There’s always a little more excitement at the races when the Alberta Sire Stakes program gets underway. It’s exciting for fans to watch the best of the Alberta-breds compete against each other in added-money events. It’s exciting for owners and breeders who look forward to collecting a little of that extra money if their horses show their best. Of course the owners and breeders have already made an investment in the program in the form of sustaining payments, purchases, vet bills, and so forth. It’s nerve wracking, but exciting, for drivers and trainers who have prepared their horses to be at their best when it means the most.
That adds up to a lot of excitement for the inaugural legs of the Alberta Princess for 3 year old fillies on Saturday and the start of the Alberta Plainsman for 3 year old colts and geldings on Sunday afternoon at Century Downs. In each case, the two series are the first of three qualifiers for each sex leading to Super Finals which are set for Nov. 17th. Money is accumulated for performance in each leg and final. The top nine horses go to the Super Final championship race, worth $80,000. The next nine qualify for the consolation final worth $15,000.
In addition to the Alberta Princess Stake, the fillies will have a chance to compete in the Alberta Diamond in July and in the Alberta Marquis in October. After the Plainsman, the colts get two more turns to qualify, in the Alberta Marksman in July and in the Alberta Maverick in October.
It’s not necessary to race in each of the three stakes in order to qualify for Super Finals. Injury or lack of readiness may influence what trainers do with their horses. All that’s necessary is to build enough of a bankroll in the qualifying races to make it to Nov. 17th.
“I think we’ll likely have three divisions for the colts and two divisions for the fillies this weekend,” racing secretary, Jackson Wittup, told me.
“If we get two divisions for the fillies, they’ll go for $7,500 apiece,” added ASHA executive director, Fred Gillis. “If we need three divisions for the colts, we’ll make sure each division goes for $7,500 as well.”
The bigger stables will be well represented as usual. But the story here is one of the small owners: a man who has one eligible “good” horse that he hopes will earn him a picture or two in the winner’s circle.
William Neish learned early in life how to recognize good value in horses and in cattle. As a youngster growing up in Scotland, he worked on the family farm. The horses were Clydesdales which meant they were built for power rather than for speed. At 16, Neish came to Canada to work, first in the Peterbough area in Ontario and later in western Canada. His skills with animals ensured steady work, although the work was part time for more than three decades. He served as the director of a recreational facility in High River for 35 years.
“I always had a horse or two,” he told me on Sunday morning. “I bought Campasser from Jim Rhodes and that horse earned about $250,000 at the races. I think I paid about the same price for Blue Star Admiral and he made about $200,000. He’s still racing. He’s now in Dave Kelly’s barn. And I have got one mare and a 2 year old filly that’s showing some promise.”
“Glen Lutz is down as trainer for me because I never bothered to take out my license. I do most of my own work, though. I just like being in the backstretch and spending time with the people there. I’m very comfortable in that setting.”
He’s also comfortable with what he’s got in a 3 year old pacer named Freedoms Rescue. The horse has earned almost $8,000 this year to this point, including a runner-up share behind Ready N Steady in the Norm Kennedy Memorial last week. He finished third in a tuneup race on Sunday afternoon.
“I bought him privately from Sam Johnson after I couldn’t find anything at last year’s ASHA yearling sale,” Neish told me. “I’d looked at several horses that Sam had available and liked this one. So far, he’s done fine. So we’ll put him into the Plainsman and see how he goes.”
Freedoms Rescue will face some good competition. Sam Johnson has another colt of his own, President Elect, which broke his maiden on Sunday afternoon. Kelly Hoerdt may have the colt to beat, though, as Custards Laststand won again on Sunday, this time against non-winners of 6 competition. The 3 year old son of Custard the Dragon, out of the Matts Scooter mare, The Mattican, has amassed a 3-0-1 record and $18,840 in six starts this year. He’s closing in on $93,000 in career earnings with the bulk of the 3 year old season still to come. If he stays healthy, he’s got a chance to do really well for Hoerdt and co-owner, Blair Corbeil.
On the filly side, Hoerdt has a sharp looking 3 year old in Hot Kiss, which won a non-winners of 2 on Saturday, leading from wire to wire to stop the clock in 1:58.2. We didn’t see Bearcat Josi on the weekend, but owner, Derek Stout, assures me her name will be in the entry box on Wednesday morning. Born A Dragon gives Keith Clark at least one potential starter and Just Get It Done (Preston Shaw) and Imallaboutthechase (Carl Archibald) were first and third respectively in non-winners of 2 company on Saturday afternoon. Those two trainers will be giving some thought to their chances in the first leg of the Alberta Princess.
Speaking of Preston Shaw…
It was nice to see the young teamster take three middle to long shots and bring them all home on Saturday afternoon. Just Get It Done paced in 1:59.2 and paid $31.10 to win. Alexas Princess rallied in the stretch to beat eight challengers in 1:58.2 at the $10,000 claiming level. Run And Tell got the job done in 1:57.2 against $4,500 claiming competition.
“This is just my third year driving and it’s the first time I’ve won three races on a program,” Shaw told me. “I’ve won a couple of races on a program before but never three. And it was nice that both my dad and my grandfather could be here to join me in the winner’s circle.”
“He did a good job for me with Alexas Princess,” said trainer, Gord Abbott. “Paul Davies usually drives for me but he chose to drive Goldies Mach in the same race (Goldies Mach finished third). Preston does a lot of shoeing work for me so I decided I’d give him a shot. He did just fine.”
