When jockey Kwame Joseph gave Kiss Me Perfect a flawless ride - taking the mare to the rail to save ground, moving past horses on the backstretch and then coming four wide around the final turn to hold steady - he flipped open the memory machine.
Joseph, you have to know, was riding Kiss Me Perfect for his father Lionel, who both trains and co-owns the seven-year-old mare with Leroy Blake.
That immediately sprung open the gates to this question: When is the last time that a Northlands jockey won a race for his dad in Alberta?
For the answer you have to back at least 36 years when Ron Hansen, who led the jockey standings three times in Alberta before moving on to California, rode for his dad Dale. Before that you had Dwayne and Larry Wiseman, two jockeys who rode for their father, Orville. And then there was Rod Haynes, who won about 40 races for his dad, Lee. Other than that the memory bank is closed.
“It was always special to win for my father,” said Rod, who retired from riding in 1973 and went to be a very successful trainer - an occupation he still enjoys today.
“On recognized tracks I probably won about 20 times for him. In the ‘bushes’ - in places like Millville and Prince Alberta, Saskatchewan it would have been even more,” said Rod, who, believe it or not, was only 10 years old when he started riding quarter horses for his dad.
“My dad used to rodeo and I remember there was a little track outside of a rodeo grounds and I rode his roping horse. We lined up, they said ‘Go’ and I won the race that was the start of it,” said Haynes, who would go on to train great horses like 2003 Canadian Derby winner Raylene as well as the multiple stakes winning Roll On Briartic, who was named Alberta’s champion older horse in 2003 and 2004 and who set a track record at Stampede Park in Calgary.
But back to Kwame and Lionel.
“It was great,” said Kwame, 19, who started his riding career in at the Cassada Gardens track in Antigua and Barbuda. “It was great to win but it was even more special because it was for my father.”
Surprisingly, while Kiss Me Perfect went off at 7-1 and paid $17.30 to win, neither Kwame or Lionel were the least bit amazed that she won even if it was the horse’s first race of the year and that in her last start last year she went off at 61-1.
“She was working good for me,” said Kwame. “She wanted to run. She was ready to run. I had my hopes high.”
Lionel concurred. “It didn’t surprise me at all. When I worked her I knew she would run well,” said Lionel, who trained horses in Antigua and Barbuda for 23 years - a country that is one of the Caribbean's premier tourist destinations.
“The way she was training I knew she would win,” he said of Kiss Me Perfect, who had prepped for the $5,000 claiming race with a solid five-furlong work of 1:00 2/5 and a four-furlong move of :49 4/5.
“I’m the trainer so it’s something I should know. “She recuperated very fast from whatever training I gave her.”
Lionel, however, never bet a nickel. “I’m not the type of person that likes to bet. If one of my horses wins I get money (from the purse) anyway. So there is no reason for me to bet.”
But it was still up to Kwame to get the job done. “There was pressure on me to judge the race right. “I had to ride a perfect race and I think I did,”Kwame said of the ground-saving trip before circling the field around the final turn.
“I had to do a lot more riding than I usually have to do. I had to get her in her comfort zone. I didn’t want to get her going too early or too late. “She prefers to come from behind. I think she’ll do the same thing when she goes longer.” said
Kwame, who left Antigua and Barbuda three years ago because they only race in that country two times a month; Kwame wanted to ride more often.
Lionel, a tireless worker who was also a building contractor in Antigua and Barbuda, also wanted more racing.
“My son wanted more opportunities and so did I so we left Antiqua three years ago,” said Lionel, who went with Kwame to Toronto first and then, two years later came to Northlands, which had sent Kwame an invitation to ride here.
“Kwame is the first international rider from my country and I’m the first trainer to leave Antiqua to come to Canada.
“I left because my son wanted his career and he could not reach very far back home. Hopefully he can do it here.”
When Kiss Me Perfect won that race two weeks ago it was the first time Kwame had been aboard because he was battling weight problems didn’t ride at all last year.
“Last year I weighed 124 pounds which is too heavy to ride,” said Kwame, who is quite tall. “This year I weigh 119 pounds and I have to problem making that weight. I worked on my weight through the winter and got it under control.
“My goal is to be the leading rider at Northlands. I’m hopeful that this win will just be the start for me. I just need to get some more good horses to ride; then I’ll be alright.”
