years. It all starts with what’s between the shafts of the bike.”
The list of Clark’s horses over the years reads like Alberta racing royalty. It begins with As Promised, itself a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. Just Doodlin, Sippin Time, Artful Hanover, Sky Hagler, and That’ll Be Me are some of the other headliners to come out of the Clark barn. More recently, First Class Horse was a strong performer in the 2 and 3 year old divisions before Clark sold him to US interests. It’s harder to make much money with older horses, given the purse structure and Clark, first and foremost, is a businessman.
He also loves to bring along younger horses. “I’ve got a dozen two year olds at the farm right now,” he told me. “I’ve turned a couple of them out because they’re not ready for the races just yet. But I’m in the process of getting the other ten qualified to race at Century Downs. It’s what I like to do the most, now, is to train the youngsters for careers on the track.”
Two of those youngsters hooked up and battled for the lead down the stretch in Saturday’s 3rd race at Century Downs. The seven horse field included three 2 year olds, the first ones of the 2015 class to make it to the races. Keith had You Talk Too Much, a $48,000 sophomore filly by Well Said, which he had purchased last fall at the Lexington sale. His brother, Bob, piloted Roaring Home, a homebred son of Mystery Chase. The two emerged from the field at the head of the stretch and Keith yelled over to his brother…..”what are we doing going this fast…..?” Roaring Home got to the wire first by a nose in 1:59.1 including a :29.1 last quarter.
“They darn near finished in a dead heat,” I said to Keith during our chat. “Wouldn’t that have been something,” Clark responded. “Both of them would have had to go up to non-winners of 2 for their next start.”
Instead, both of them will be brought along slowly with August 7th circled on the calendar. That’s the day the first stakes events of the season for the 2 year olds are scheduled. It would seem Keith Clark intends to be a factor that day.
Back to that 6,500 win milepost for a moment. Fred Gillis, who for years competed with Clark, now serves as executive director of Alberta Standardbred.
“A lot of the eastern guys get a chance to drive up to 7 days a week,” said Gillis. In Ontario, if they wanted to, they could drive at a couple of tracks a day. Keith could never drive that much. He’s driven mostly in western Canada and we only have one track at a time that’s operating in this part of the country. So, that 6,500 number is pretty significant.”
Except to Clark. “I still remember my first winner,” he told me. “I paid $500 for a horse called Billy Quill when I was 18” (that would have been in 1971, six years before Standardbred Canada started tracking Canadian performances). “I think I won my first race with him in Regina. In those days, $500 was a lot of money. But he was a good horse. I won a bunch of money with him and went on from there.”
On from there over 46 years. A lot of accomplishments with a lot of great horses…..more than 31,300 official trips behind a starting gate…..and clearly, he’s not done yet.
Meanwhile, the stage is set for Saturday’s Alberta Diamond final for 3 year old Alberta-bred fillies, and Sunday’s Alberta Marksman for 3 year old Alberta bred colts and geldings. The Diamond featured four eliminations this past Saturday and there were lots of stories to emerge from those races.
Wedding Dance, owned by Don Richardson of Cochrane, served notice she’ll be a contender with a 1:54.3 mile that is now the track record for 3 year old fillies at Century Downs. Wedding Dance came into the race in 4th place on the money list for the class, in the qualifying for Super Finals set for Oct. 28th at Northlands Park. Outlaw Fireball, which leads the class in earnings, settled for second this time out. But expect those two to hook up in Saturday’s final. Fireball is owned by J-F Gagne, Peter vanSeggelan, Carl Warnaar, and Tapron Holdings. Cardinal Rule and Pickles On Top came out of the second elimination, giving Gagne & Company a second horse in the final. They share ownership of Pickles On Top. Stylohilohos which is third in the class in earnings, won the third elimination, with Itchin to CU coming in second for co-owner and trainer-driver, Kelly Hoerdt. The 4th elimination went to Cenalta Cougar, owned by Gordon, Helen and Myrna Empey and driven to victory by Rene Goulet. Legs Like Tina, the only racehorse in Jennifer Clark’s barn, also made the final, adding a nice touch to a story we told earlier this year. The first year trainer picked up a 4th place finish in the Alberta Princess on June 3rd. The Princess, the Diamond, and the Alberta Marquis to be run in mid October at Northlands, are the three qualifying stakes for the Super Finals.
