We are headed into one of the busiest weeks of the 2017 harness racing season in Alberta. The Festival of Racing launches Sunday at Century Downs and will continue through Saturday, August 12th, culminating with the first leg of the World Drivers Challenge. Sunday’s opening day events feature an Industry Day, with a chance to learn more about the sport and the business. Workshops are to be staged by ASHA, Horse Racing Alberta, Moore Equine Clinic, and Performance Standardbred, among others. It’s a terrific opportunity to learn more about what it takes to put together a day at the races.
Anyone who considers himself or herself a fan, should be planning to be at the races on the Civic Holiday, Monday, August 7th for a 1:10 PM First Post. Virtually the entire card will be related to the Alberta Stakes schedule and when the entry box opens on Wednesday morning, it’s going to be a treat to see which matchups we can look forward to on the holiday card. The day is being teased as the Mid Summer Classic. It has all the promise of being just that.
On the program is the final of the Lady Luck Stake for 3 year old fillies. Fifteen of them were in Sunday’s eliminations and eight have qualified for a (est.) $75,000 final. Outlaw Fireball, Cardinal Rule, Wedding Dance, and Keys Please emerged as the four fastest horses from the first elimination. In what is becoming trademark fashion, Outlaw Fireball closed strongly on the outside in the stretch to win in 1:55.1. In the second elimination, Yoga Pants, Steady Breeze, Outlaw Imahotvixen, and Stylomilohos were the top four finishers. Yoga Pants was making her first pari-mutuel start since winning the Penny Bath Memorial at Fraser Downs on April 22nd. She has gone through a couple of qualifying miles, but she looked like the rest did her some good, cruising home in 1:55.2.
Nightime Chase from the first elimination, and Double Mystery from the second, will draw for the ninth and final spot in the final. The loser of the draw will be the “also eligible” in case one of the scheduled starters can’t go.
Also on the program, the Ralph Klein for 3 year old colts and geldings. Serge Masse’s Da Magician has been pointing towards this race since his arrival at Century Downs. He was second on Monday afternoon to the 4 year old Cool Cowboy. It’s possible that the presence of this horse, along with Mateo and Senga Nitro, may chase a few hopefuls to seek a little softer spot. There is a thought that the Ralph Klein might be strictly a final, in which case the purse will be $100,000+. If the field does split, the eliminations would be held as a prelude to the final on the same day.
Finally,we have the stakes debuts of the 2 year old class. Trainers have been scrambling to get the youngsters at least a race or two so that they are ready to put on a show next Monday. Betterbegoodtome, Screen Test, and Freedoms Rescue were among the 2 year olds to collect wins on the Sunday card at Century Downs. The fillies will go the Emerald Filly Stake while the colts and geldings will line up in the Century Bets Stake. Presuming the entry box is full, they’ll go in divisions for pots of $50,000 for each stake.
So, it promises to be a wonderful day of harness racing with all of the top 2 and 3 year olds on the grounds ready to put on a show.
The rest of Festival Racing Week includes a charity bowling tournament on Tuesday, a charity golf tournament on Thursday and a charity gala, featuring former national women’s hockey team star, Hayley Wickenheiser, on Friday night. Then on Saturday, August 12th, it’s the first leg of the World Drivers Challenge. Eleven competitors from around the world will take part in five races, each of them run at a distance of a mile and a sixteenth. The challenge will then move to Ontario and Quebec tracks before finishing in Charlottetown.
Don’t forget that post time on August 12th will be 5:10 PM. The change is to accommodate what is likely to be a great deal of interest from bettors in Australia and New Zealand where it will be early on Sunday morning.
Speaking of charity…
Kidsport and Mike Hennessy have teamed up to do some good things for a bunch of youngsters from low income families in the metro Calgary region.
“It all started when Paul Rynevald, the General Manager of Century Downs, asked me to play in the Kidsport golf tournament a couple of months ago. Century is one of their sponsors. I met Kevin Webster of Kidsport during the event. It turns out he knows my mom. We got to talking and he was telling me about all the work the organization is doing for young people in the area. I decided I’d like to help.”
“We’re absolutely thrilled,” Kevin Webster told me. “Mike and Colleen Haining from ASHA have pulled this together. Mike is contributing a portion of his driver’s fees between June and August of this year to Kidsport. We’re going to have a special day at the races on Saturday, September 9th, so that we can introduce racing to the families we serve, and so that we can thank Mike properly for what he’s doing for us.”
“In 2016 we helped 4,386 youngsters in the Calgary region so that they could play sports. We have a deal with the Comrie Sports Equipment Bank to supply re-conditioned equipment to young athletes. That means whatever money we’re able to generate goes toward fees to allow the youngsters to play. While soccer is our top sport, we’ll help any young person who wants to play any sport. I know we’ve got a couple of people involved in riding. Maybe some of them will take an interest in harness racing. We’ve already helped more than 2,700 under-priviledged youngsters in the region this year.”
There is no shortage of demand or need. As of mid July of this year, about $675,000 has been distributed to families in Calgary and in Airdrie. Kidsport estimates it will need about $1.8 million to satisfy existing requests.
The Gord Abbott Story…
Gord Abbott is another lifer in the harness racing industry. A native of Ontario, Gord moved west to BC in 1981. He’s trained a lot of horses over the years. He also drove regularly until May of 2013 when he decided he’d had enough. He finished with 1,695 wins from 13,231 starts and his horses earned more than $6.2 million in purses.
“I’ve had some good horses over the years and I’ve done OK whenever I’ve ventured into Alberta. I won the Sunwapta in Edmonton with Judges Hammer. I had another stakes winner about the same time with Tigh Na Mara. I won the Compass and the Spring Series with Payday Chance in the mid ‘90’s. You don’t do much in this business without some good owners and I’m fortunate to be training some good ones for Paul Gillies who owns Seapsray Stables from Nanaimo. Right now, I’ve got three racehorses here at Century Downs. And I’ve got Stylomilohos which Rick Lancaster developed out at Fraser Downs. Rick wasn’t coming to Alberta this year and owner, Ray Soh, asked me if I would take her. Ironically, Ray was one of my first owners when I got into the business in BC. Stylomilohos has been OK against some pretty tough stakes company in the 3 year old filly class.”
Abbott’s best year was 1993 when he earned 49 wins from 247 starters. He has 15 training wins from 78 starters so far this season which has pushed his career numbers above the 900 win mark. Big Zeus got win #15 for him on Monday afternoon. Nothing spectacular. Just good, steady productivity. The kind of productivity that keeps him coming back to the races every year, and coming to the barns to do his work every day.
Brandon Campbell’s 6 wins on the Sunday afternoon card at Century Downs marked the first time the 33 year old reinsman has had that kind of day. He won the first race with the 2 year old filly, Betterbegoodtome. And then he swept the last five races on the card, beginning with the 2 year old colt, Screen Test in the 6th race. He scored with another 2 year old, Freedoms Rescue in the 7th and followed that with wins with Total Rhythm in the 8th, Captain Hazardous in the 9th and Southwind Jaden in the 10th… Travis Cullen won 7 races on a card at Century Downs on May 8th, 2016. Cullen had a 6-win day at Century Downs on March 13th, 2016… Mike Hennessy won the first three races on Monday’s card. He scored with Mystic Messenger in the first race, Cool Cowboy in the second and Authentic Pizzazz in the third. He has 73 wins on the season, 3 more than Brandon Campbell whose lone score on Monday came with Ima Dude in the 9th race.