Calgary’s inaugural Festival of Racing Week is off to a fine start. It began Sunday with an Industry Day at Century Downs, featuring a number of backstretch tours and several booths representing various aspects of the industry. It continued on Monday with a terrific afternoon of harness racing, featuring five different stakes events for the 2 and 3 year olds. It continues through the week with a number of charity events and culminates on Saturday evening with the first leg of the World Driving Championship.
Canada will be represented by Ontario’s James MacDonald who received his national colours on Monday afternoon at Grand River Raceway in Elora Ontario. MacDonald will be making his second trip to Century Downs this season. He was here in June as part of a charity event and has won a couple of races on the 11/16ths mile track. So, he’ll have some idea what to expect. He and the other ten drivers from around the world are due in Calgary on Thursday. They have a media event Friday morning followed by an outing to Canmore, just to give the visitors a little taste of what this part of the world is like. They’ll be at the charity gala on Friday evening where former Canadian women’s hockey star, Hayley Wickenheiser, is the guest speaker. Then on Saturday, they’ll compete in four or five races, depending upon how many horses are entered on Wednesday morning. The drivers will depart Sunday morning for two days of competition at Mohawk in Campbellville, Ontario on August 14th and at Georgian Downs in Innisfil Ontario on August 15th. Next stop will be Hippodrome 3R in Trois-Rivieres Quebec on August 16th. The 21 race series wraps up at Red Shores in Charlottetown on Friday, August 18th. Drivers earn points based upon how they finish in each of the 21 scheduled races. The driver accumulating the most points over the series will be declared the 2017 World Driving Champion and collect a prize of $25,000.
“We’ll start at 5:10 PM on Saturday to accommodate an expected heavy pari-mutuel interest from Australia,” Century Downs GM, Paul Rynevald, told me. We’ll stage the Drivers Championship over Races 4-8. It means it will be mid to late morning Sunday in Australia and 7:10 PM eastern time Saturday in North America. A number of racetracks will be taking the entire card and I hope we’ll be able to put on a great show.”
Rynevald will be able to see both the first and the final legs of the competition. He’s scheduled to be a guest speaker at the World Trotting Conference which is happening in Charlottetown in conjunction with the Championship.
If you’re a racing fan, I suspect this is an event you will want to see. It will be interesting to see how drivers adapt to unfamiliar surroundings, how they handle these particular racehorses for the first time, and what tactics they use to try and win. The five races at Century Downs will be run at a distance of a mile and a sixteenth, which will impact strategy as well. It’ll be a longer run to the first turn from the starting pole on the backstretch than is normally the case.
Racing secretary, Jackson Wittup tells me he’s hopeful about getting enough horses to be a part of the Championship. Owners are being offered extra money and every horse will earn a cheque regardless of where it finishes. The races will start with 9 horses in the front line and two trailers, so that’s going to impact strategy as well.
Mid Summer Classic
It promised to be a great day of racing with three divisions of colts and geldings in the Century Bet, two divisions of fillies in the Emerald Filly and finals of the Lady Luck and the Ralph Klein Memorial. It turned out to be everything fans could have wanted. And the punters responded by pouring more than $123,000 through the betting windows, making it one of the top days of wagering at Century Downs.
It was an especially fine day for BC owner, Rick Moles. His 3 year old filly, Yoga Pants, swept to victory in the Lady Luck final in a track record time of 1:54.1. That’s the new standard for 3 year old fillies, breaking the old mark of 1:54.3 set by Wedding Dance on July 8th. Ironically, Jim Marino was the pilot of Wedding Dance that day and he drove Yoga Pants on Monday afternoon. Wedding Dance finished 4th on this day behind Cardinal Rule and Outlaw Fireball.
“Jim bred this filly and I had a chance to buy in to her just before she began her 2 year old season,” Moles told me. “It’s turned out to be a really good investment. She’s a front runner with a great set of lungs and a big heart.”
Moles also claimed a division of the Century Bet with the 2 year old gelding, Boiling Oar. The time was 1:56.1 which I thought was pretty quick for a youngster in his first pari-mutuel start.
“I got him at last fall’s Alberta yearling sale,” Moles told me. He cost me $20,000 and I got him from Dr. Larry Hansen of Regina, a regular consignor to the Alberta yearling sale.”