Getting good horses to ride is now the job of Kwame’s agent, Ken Gilkyson, who just took over Kwame’s book from Graham Niblett.
“He’s a strong rider and he’s not afraid of anything,” said Gilkyson. “He reminds me a little bit of Delbert Rycroft. They’ll both ride anything.”
Niblett, who has just taken over the riding assignments for Rigo Sarmiento, a veteran rider who has just arrived from Venezuela - where he was the leading jockey for several years, said Kwame looks good on a horse.
“If he can keep his weight under control he’s going to do well.” Kwame said he doesn’t have a particular riding style. “Every horse is different. I ride according to the style of the horse. Everybody has a different way of getting along with a horse.
“I guess I’m an in-between rider. I don’t hustle them too much early and I don’t relax them too much either. “The riding style and the training styles are quite different at Northlands than they are back home in Antigua.
“Horses train more rounds in the mornings there but the horses are stronger here. And they ride tighter back home than they do here.”
Lionel said he expects Kwame to win more races for him. “He rides very well. He’s aggressive but not too aggressive. He always gets the job done.”
For Kwame and Lionel, horse racing is a family affair. Lionel’s wife, Lesley, works with him in the barn while two other sons of Lionel, Rey and Jordan, also work at the track. Rey, 34, is an exercise rider; Jordan, 22, grooms Lionel’s horses.
All five live together. “We all live together; we all work together,” said Lionel, who especially likes dealing with younger horses but also likes to work with horses that have difficulties.
“I like to go to the sales and buy yearlings. But I also know a bit. I can see if a horse has problems - problems that I think I can get corrected.”
There are two stakes races at Northlands tonight (Friday) and two more on Saturday including the $50,000 Journal Handicap where Ready Intaglio, last year’s Canadian Derby winner and just announced 2016 Horse of the Year, will try and get rolling in his 2017 debut while running six furlongs - a distance that is probably too short for him.
“He doesn’t even get warmed up going that short but we have to start him somewhere,” said Jim Meyaard, husband of trainer Amber.
“Anything can happen but to be honest, I’d be ecstatic if we could run second to Killin Me Smalls. I don’t think there’s anybody around here that can beat Killin Me Smalls going six furlongs especially if no one chases him,” he said of the Ernie Keller trained horse who has already won at Northlands this season going the same distance in a torrid 1:10 flat.
Voted Alberta’s top Sprinter as well as Champion Older Horse for the second straight year, Killin Me Smalls is a perfect five-for-five at Northlands while running six furlongs.
Killin Me Smalls is the morning line 6-5 favourite while Ready Intaglio is listed at 12-1 which is solid value despite the distance. “There would have to be a lot of early pace for Ready Intaglio to win going that distance.” That, however, could just happen.
Along with Killin Me Smalls there are two other speedsters in the race: Hold the Giant, who will be ridden by the afore mentioned Sarmiento, and Our Dandy’s Boy.
Those two horses, however, drew outside posts at Tuesday morning’s draw: Hold the Giant at post six and Our Dandy’s Boy getting the outside seventh post.
Killin Me Smalls, on the other hand, drew most favourably at post three with two closers Ready Intaglio getting the rail and Clear the Runway post position two.
A horse to closely watch is California newcomer Annie’s Candy, who was claimed in February off a winning effort at Santa Anita for $40,000 by B.C. horse owner Peter Redekop.
Also a winner of an allowance race at Del Mar, Annie’s Candy, 5-2 on the morning line, ran second going six and a half furlongs three weeks ago at Vancouver’s Hastings Park.
Saturday’s other stake is the six furlong $50,000 Western Canada for three-year-olds.
In that race front-running Rock Victor, who comes off a stakes win at Hastings, is the 9-5 favourite but, despite making his 2017 debut, will likely have a stern challenge from Trooper John, who romped home by eight and a half lengths in the Canadian Juvenile last fall.
Friday’s stakes are the $50,000 Wild Rose for older fillies and mares where 2016 champion three-year-old filly Onestaratatime is favoured in her seasonal debut, and the $50,000 Chariot Chaser for three-year-old fillies, where 2016 two-year-old filly champion Ruffenuff, who has crossed the finish line on top in five straight races, is the 1-5 favourite.
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