I spent a couple of days on the weekend, sitting in the backstretch at Century Downs, watching the races on television, and visiting with a number of folks who stopped by to chat. Sometimes it was about the outcome of a particular race. Other times it was about issues and concerns that they had about the state of the business going forward. The backdrop is that committees of owners and of breeders met on Saturday evening to talk about the future of the business. Some of the points raised included the following:
- The condition sheet hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years. It’s always a challenge for owners and trainers who have horses that struggle to find races. Tajmeallover is a perfect example. The 7 year old mare won again on Saturday and now has 44 wins from 78 lifetime starts and more than $315,000 in earnings. She’s been the dominant performer in the Open Mare class for 2-3 years now. She is a unique case, but by no means the only pacer to face an equitable challenge. Fortunately, to this point, others have been prepared to enter against her.
- Some racetracks have started to use a computerized post position draw. It has not been tried yet in Alberta but the technology seems to work. While some horsemen would like to see it, there has been no official request to management to install it.
Racing secretary, Jackson Wittup, can only work with the horses he’s got. He’s trying to run three days of racing per week with, perhaps, 250 horses. He’s trying to assemble race cards with full fields to satisfy the bettors. He’s starting to see some 2 year olds qualify and begin their racing careers. That will help. But like every other jurisdiction in North America, he has to work with far less talent than he had years ago. And he’s got 43 years of service in the industry.
- ASHA officials are wondering what the late fall meet that begins on Nov. 3rd at Century Downs is going to look like. The Super Finals are set for Saturday, Nov. 17th, so those trainers with eligible horses are going to have an interest in staying around. By that time, however, the Fraser Downs season will be underway. And there is a little more interest among some horsemen in racing through the winter at Cal-Expo in Sacramento. The question is going to be, what is going to be left to fill race cards at Century Downs between Nov. 3rd and Dec. 31st.
- If horse supply allowed 4-5 days of racing every week between (say) April 1st and November 1st, ASHA could make up its 110 or days of racing it is contracted to provide each season. But because there are fewer horses, the season has to be spread out over a longer period of time.
- Breeders are concerned about a slight decline in registered foals this year. There is a need for more new breeders in the province to replace those who leave, or to supplement those who are not breeding as many mares as they have in the past. There is some concern that a budding relationship with California racing, in that some Alberta-based stallions are being registered to be part of that state’s sires stakes program, may, in fact, be a detriment to Alberta racing.
I would have thought that having Alberta bred stock able to race in the California stakes program would have provided improved value to California trainers who might be looking for eligible yearlings at the ASHA yearling sale in September. That value might be further enhanced if a proposed Cal-Expo/Fraser Downs/Century Downs pacing series becomes a reality, although that idea is just starting to take root and there is an awful lot of work to be done to make it a reality. Not the least of the challenges is finding the dollars to make it work.
Some of the concerns that were addressed to me are about the need to make the industry work better, first and foremost, in Alberta.
The lifeblood of the racing business – if not the sport – is money. There is a general excitement about next spring’s opening of Century Mile in Leduc and what that could mean for the whole industry. But it’s likely going to be 2020 at the earliest before the industry knows what is going to be available in terms of additional revenues. Until that time, patience is going to be a frustrating but necessary emotion to doing business.
In the meantime, the phrase… ”what is in the best interest of the sport and of the business in Alberta”… needs to be the guiding principle of planning. The breeders and owners committees’ recommendations will be taken forward for general discussion by the ASHA board. In the midst of discussions over purse accounts and a racing schedule for 2019, it’s to be hoped that the sports’ leaders can produce a progressive agenda that will allow the industry to take advantage of opportunities. It would be sad if the discussions degenerated into…..what’s in it for me?”
Alberta Diamond Qualifying
Saturday marked the start of the second leg of qualifying for Super Finals in the 3 year old Alberta-sired filly division. Four horses – Duannes Horizon, Cusdmagicdragon, Imallaboutthechase and Ynothos - which were in the first leg, the Alberta Princess, chose not to compete in the Diamond. Remember, the goal is to accumulate enough money in the three eligible stakes (the Alberta Marquis, the third leg, is set for November, right before Super Finals), to make it to the $80,000 championship final on Nov. 17th. The top nine will get in with the next nine eligible qualifying for the consolation race, worth $15,000.