Mr. Moles’ horses unofficially earned more than 73,000 on Monday afternoon. Along with a couple of trophies, he was seen leaving the grounds with a sales catalogue for the Sept. 10th ASHA yearling sale in Olds. He’s always been one to put his money back into racing. Boiling Oar’s mother, Arm In Arm, has a yearling in this year’s sale, a bay colt called Sherwood. We’ll see if that is of interest to him on Sept. 10th.
The other two Century Bets divisions were taken by Paradise Hill, owned by Lorne Duffield of Edmonton and Rod Hennessy of Falun, and Gonna FunkU Up, which is owned by Kurt and Kathy Schmidt of Leduc and Robert Jones of Stony Plain.
The two divisions of the Emerald Filly for the 2 year olds were won by Pez Dispenser for Jean Francois Gagne and Peter Van Seggelen in 1:57.4 , and by Maid In Alberta, owned by Don Richardson of Cochrane in 1:58.1.
The last race on the program was the Ralph Klein Memorial, saluting the late Premier of Alberta, who was one of harness racing’s biggest fans and supporters during his lifetime. He left an enduring legacy for the sport in 1995 when he and Doug Mitchell, who at the time was head of the Alberta Racing Corporation, the forerunner of Horse Racing Alberta, came up with the idea of the racing entertainment centre. That’s the deal that blends machine gaming revenues at the racetracks with pari-mutuel wagering to provide a financial base for the industry. It has saved the industry in this province and all the jobs that go with it.
The final went without eliminations meaning a pot of $152,410. Serge Masse took Da Magician to the front as the field went by the grandstand for the first time and survived two claims of foul to win in 1:55.
“He was backing off the gate at the start,” Masse told the crowd. “I figured I have to let him go to the front. The wind was pretty brisk by that time but it wasn’t a problem for him. He’s got a nice easy gait and a great heart. I’ll be keeping him here for the Western Canada Pacing Derby and then the plan is to give him some time off and bring him back for his 4 year old racing season. At this point, I’m not interested in moving him down east.”
The win, unofficially, was worth about $76,200, bringing his seasonal earnings past the $164,000 mark and his career bank account past $230,000. He’s had 24 lifetime starts now and clearly has gotten the most out of them. Mateo, American Dreamer, Getup Gideon and Ima Dude chased the winner home.
All in all, a great day, with just over $400,000 in prize money earned by the participants. And there was a broad distribution of the winnings as well. Not everybody went home happy, but a lot of folks will get back some of their investments in good horses. And with the Yearling Sale next month, that’s what you want.
Pacing Under Saddle August 26th
It will be Ladies Day at Century Downs on Saturday August 26th. Special pampering is being prepared, there will be a prize package for one lucky fan, and a full card of harness racing starting at 1:10 PM. One of the day’s highlights will be the final of the Performance Under Saddle event, featuring seven young women raising money for charity and seven Standardbred horses which have been retired from racing but which have been trained to be ridden.
“Everybody got through gate school after the races on Sunday,” organizer, Janice Lea, told me. “Kaylea Hepburn, who finished second last year, is back. She’ll ride Meadowlark Apache and represent “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Jaline Munkholm, who finished third in last year’s race, will be aboard Rays Crown Royal and represent the Mazankowski Heart Foundation. Faith Jones will represent the Not in My City campaign and ride National Interest. That horse earned more than $129,000 during its racing career. And, trainer Devann Crick will represent the HRA Backstretch Foundation and ride Rango which earned more than $500,000 at the races.”
Janice, who runs JKL Trail Rides out of Rocky Mountain House, will participate in the race aboard one of her trail riding horses, Hollywood Redneck. The interesting story is that two German women who are working for Janice this summer as part of a work experience program, will be taking part as well. Lisa Sollbach and Lavinia Bauer are both from Butzbach Germany. Lisa will have Maxmillion GB and represent the Performance Standardbreds. Lavinia will be aboard Red Star Chance and represent the Airdrie Boys and Girls Club.
All the women will be raising dollars for each of their charities. If you’d like to help, you can contact the ASHA office in Airdrie at 403-263-7765.
Don’t forget that racing this Saturday, August 12th, starts at a special time of 5:10 PM.