Thursday, 06 October 2016 17:16

As always there are Questions

Written by Curtis Stock
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But it just seems like there are even more questions than usual concerning Monday’s Thanksgiving Day program - a racing card which, with four stakes races headed by the most intriguing Harvest Gold Plate, shouldn’t be missed.

So, let’s play Jeopardy to try and sort a few things out. “I’ll take The Harvest Gold Plate for $100 Alex.” “Ok, here’s the answer: This horse has more kilometres on him lately than a West Jet frequent flyer and will have to be tougher than a $5 steak at a roadside diner.”

BZZZ — “Who is Killin Me Smalls?”

That would be correct. In the last month Killin Me Smalls has been from Edmonton to Vancouver, back to Edmonton, back to Vancouver and then back to Edmonton. So how is all that travelling going to affect him? “I don’t know,” honestly answered trainer Ernie Keller. “He’s lightly raced this year so hopefully it doesn’t bother him at all. He recovers fast.”

Killin Me Smalls has shown quick recuperation in the past. Earlier this year, for instance, Killin Me Smalls ran twice within a week. After finishing second in an allowance race on June 11, he ran ran a bang-up second just a week later in the Spangled Jimmy. The latter was a titanic duel between Killin Me Smalls and Blue Dancer, who is also entered in the Harvest Gold, hooking up from the outset while battling through ferocious early fractions.

Killin Me Smalls finished second - by half a length - but there was no taking away anything from him after that effort. Now, Killin Me Smalls, last year’s Champion Horse of the Year, Champion Sprinter and Champion Older Horse, will have to do that again but this time after those back-to-back jaunts to B.C.

After winning the Aug. 20 Westerner - by a neck over Royal Warrior, who is also entered in the powerful Harvest Gold Plate field, - Killin Me Smalls was hauled to Vancouver for the Sept. 12 SW Randall Plate where he took the lead turning for home but tired and finished fifth.

Hauled home to Edmonton, Killin Me Smalls was then sent back to Vancouver’s Hastings Park for last week’s Oct. 1 $100,000 Premiers which he won by a diminishing head. “By that much,” said Keller holding his thumb and index finger a few inches apart. Now, on Monday and just nine days later, he will be asked to do it again which is a lot to summon from a thoroughbred. “This is his last race of the season. If it wasn’t I may not have even entered him. We ask a lot of our horses at the end of the season,” said Keller.

Back to Jeopardy.

“I’ll stick with the same category, Alex. Harvest Gold Plate for $200.” Answer: This horse has faced Killin Me Smalls three times this year winning the first two meetings.

BZZZ — “Who is Blue Dancer?”

Correct again. Blue Dancer defeated Killin Me Smalls in both the afore mentioned tenacious Spangled Jimmy and then again in the July 16 Fred Jones. “In the Fred Jones we decided to take Killin Me Smalls back and try and make one good run at him,” said Keller. “We thought we’d rest him early in the race but it turned out that Blue Dancer was the one who got the rest and he got away from us.”

The third time Killin Me Smalls and Blue Dancer met was in the Aug. 20 Westerner. “I told Keishan (jockey Balgobin) to go right at Blue Dancer, look him in the eye and see what happens,” said Keller.

What happened was another blustery, epic showdown. As they did in the Spangled Jimmy, Killin Me Smalls and Blue Dancer hooked up from the outset and again - through very quick early fractions - went toe to toe. This time Killin Me Smalls took his revenge putting away Blue Dancer and then all out to hold off Royal Warrior.

Back again to Jeopardy. “Ill go to What Happened for $100.” Answer: After just missing in the Westerner, this horse won the mile and three-eighths Speed to Spare but then came up empty in Vancouver?

BZZZ — “Who is Royal Warrior?”

Like Killin Me Smalls, Royal Warrior also contested last week’s Premiers but completely misfired finishing sixth. The explanation here is probably the fractions. Unlike the ferociously contested Westerner, the late-running Royal Warrior didn’t have a pace to run at in the Premiers as Killin Me Smalls was able to coast through an opening quarter mile in :25 1/5, a half in :49 2/5 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:14 3/5. With Blue Dancer - and Corky’s Luck - in the field on Monday slow early fractions seem as unlikely as Donald Trump paying taxes. 

Before we leave the Harvest Gold Plate let’s do one more Jeopardy answer: This former Horse of the Year exits his first win in over a year but still figures.

BZZZ — “Who is For Cash?”

Absolutely. After tying up in the Fred Jones - an ailment when a horse’s muscles (usually the hindquarters) cramp and seize up - and unraced for two months - For Cash was back to himself in the Alberta Breeders’. While the Sept. 17 Breeders’ was restricted to Alberta-breds and therefore a much easier spot For Cash’s class cannot be discounted. He is, afterall, a winner of 10 lifetime races for earnings close to half a million dollars. The Accuser, third in the Canadian Derby, and Water Wagon, second to For Cash in the Breeders’, complete the field and cannot be dismissed either. “It should be a great race,” said Northlands racing secretary Jason Teague of what should rival the Canadian Derby as far as drama and expectations are concerned.

The other three stakes races on Monday’s card are the Freedom Of The City for two-year-old fillies; the Canadian Juvenile for two-year-old colts and geldings and the Duchess of York for fillies and mares. The latter figures to be a showdown between Hero’s Amor and Onestaratatime. After cruising to victories in the City of Edmonton and the Madamoiselle, Hero’s Amor faltered badly in her last outing - the Delta Colleen at Hastings on Sept. 10.

Which brings us to Jeopardy again: What Happened for $200. What exactly did happen to Hero’s Amor? 

“Probably the fractions,” said Teague of a race where Hero’s Amor was hooked from the outset while forced to fractions of :46.54 and 1:11.76. “Those were pretty fast for a mare,” said Teague. “She won in Hastings last year (in the B.C. Oaks) and the fractions were swift then too she was just off the pace instead of being right on it in the Delta Colleen.”

As for Onestaratatime she has absolutely dominated three-year-old fillies with four straight wins - the Red Smith, the Northlands Oaks, the Sonoma and the Alberta Oaks. But now she’s hooking older mares for the first time although at this late time of the season that often doesn’t matter. “She’s training real good,” said trainer Greg Tracy, whose horses will be major factors in all four stakes races.

While both Hero’s Amor and Onestaratatime both appear to like the front-end, both horses have shown they can come off the pace. The latter may be particularly true of Onestaratatime, who probably was just so dominant against three-year-old fillies that she simply went uncontested to the lead in those four stakes wins. Last year, Onestaratatime demonstrated her versatility in her five length romp in the Sturgeon River while coming from off the pace. 

Hero’s Amor also showed she is capable of sitting just off the pace and with Blameitontheknight with speed on the rail wouldn’t want to get into a speed duel again.

The Canadian Juvenile will see Norm’s Big Bucks try for his fourth straight win - the previous three coming rather handily - but still needs to show he can get the extra distance. Otherwise Hyannisport, who comes off a laughing maiden-breaking voyage in the slop, will be right there. “I’m pretty sure he’ll like the extra distance,” said Tracy, Hyannisport’s trainer. “He looked very professional winning last time out - making a nice little run after getting dirt kicked in his face. We’ve always been high on him.”

Tracy also sends out Ruffenuff in the Freedom of the City, a race where she will be heavily favoured again after toying with her rivals in her two previous outings - albeit against just two rivals in both of those wins. “She should run long,” said Tracy of Ruffenuff being asked to run a mile for the first time. “She’s well bred and is in good shape coming into this race. I’m expecting to see a good performance.”

Final Jeopardy answer: “The fans.”

Question: Who wins Monday’s races?

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