Beautiful sunny weather all weekend for harness racing at Century Downs in Balzac, and the pacers made the most of it with strong competitive racing, highlighted by the first two added-money events of the season.
Perhaps the big equine winner on the weekend was the stallion, Custard The Dragon, whose offspring claimed both divisions of the Moore’s Mile on Saturday, and one division of the Norm Kennedy Memorial on Sunday. It was the first stakes events of the season. Custard Lite scored in the first division in 1:56.3 for owners Lorne Duffield of Edmonton and Rod Hennessy of Falun, AB. Cusdmagicdragon took the second division in 1:55.2 for Blair and Erme Corbeil and co-owner, driver-trainer, Kelly Hoerdt. On Sunday, Hoerdt scored again with Custard the Dragon’s son, Custards Laststand in 1:55.3. The other division went to Ready N Steady with Jamie Gray in the bike on behalf of Wild Dune Stables from Delta BC. Ready N Steady led wire to wire and set a blistering pace with a :56.1 clocking in the first half mile.
Custard the Dragon is co-owned by Al Neurauter and by Kelly McMillan’s Surdale Farms out of Kelowna, BC. The horse stands at Olds College where Marion Anderson and her staff have done a good job in managing the now 12 year old stallion.
“We’re really pleased with him,” Neurater told me on Monday morning. “He bred four mares before we bought him and two of those horses have done well. The three year olds are his oldest class since we brought him to Alberta. We’ve bred him mostly to our own mares this spring. We think if his progeny continue to do well, the value of what he is producing will increase. So, we’re going for quality, rather than quantity.”
“We’ve also registered him for the California Sire Stakes program, so we think that should help his value and, perhaps, bring some potential new buyers to the ASHA yearling sale in the fall.”
There’s a moment to salute one of the most important companies affiliated with horses in Alberta. Moore’s Equine Veterinary Clinic has been a part of the Alberta scene since 1951. It has gone through a number of ownerships and is presently in the hands of Chris Berezowski, Greg Evans, and Shawn Mattson. All three are veterinarians and are part of a team of 18 vets who work out of the Balzac clinic, and the clinic adjacent to the Calgary Polo Club in DeWinton.
“A couple of our people like Mike Scott are part of the veterinary faculty at the University of Calgary,” Chris Berezowski told me. “We do at least 10,000 appointments a year, so we’re pretty busy. And, of course, we serve all parts of the equine industry. The work we do with breeders is done mostly at the DeWinton site. We work with several stallions, including Outrageous Art, the newest standardbred sire in the province. We do a lot of work with showjumping mares which are often bred to sires that are in Europe. Embryo transfers are part of what we do.”
As for its sponsorship of the Moore’s Mile, the company had about a dozen people on hand to be part of the winner’s circle photographs. “It’s important for us to be part of this,” Berezowski told me.
And it was wonderful to see Morinne Kennedy and her family at the races on Sunday afternoon. The group included three of the Kennedy grandsons, Max, Sam, and Ian. Before we lost Norm last September, he named one of his yearlings Maxsamian. That yearling is now a precocious 2 year old filly and training very well, according to Rod Starkewski. The family took part in the winner’s circle trophy presentation, meaning the Kennedy name will live on in the story of the Alberta standardbred industry. How appropriate for a man who gave about thirty years of his life to the sport and the business in this province.
Off to a Sale…
This won’t be the first time that Alberta horsemen have ventured out to see if they can find some new racehorses with the potential to become part of the breeding industry down the trail. But, given the shortage of racing stock across the continent at the moment, it’ll be really interesting to see if they can acquire some good horses. The challenge is that every other racing jurisdiction in North America is looking for horses and the Canadian dollar is at about 78 cents to the US buck.
Nonetheless, ASHA President, Bill Andrew, and trainer drivers Dave Kelly and Harold Haining will be at the Ohio Sale on Tuesday and they have done their homework. There are just over 400 horses in the sale and about 90 of them fit the specifications ASHA has developed in terms of what is needed here.
“Bill’s done a terrific job developing pedigrees on the horses we’ve identified as having what we need,” ASHA executive director, Fred Gillis, told me. “We spent several hours last week looking at videos. We’re hoping we can find eight to ten mares that are still racing but that we can make a part of our breeding program in the next couple of years. They’re going to move 400+ horses through the sales ring in a day. So we need to know what we’re interested in and what we can afford before we get on a plane.”