It was interesting to me that the interests of Duannes Horizon chose not to race in the Diamond. Instead, the horse was entered in a non-winners of 2. The pacer prevailed in 1:57.2 which would have been the 4th fastest time among stakes horses. Nonetheless, the nine fastest pacers from the three heats are moving on to Saturday’s final which will be worth $40,000 added. From elimination #1, we have Custard Lite, owned by Lorne Duffield and Rod Hennessy, Maid in Alberta, owned by Don Richardson and My Day, owned by Steve Crump. From elimination 2, True Horizon, owned by Monica Hudon and Don McDougall, Nice Aint My Colour, owned by Wild Dunes Stable of Delta BC, and Hot Kiss, owned by Kelly Hoerdt and Bill Andrew. And from elimination #3, Born A Dragon, owned by Keith Clark and John Fowlis, Ginger Beer, owned by Keith Clark, John Hind and Doris McDougall, and Blue Blew On By, owned by Debbie Campbell.
It gives trainer Sanford Campbell, who also trains Duannes Horizon, a horse in the Diamond final, although perhaps not the one he expected to have. It means Phil Giesbrecht, who guided both True Horizon and Born A Dragon into the winner’s circle, will have a decision to make about which horse to take on Saturday. True Horizon’s 1:56.4 was the fastest mile of all the qualifiers so it’ll be a good discussion with trainer Gerry Hudon over how to handle the assignment.
The biggest disappointment is not to see Derek Stout’s Bearcat Josi in the final. She got away slowly, trailed the field at the half and could only rally to be 4th in the third elimination. Trainer Doug Stout was at a loss to explain what went wrong. Roaring Home also failed to fire and finished 6th in the first elimination. She had won the Alberta Princess on June 9th and was the leading Super Finals qualifier coming into the Diamond.
Alberta Marksman Qualifying
Nine colts and geldings qualified Sunday for the final of the Alberta Marksman which is to be held this coming Sunday afternoon, July 22nd. It will go for a $55,000 added pot. The nine qualifiers are Freedoms Rescue, owned by William and Diane Neish, Custards Laststand, owned by Kelly Herdt and Blair Corbeil, Mystery Coz, owned by Joe Ratchford, Outlaw True Grit, owned by Rod Starkewski and Clauzette Byckal, In For The Chase, owned by Ken Gunn and Ashlee Sluggett, Mortgage My Villa, owned by Diane Bertrand, Screen Test, owned by Bill Andrew and Dan Sifert, Yankee Up, owned by Jamie Gray and Jim Rhodes, and Snap Test, owned by Keith Clark, Doris McDougall and Archie Benekos.
Rod Starkewski took a rare turn in the bike to steer Outlaw True Grit home in the second elimination in 1:55.4. Nathan Sobey qualified both Snap Test and Mortgage My Villa, so he’s going to have a decision to make about which horse to drive on Sunday.
Perhaps the most interesting story of this second leg of qualifying for Super Finals is Joe Ratchford’s Mystery Coz and driver Clint Warrington Jr. Mystery Coz has only made four starts this year after coming back from injury. But he has been impressive, and Warrington told Ratchford that he drives like a Porsche. He showed it in Sunday’s elimination. He was sixth at the half mile pole, closed outside in the third quarter and then found a spot along the rail to cruise to a third place finish.
“Just the race I wanted for him,” Ratchford told me. “He wasn’t used hard and he’s coming along nicely. He missed the Alberta Plainsman last month because I didn’t think he was ready. But he was promising at age 2 before he got hurt and I like how he’s come back so far this season.”
Warrington is an interesting story too. The 58 year old teamster has an impressive resume in the sport. His father, Clint Sr., grew up in the business in Milton Ontario, but moved to New Jersey in the late 1950’s. Clint Jr. started out under his father’s tutelage, working for Hall of Fame horseman, Stanley Dancer.