The four horses that finished third in the eliminations, Sideline Secrets, Authentic Pizzazz, Double Mystery, and Outlaw imahotvixen, will have their names in the entry box on Wednesday morning. One of them will be the 9th starter in the final on Saturday. Another will be the “also eligible.”
As for the boys, two divisions of the Alberta Marksman went to the post on Sunday afternoon with four qualifiers from each heat heading to this Sunday’s final. Mateo, which is the leading money winner in the class, led the way in the first elimination, posting a 1:54.1 mile. Ima Dude, Wabash Cannonball and Outlaw Blue Ice also qualified. After a handful of so-so performances, Senga Nitro looked sharp in leading the field home in 1:54.1. Getup Gideon and Retros Mystery finished second and third out of the Rod Starkewski barn and Cold Case gives the Hoerdt stable a berth in Sunday’s final. One of the two 5thplace finishers, Mr Peterman and Amysterytome will be added to the final field when post positions are made on Thursday morning.
Calgary Racing Festival
A fair bit of work and promotion is going into this special week of racing at Century Downs August 6th – 12th. The Sunday matinee program on August 6th will be preceded by a series of workshops in the backstretch featuring presentations by Horse Racing Alberta, Alberta Standardbred, Moore Equine and Performance Standardbred. Monday August 7th features the Mid Summer Classic to celebrate the Civic Holiday. There are five different stakes events to be held that day featuring the best 2 and 3 year old pacers in Alberta racing. Tuesday, August 8th is the charity bowling tournament to be held at Century Casino at 1010 42nd Ave. SE in Calgary. Dreams Take Flight is the charity of choice for this event. After an off day on Wednesday, to allow duffers to get to a driving range, the Charity Golf Tournament is set for Thursday, August 10th in Airdrie. All proceeds go to the Airdrie Women’s Shelter campaign. There’s still room for players in this event.
Then on Friday evening, August 11th, it’s the Charity Gala at Century Downs, featuring hockey star, Hayley Wickenheiser,as the keynote speaker. A silent auction through the evening will benefit the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre.
Details on the Festival can be found at www.centurydowns.com.
And, of course, the Festival ends on Saturday, August 12th with the first leg of the World Driving Championship, featuring Brandon Campbell, representing Canada against a field of ten international competitors. There will be five races that day featuring eleven drivers on the track. It’ll be the first leg of five to be contested at tracks in Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec before the champion is crowned at Red Shores in Charlottetown on August 24th. You’ll have a chance to meet the drivers before the races at Century Downs on August 12th.
The five races on August 12th will be run at a distance of a mile and a sixteenth and there were four races on the weekend which were run at that distance at Century Downs, just to give horses and competitors an idea of what it will be like. Take On Da Boys in 2:04.2 and Lissoy in 2:02.1 were Saturday’s winners. Lizard King (2:01.4) and Eh Senor (2:04.3) won the last two races over the same distance on Monday’s card.
None of the fields had eleven starters, although the two on Saturday did have nine, allowing everyone to see how nine horses on the gate would work. The plan for August 12th is to have nine on the gate with two trailers. An informal survey of drivers on Sunday provided no concensus on how that might work out. Some prefer to start in the front row regardless of post position because it allows the driver to decide on a strategy before the horses get to the gate. The challenge of starting behind the front row is to pick a horse which is likely to leave quickly, hope that horse doesn’t make a mistake, and hope you can follow him through the pack. It seems to come down to what every driver does for every race: study the form, try and identify the horse or horses that are going to try for the lead off the gate, and then take what your own horse will give you and devise the right strategy from there.
Drivers from Europe, Australia, and New Zealand regularly compete over this distance, so perhaps, they are more familiar with a racing strategy. Not many of them, however, have likely raced on an 11/16ths mile surface, so that’s one thing that may give Brandon Campbell a bit of an advantage. The start of these races at Century Downs has been moved back by a 1/16th of a mile, giving drivers and horses a bit more time to sort out the field before they get to the first turn.
Anyway, it will be different, and fun to watch. And when you add national flags and anthems to the presentation, it promises to be a special day of racing you do not want to miss. Remember that first post on August 12th will be at 5:10 PM, to accommodate an enthusiastic betting public in Australia which will be having breakfast and making bets while the races go on at Century Downs.