One of the mares on the “possible” list is Shark Festival, the now 7 year old mare, which was originally bred by Keith Clark of DeWinton and by Harvey and Ann Jaeger of Okotoks. At 2, she won the Premier’s and the Emerald Filly Pace. She raced in Alberta until July of 2016 before being sold. Her current owner, Medinah Racing of Las Vegas, has decided to move her and she wound up in the Ohio Sale. She may be a bit pricey for what the ASHA buyers can afford now, but they’ve certainly had a look at her. Shark Festival has a lifetime record of 19-16-8 from 116 starts. She’s earned better than $145,000 and has a career mark of 1:53.3 which she set at Cal Expo in California.
The project has been tried before and there’s been a fair bit of chatter about it in the backstretch. ASHA will conduct a paddock sale of whatever is returned to Alberta on Friday, May 25th, around 5:30 PM at Century Downs. If everything works out and ASHA is able to recover its investment, expect the idea to be tried again this fall.
The last of the Alberta regulars who headed to Cal Expo in Sacramento to spend the winter racing season, have now returned. Quentin and Kim Schneider are stabled at the fairgrounds in Olds and ran their first horses back in Alberta on Sunday. Schneider finished tenth in the track’s trainer stats. He had a good winter with a 26-33-14 log from 175 starters.
Rene Goulet checked in the middle of last week, without a lot of racing stock, but with a positive attitude about the time away from this province.
“It was nice to get away and race in a different jurisdiction,” he told me. “I had been there about 20 years ago but hadn’t been back since. I think it’s good to see what folks in other parts of the country are doing and talking about, and seeing what’s important to them. And yes, I did well and was really pleased with the way I was treated. I’m already looking forward to going back to California this fall.”
The personable Goulet is in his 32nd year in the industry. He started out in Manitoba but worked a bunch of years for Alberta horseman, Gord Bryan and for BC horseman, the late Robert Murphy. On his most recent foray to California, he finished eighth among the drivers with a 29-20-22 log from 257 tours around the track. That pushed his career driving wins over the 700 mark.
Also back is driver-trainer, Ryan Grundy. After a long ship and a little rest, his horses made their first appearance of the season at Century Downs on Saturday and Grundy drove Shesamysterytome into the winner’s circle in Race 5. He also scored in both starts on Sunday with two from his own stable. In For The Chase won Race #3 and the veteran, Justabitcrazy took Race #9. Grundy was 10thin the Cal Expo drivers standings with a 22-23-29 record from 210 starters.
Chase to the Challenge…
Four weeks to go for drivers hoping to be a part of the west regional driving challenge at Century Downs on Saturday, June 23rd. The cutoff to qualify is Sunday, June 10th. Dave Kelly continues to lead the locals with 18 wins from 83 drives. Phil Giesbrecht and veteran Jamie Gray have joined Nathan Sobey in a tie for second with 13 wins apiece. Kelly Hoerdt, who wasn’t on hand for the start of the Century Downs meet, is catching up quickly. He’s up to 11 wins from just 33 starters. The top four drivers from Century Downs will be part of the west regional.
Hoerdt is also closing ground in the trainers’ standings. He’s tied for third with Rod Hennessy and Rod Starkewski, each with 10 wins. They’re all chasing Sanford Campbell who continues to lead the race with 13 victories.
Jim Marino is making good progress after a spill last weekend. “I’m at the clinic for a progress report on Tuesday,” he told me. I’ve got this brace and crutches for the moment. I know I’ve got a hairline crack in my left knee, but apparently I won’t need surgery. My goal is to be ready for the regional drivers challenge here at Century Downs on June 23rd.” Until then he’ll have to be patient which isn’t one of his strongest suits. He can count on a number of colleagues to help train, care for, and drive the more than a dozen horses he has stabled at Century Downs… Race 7 on the Saturday program produced quite the final leaderboard. Eleven year old Golden Time was the winner, followed by the 10 year old gelding, Steal The Diamonds, and another eleven year old gelding, Rockulese. The pace wasn’t bad either: 1:58.3. Just a bunch of old pals out for an afternoon. The kids in the nine horse field, included 4-9 year olds, let the seniors have their day… Paul Davies added three more wins to his seasonal total on Saturday. He scored with Custard Lite in the first race, Golden Time in the seventh, and with a huge longshot in the tenth race. Dreaming of Fancy paid a whopping $109.70 for a $2 win ticket for owner, Don M Jr. Stables and trainer, Shelly Arsenault of Sherwood Park. Davies has already qualified out of Fraser Downs for the west regional drivers challenge along with Marino, and with Dave Hudon, who is expected to send horses to Century Downs in the next couple of weeks… congratulations to 8 year old Porter and 12 year old Liberty who were the local winners in the Name The Foal contest put on by Meridian Farms. More than one hundred entries from all over Canada were received this year, giving the judges a real challenge… Victoria Day weekend heralds the start of 3 days a week of racing. The call to the post will sound at 1:15 PM Saturday, Sunday, and Monday afternoons.