“I remember being a half hour late for work one day,” he told me. “After morning chores, Mr. Dancer called me into his office and told me the next time I was late for work would be the last time and that if it happened again, I could just pick up my cheque. He was nice and polite about it, but I knew he meant it. I said “yes sir, and I was never late again.”
“I was also lucky enough to meet and compete with some of the outstanding horsemen in the history of this industry. I met Herve Filion one day at Freehold Raceway in New Jersey. He always walked around with a briefcase and I was curious about what he carried inside it. Pens, pencils, notepads, he looked professional and acted like a businessman. “Act like a professional,” he told me. I’ve never forgotten that lesson either.”
“I worked for a time for the late Robert Murphy in Vancouver, which is where I met my wife. My first job for him was breaking yearlings at Kelly McMillan’s place in Kelowna. Mr. Murphy had horses with half a dozen trainers in B.C. and he always wanted the best horse at the time to be in a race. So, you never knew for sure where, or if, a horse you were training was going to get into a race. You had to be ready all the time.”
“I like to work and I love to drive in races. When I raced in the U.S., Freehold and Yonkers in New York were both running six days a week. The Meadowland was open by then as well. So I could drive Freehold in the afternoon and make it to one or the other of the New York tracks for the evening racing.”
That’s how you build a resume of 1,173 wins from 11,724 starts. His horses have earned more than $6.2 million in purses. There’s a confidence that comes from experience, from good work habits, and from having had a strong of good horses to work with over the years. He has half a dozen horses in his stable at Century Downs at the moment. None of them are world class but each of them is going to race like a professional every time it steps on the track. Clint Warrington Jr., learned that lesson a long time ago, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
There’ll be a shakeup in the 3 year old colt division following Sunday’s final. Exit Smiling is on the limp and did not start in the Marksman. He was the leading money winner in the Alberta Plainsman series. Fortunately for driver-trainer, Jamie Gray, it gave him a chance to concentrate on Yankee Up, which finished second to Screen Test in its elimination to earn a spot in the final. Yankee Up comes into this series ranked 4th in the standings for the Super Finals.
Marjorie Dumont picked a great time for her first professional drive. It came on Saturday when she piloted Watch My Luck in the Open Mare class.“She’s not an easy mare to handle,” Marjorie told me. Fortunately she knows me and I’ve handled her a lot at the farm. But she had acted up in the previous start, so I was just happy to get around with her.”
Stablemate, Tajmeallover with J-F Gagne at the controls took the lead early and went on to win the race… a bunch of 2 year olds qualified on the weekend and three which had qualified a week earlier, saw their first pari-mutuel action on Saturday afternoon. Lady Neigh Neigh, owned by Chris Lambie and trainer, Chris Lancaster was third in her debut to lead performances by the sophomore class. They’re starting to prep for the Emerald Filly and for the Century Bets which will be the inaugural 2 year old stakes events of the season. Both are to be a part of a terrific day of stakes racing on the holiday Monday, August 6th. That program, which will highlight Century Downs Week of Racing, will also include the Gord & Illa Rumpel Memorial Stake for 3 year old fillies, and the Ralph Klein Memorial for 3 year old colts and geldings… a terrific Monday for trainer Brent Bodor. His horses Classy Artist (1:53.3) and Town Speaker (1:54) finished first and second in the 8th race, a $10,000 claimer. Bodor just claimed Town Speaker last week. He followed that in the 9th race with Tricky Bet (1:56) and Itchin To CU (1:56.1) finishing first and second. Bodor finished the 10th race with Test Pattern picking up a second place cheque against non-winners of $22,000 lifetime. A small stable has a good day… Sanford Campbell is back on top in the trainers’ standings in terms of wins. He has 28 now, four more than Rod Hennessy. Phil Giesbrecht with 3 wins on Monday has re-taken the lead among drivers with 40, one more than Jamie Gray……Racing Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 1:15 PM and Monday afternoon at 4:25 PM.