The win with Just Get It Done came after he overhauled Hall of Famer, Keith Clark who had Never Say Sorry in front for most of the race.
“I’m still learning,” said Shaw. “I need to know what my own horse is capable of doing. But I need to be better at watching how a race unfolds and then try to take advantage of any opportunities. I’m learning I don’t need to be on the lead off the gate to have a chance.”
Pacing For Charity…
Preston Shaw, and others, could learn a lot by watching three of the best in the world, who took part in Sunday’s Pacing For Charity event at Century Downs. World driving champion, James McDonald, former two time world champion, Jody Jamieson, and 2017 O’Brien award winner, Doug McNair all raced on Saturday evening, jumped on a flight Sunday morning, and arrived in time to drive most of the afternoon card. McDonald was the big winner with 3 victories on behalf of Juvenile diabetes. Jamieson picked up a win for autism and McNair, who won five straight races in last year’s event, had to settle for a single win this time to benefit Perky in Pink.
"It was great day...the weather was perfect, the track was in tip-top shape and they treated us great! Fortunately for me I had all the favourites and put a beating on Jody and Doug," McDonald told Standardbred Canada. "We had fun and it’s for a great cause."
That point was echoed by Nathan Sobey who booked off one favourite, Mortgage My Villa, so that McDonald could score one of his three victories. All this in the midst of local qualifying for the west regional drivers challenge which is coming up on June 23rd at Century Downs.
“It’s not about the drivers challenge, today, it’s all about the charities,” said Sobey.
Drivers Challenge Update…
Jamie Gray and Serge Masse each scored a couple of wins on the Sunday program. Gray, who has weathered a couple of seasons of indifferent results, has come alive this spring, thanks in part to a 3 year old, Yankee Up, and the 4 year old, Ima Keepsake. Expect to see Yankee Up’s name in the entry box for Sunday’s Alberta Plainsman.
Masse brought home a couple of veterans, Lizard King in the first race of the day and Da Magician in the eleventh and final. Da Magician got in a tightener last week but closed nicely on the final turn and beat Justabitcrazy by a whisker at the wire in 1:55.
With 2 weekends of racing before the cutoff to qualify for the regional drivers challenge there’s a torrid race for the top 4 spots. Phil Giesbrecht had 3 winners on Monday to tie Jamie Gray and Dave Kelly for the lead with 19 wins apiece. Paul Davies is 4th with 17 wins, but he’s already qualified for the west regional thanks to his work earlier this year at Fraser Downs. He, Jim Marino – assuming he’s healthy by then and he’s making good progress from a left knee injury – and Dave Hudon will represent the BC track. Kelly Hoerdt has 16 wins and Nathan Sobey has 14 victories through Monday. The top four drivers after racing concludes on June 10th will represent Century Downs in the west regional on June 23rd.
A total of 19 horses went through the Paddock Sale last Friday night at Century Downs. Ten of them came from a roadtrip by ASHA representatives to the Springfield Ohio sale the week before. At that auction, a consortium of interests led by Alberta Standardbred picked up nine fillies and mares along with an unraced two year old filly. It’s hoped that the racing stock will help to supplement various classes at the entry box for the moment and that the fillies and mares will help the breeding industry in the future. Prices ranged from $1,000 to $15,000 for the horses that were sold. Two local entries in the sale went without a bid. All but two of the horses were bought by local interests which means their racing careers will likely continue here in Alberta. It’s unlikely we’ll see any of the newest residents in a race until the second weekend in June at the earliest. They’ve not been jogged or trained since their arrival in Alberta week ago.
“We’ll likely try to put another sale together in November,” ASHA executive director, Fred Gillis, told me. “It’s a tough business. We’re dealing with a high U.S. dollar and a chronic shortage of racing stock around North America. That makes prices for horses that much more expensive. We had a cou-ple of inquiries from Ontario about what was available in the sale. We learned that we have to be careful about what we buy in the U.S. so that we’re bringing back horses that people in Alberta can afford to purchase. And, of course, it’ll take some time to see how these horses do on our racetracks.”
“But, at our board meeting on Saturday evening, we talked about a number of things and the decision was made to try and do it again. I do know this: if you don’t try and do something to improve your industry, absolutely nothing good will happen.”
Horse Racing Alberta has approved ten dates of fall racing for The Track on 2, formerly known as Alberta Downs, located at Lacombe. The dates are September 1st, 2nd , 3rd , 8th , 16th and 30th, and then the four Sundays in October: the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th.
“We needed to find a place to race between the time we finish at Century Downs on August 25th and when we can start racing at Northlands Park in Edmonton,” Fred Gillis told me. With Northlands racing Friday and Saturday evenings, we’re free to race on Sunday afternoons in Lacombe. It’s a reasonable commute and we think we’ll have enough horses to provide a good level of entertainment at both venues.”
Track on 2 was purchased last summer by Red Deer businessmen Kurt Belich and Ross Morrison. They have poured dollars into a major renovation of the grandstand and have applied to the county planning department to add a number of new features to what they can offer to both the public and to the horsemen.
“We’ve got lots of work to do this summer but we’ll be ready by Labour Day,” Belich told me. “We’re working on a bunch of things that will allow us to be a year round entertainment facility for central Alberta.”