When we last left you the weather was mild, there was no snow on the ground and there were enough horses to race twice a week at Northlands. Unfortunately it’s a completely different story now as the harness horses - some of them anyway - returned to Northlands after a two-week break due to Farmfair International and the Canadian Finals Rodeo.
Northlands racing secretary Jason Teague had to be feeling like old Mother Hubbard because when he went to open the entry box for this weekend’s scheduled races the cupboard was pretty near bare. “I had 118 entries for the two days so we had to cancel Friday’s scheduled card and only race this Saturday,” said Teague.
“With horsemen turning out horses out for the winter and several stables going to B.C.’s Fraser Downs and California I’ve only got about 240 horses left which isn’t a whole lot. And that count includes yearlings, young horses and horses that are just returning to training.”
Teague said he started the fall harness meet which opened at Northlands on Sept. 22 with about 380 horses. Asked if the entire meet which is scheduled to run all the way to the middle of next February is in jeopardy, Teague said “No but we might be in jeopardy as far as racing two days a week through November and December. “We’re only scheduled to race one day a week in January and February.
“Depending on what happens next week we may only be able to race one day a week for the rest of this (calendar) year. “It’s up to the horsemen to ask themselves if they have enough horses to race twice a week. “The guys are hungry and they still need the money.”
About 10 trainers have taken their horses to Cal Expo in Sacramento, California. That list includes the barns of horsemen like Ryan Grundy, Quentin Schneider, Richard Remillard, Gary Clark, Rene Goblet and Gord Empey. Other horsemen like Kelly Hoerdt, J.F. Gagne and Keith Clark shipped horses to Fraser Downs mostly for stakes engagements.
Two of the horses Gagne and his wife, trainer Marjorie Dumont, sent to B.C. have already won with sisters Watch My Luck and Tajmeallover sweeping the the Lady Elements elimination stakes races last weekend. On a sloppy track, Watch My Luck went wire to wire to win in 1:56.1 while Tajmeallover splashed around her field to win in 1:54.2. Watch My Luck and Tajmeallover are both out of the As Promised mare Watch Over Me - Watch My Luck is by Camluck while Tajmeallover’s sire is the great Tajma Hall. Both mares are owned by Gagne, Peter Van Seggelen and Carl Warnaar, with Tapron Holdings Ltd. also part of the ownership group of Tajmeallover.
At the same time Hoerdt finished one-two in the Open Pace at Fraser Downs with Iwontdothatagain winning by a length in 1:53 over stablemate Wrangler Cash. With Wrangler Cash overlooked and going off at 21-1 the exactor somehow paid a very healthy $43.90. For Iwontdothatagain, who was claimed for just $4,000 this past January by Hoerdt and Edmonton’s Ed Keryliuk, it was his 15th win of the season and fourth in a row in the Open division.
Returning to this week’s premise of ‘when we last left you,’ before the break the last time the standardbreds raced in Edmonton was Oct. 28 when Northlands hosted four Super Series Finals: one for two-year-old fillies, one for two-year-old colts and geldings, one for three-year-old fillies and one for three-year-old colts and geldings. Three of those four $80,000 Super Finals resulted in upsets.
Favourite Bearcat Josi got boxed in and couldn’t shake loose until it was too late in the two-year-old filly division as Roaring Home ($9.20) escaped with the win. “Loaded for bear and no place to go,” grimaced Doug Stout, who bred and trains Bearcat Josi for his son, Derek. “I’m convinced she was the best horse in the race. But sometimes crap like that happens. “That cost us $37,000,” Stout said of the difference between finishing first and third. “It’s no wonder horsemen like the occasional drink.
“Bill (driver Tainish) kept apologizing. He told me if we got out she would have won by 10 lengths. I finally had to tell him to stop saying that because it just made me madder. “It wasn’t Bill’s fault. Right from the get go, longshot She's On A Roll sat outside us almost the whole way and we were trapped.” Tainish backed up but and was going to go to the outside but then Maid In Alberta stalled on the outside and Bearcat Josi was blocked again.
“Again Billy had to take a hold and go back to the fence where there was still no room. “She never got to race; she made up about eight lengths in the stretch.” Stout said Bearcat Josi has been turned out for the winter.
“We’ll give her a couple of months off,” Stout said of the filly who won four of her seven starts and was never off the board. “She came out of it sound; we x-rayed everything and she’s 100 per cent. We’ll keep her in Alberta; she should make some pretty decent money here as a three-year-old,” said Stout, who is also training a half sister (by Mystery Chase) to Bearcat Josi (Bearcat Romi) that he believes might be just as good.
“But you never know in this game. You think you have a decent horse and then a week later you’re done. And then sometimes you think you’ve got another palooka and then, holy smokes, it turns out the other way.”
As mentioned Bearcat Josi wasn’t the only favourite to lose on the Super Finals card. Outlaw True Grit, the four-to-five choice, finished second to Custards Laststand ($13.60) in the two-year-old colts division and Outlaw Fireball, the heavy 2-5 favourite ended up second to 16-1 Wedding Dance in the three-year-old filly division. “(Outlaw Fireball) went wide up the back side and I had trouble getting her in a straight line,” said Gagne.
“I don’t know if she saw something or what happened but she was completely wide. When she hit the final turn she got going again but by then she was three wide. I figure it had to cost her four or five lengths.”
A winner of eight of her 13 starts this year and, like Bearcat Josi never out of the money, Gagne said Outlaw Fireball, who ended up winning $221,109, - topped by her victory in the $132,390 Northlands Filly Pace had “an unbelievable year. “She raced every single time in a stakes race of some sort. She campaigned hard,” Gagne, said of Outlaw Fireball, who was named last year’s two-year-old filly of the year and seems all but certain to be named this year’s three-year-old filly champion. “I might race her in Edmonton in a couple of months but we’ll see what the weather is like. But, right now, she needs a rest.”
Outlaw True Grit, the third favourite to fall on Super Finals day, has never been worse than second in nine outings this year. But second was all she could get in the two-year-old colt Super Final.
“It was a really good mile,” trainer and co-owner Rod Starkewski said of the race which went in 155.1. “I thought he would win but I wasn’t expecting that kind of a mile out of (Custards Laststand). He did everything properly this year and I’m looking for an even stronger three-year-old campaign. I think he learned a lot this year,” Starkewski said of Outlaw True Grit, who has been turned out for the year at Outlaw Farm in Falun, Alberta.
“He’s got a full brother, Smooth Criminal, racing down east that has won well over $400,000. Smooth Criminal could get hot-headed but Outlaw True Grit can come from off the pace or go to the top and not get too hot.” Like Bearcat Josi and Outlaw Fireball, Starkewski said Outlaw True Grit came out of the race “real good. “He has no issues at all which is nice.”
Owned by Kenn Gunn, Senga Nitro was the only favourite to win one of the four $80,000 Super Final stakes and he did it with authority widening his lead at will in a race that went in 1:54 3/5.
Follow me on Twitter at CurtisJStock