A long run of harness racing that began on March 18th ends on Saturday, September 9th at Century Downs in Balzac. And it will end with quite an impressive series of special promotions and races before the harness racing community turns its attention to a busy fall campaign at Northlands Park in Edmonton.
Officials have added two extra days of racing at Century Downs with cards scheduled for Thursday and Friday afternoons at 4:10 PM before the meet finale Saturday afternoon at 1:10 PM. Racing secretary, Jackson Wittup, will be taking entries for the three days starting on Tuesday morning. Despite some sickness in the backstretch and the fact that a lot of horses have raced a lot of races this summer, he’s hopeful of finishing the meet with a strong full program of races.
Certainly the fields for the Alberta Starlet and the Alberta Rising Star Stakes should be strong on Saturday afternoon. This is the second of three qualifiers for the 2 year old class for the Super Finals, Oct. 28th at Northlands Park. The first filly stake, the Alberta Starlet on August 19th produced Maid In Alberta and Noisy Nora as the two division winners, so they will be the leaders in the 2 year old filly class heading into the Alberta Starburst. Outlaw True Grit, Custards Laststand and Freedom Rescue each won a division of the Alberta Rising Star on August 20th, so they’ll be the headliners heading into the Alberta Lonestar on Saturday afternoon.
Horsemen have a few things to think about with respect to the 2 year olds. The objective is to have enough points to qualify for the Super Finals where the top nine qualifiers chase a purse of $80,000 in each of the filly and colt events. The next nine qualifiers in each sex will chase a prize of $15,000 in the consolation finals on October 28th. After Saturday, the last chance to qualify for Super Finals will be in the Alberta Stardust for the fillies on October 13th at Northlands. The colts get their last qualifier in the Alberta Shooting Star on October 14that Northlands.
Saturday’s activities at Century Downs also include a full Kids Day featuring an assortment of entertainment for the youngsters. Bill Andrew, proprietor of Meridien Farms, is helping to make that event happen. Driver Mike Hennessy will tally up the proceeds from a portion of his fees over the past three months and make a contribution to Kidsport. That charity is expected to have a number of families on hand to salute Mike for what his contributions are going to make possible for them. And at least three members of the World Pro Chuckwagon Association will park the chuckwagons and take to the racing bikes for an exhibition race. The event proved popular when it was first staged last season. Organizer Colleen Haining of ASHA has “voluntold” husband, Harold, that he will be contributing Cenalta Shade, Double Loop and Coliseum Hanover to the event. It’s to be hoped that a few more horses can be found.
It should be acknowledged that there have been a number of promotions this season where trainers and owners have been asked to supply horses for charity events as well as the WorldDrivers Challenge. The support from the backstretch has been outstanding.
Also on Saturday afternoon, a chance to meet the 4-H members who have been caring for, and prepping three of the yearlings that will be offered for sale in Olds on Sunday. Madison Groves and Queenoftheriver, Dayton Rickard and Ceia Lata Alagata, and Sierra Macdonald and HF White Lightning will parade their youngsters and the humans, at least, will be available to talk about their experiences since taking on their projects last winter.
After Century Downs…
On Sunday, it’s the ASHA Yearling Sale at the Olds Regional Exhibition Megadome. There will be viewing opportunities on Saturday evening, 6-9 PM and on Sunday morning starting at 10 o’clock. The sale itself begins at 2:30 PM
At last report, there have been two withdrawals from the sale. Hip #5, Richellu Winken and Hip #63, Belaire Southernbel have been pulled back. It leaves 69 yearlings to be auctioned next Sunday afternoon. Pedigrees are available on the ASHA web site and catalogues can be obtained from the ASHA office in Airdrie.
While Northlands is finishing its summer thoroughbred meet and the track conversion gets underway at Century Downs for the start of a fall thoroughbred and quarterhorse meet on Sept. 23rd, the harness racing community will get a day of racing on Sunday Sept. 17th at “The Track on 2,” formerly known as Alberta Downs in Lacombe. Somewhere around 35 horses will be stabled there over the break and ASHA wil take the opportunity to run a race card on the Sunday afternoon.
“We have some work to do, but it’s not something we haven’t been through before,” ASHA executive director, Fred Gillis, told me. “A couple of Red Deer area entrepreneurs, Kurt Belich and Ross Morrison, bought the property from Bobby Allan a couple of months ago. They’re interested in how best to put the property to good use for the benefit of the horse racing industry, so this will be a good test. There’s been no use of the track this summer, so they’re bringing in a grader on Wednesday to work up the surface. I’ve got a couple of 4-H clubs in the area coming in to walk the surface and pick up any rocks that the grader turns up. We’ll make a contribution to those 4-H clubs that help us out. So, while I don’t expect any track records, it’ll be a good surface, safe for all, and it’ll offer a competitive afternoon of racing.”
“We’ll have to bring in a big tent in case of rain, along with portapotties and food trucks. We’re not going to be able to offer pari-mutuel wagering because the cost of providing the services we’d need are prohibitive for a one day meet. Russ Armstrong and Tom Tascona will be the judges, Raeann Gemmel will be race secretary and paddock judge, Jim Diakowicz will be the starter and Matt Jukich is coming in from Edmonton to call the races. Northlands doesn’t race on Sundays, so this will give Matt an early look at harness racing before he takes on the Friday-Saturday calls beginning on Friday, September 22nd. I think we’ll get eight to twelve races, depending upon horse supply. So it’ll be a nice Sunday afternoon of free entertainment where people can come out, watch some races, and renew acquaintences with the harness racing folks who raced in Lacombe for a number of years.”
Gerry Hudon Returns…
It was a joy to visit with Gerry Hudon Sunday morning in the backstretch at Century Downs. The veteran teamster has been out of action since being caught up in that racing accident at Northlands Park last December. He suffered a concussion and an injury to his right elbow that made driving a horse impossible. But he worked hard to get himself back into shape and was at the controls for horses in three races on the Saturday program. He was 7th in the fifth race on the card with True Horizon. In the 6th race, he drove Wild Chic to a 5th place finish. Then in the 8th race, he finished 4th with Alfa Bagel Hanover.
“I felt great,” he told me. “I wasn’t nervous. I wish I could have finished better but it was great to be back in a race bike. That’s my office, you know.”
Hudon’s return to racing follows the return two weeks ago of Prince Sharka. It means the two participants most seriously hurt in the incident last December, are now back in fine form. That, in turn, is a great tribute to their own stamina and to the work of their health care providers and families.
I haven’t talked to Sam Johnson, but I have to believe it’s been awhile since he won three races on a single card. The veteran owner-trainer sent out Acesndeuces in the first race, Fescue in the second, and Jennas Lass in the fifth and then had to scramble from the backstretch to the winner’s circle to be in the winners’ photos… a good day for driver, Phil Giesbrecht as well. He drove Fescue and Jennas Lass and also scored with Icy Blue Scooter in the third race and with Starface in the sixth for a four win afternoon… heading into the final weekend of the Century Downs meet, Mike Hennessy leads Brandon Campbell in driving wins 93-85. Kelly Hoerdt, who is third in the drivers’ standings, is the leading trainer with 66 wins, 15 more than Rod Hennessy… there have been 67 claims worth a total of $573,125 during the meet. Claiming activity has picked up this summer as trainers look for racing stock that is doing well or that they think they can improve. The good news is the claiming has been among local trainers and horses that have some value as racers are not being lost to outside tracks.