But the memories last forever. On display at Northlands were dozens upon dozens of winner’s circle pictures of horses owned by late Alberta premier Don Getty as part of the inaugural running of Saturday’s Don Getty stakes won easily and not surprisingly by the heavy favourite Killin Me Smalls. Flipping through those photos was like a trip back in time.
There were grainy, black and white photos of horses like Bangster Jr. and Blue Sol from 1964 all the way to 1999 when Getty stood beaming in the winner’s circle with friends and family with one of his favourite horses, Seven and Wiser. There was Abberoo in 1987; Braznisian Doll in 1992, and at least half a dozen pictures just of Nice Norman who ran bullets through the wind in 1986. In some photos there were trainers like Mike Cojocar. In others Fred Melnechuk stood proudly. But most had his longtime trainer Freddie Jones.
On the horse’s backs were jockeys like Tommy Stadnyk, a very young Rick Hedge and Perry Winters. “He loved all of them,” said his widow Margaret Getty, who lost her beloved husband on Feb. 26, 2016. “Horse racing was so important to him. He enjoyed it so much and his whole family loved it so much. For all of us to get together today was so special. I’ll visit his grave site tomorrow and tell him all about it. He’ll be very happy."
“I remember one morning he woke us all up early on a Saturday morning. He said ‘get in the car we’re going to Saskatoon. He wanted to watch one of his horses running in Saskatoon - I believe it was Years of Pleasure - and we were all going with him.” It was a worthwhile trip. “He won by this much,” said Margaret, holding up two fingers a sliver of daylight apart.
“Horse racing was so much for all of us.” It wasn’t just his horses that Getty, Alberta’s 11th Premier of Alberta from 1985 to 1992, cherished. It was horse racing as a whole. In 1986 Getty, who also starred as a quarterback for the Edmonton Eskimos, helped change a switch in funding sources for the Edmonton and Calgary Exhibition boards from parimutuel taxes to lotteries.
The bottom line was an increased support to horse racing of $3.5 million annually without a single dollar coming from the bettors or the province. Instead, the Alberta Racing Commission mandated that the 1.25 per cent share of the betting dollar which previously went to the Exhibition boards for capital allowances would go to purses. So too would an extra .75 per cent rebate that previously went to the Alberta Racing Commission.
In 1985 harness racing’s general purses were $500,000. In 1986 the industry got $1,280,000. In 1986 thoroughbred racing’s general purses leapt from $572,000 to $1,850,000.
Getty, who would later serve as vice chairman of Horse Racing Alberta, was also instrumental in laying out what would be the salvation of horse racing in this province by ensuring that a percentage of slot machine revenues generated solely at Alberta’s racetracks would go to horse racing purses. As for the Don Getty $50,000 stake itself, it was a one-horse show as Killin Me Smalls romped home a 9 1/4 length wire-to-wire, totally uncontested.
“So easy,” said a grinning winning rider Keishan Balgobin. “They gave him his own way. He did it all on his own.” Killin Me Smalls’ trainer Ernie Keller had told Balgobin to slow down the pace as much as possible and not get more than a length in front. Keller also told Balgobin not to turn Killin Me Smalls loose until there was a quarter of a mile left to run. Yet, after just a quarter of a mile Killin Me Smalls had a 4 1/2 length lead.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” said Keller. “But then the field came past the grandstand for the first time and I could see why: Keishan couldn’t hold him.” Keller then saw the fractions: 23 3/5 for the first quarter followed up by a tawdry half in 48 seconds flat. With the only other speed in the race, Blue Dancer, a morning scratch, Killin Me Smalls had nobody to push him.
“That helped a lot,” said Keller. “It also helped that the track was heavily speed biased. “When he gets to the top he’s hard to run down. He didn’t have to work very hard did he?” The win was Killin Me Smalls’ 18th triumph in 40 starts. “He doesn’t win all the time. But who does?” said Keller.
With Killin Me Smalls, however, it only seems that way. Owned by Dennis Dale and Ed Welsh Killin Me Smalls has now won $582,015. Not bad for a horse that was claimed for $25,000 three summers ago. Not bad for a horse who is now seven-years-old and running better now than when he was a kid.
“Sometimes I think he’s going to get too old to cut the mustard. Then he goes and does something like this,” said Keller.
There were three other stakes on Saturday’s card. With the 2-5 morning line favourite Moon Dude scratched because of a tendon injury, Star Czar won the Edmonton Juvenile by 3 1/2 lengths in a field reduced to just four horses. Two races later, Emma Jean Too - sixth and last after the first quarter mile - won a head bob against Future State in the Princess Margaret for Jennifer Hunt’s hot barn.
Then, in the Duchess of York, Port Protection stalked the early pace set by Tara’s Way and drove on to a comfortable 3 1/4 length triumph over the hot favourite Curlish Figure who had just defeated a very similar field - including Port Protection - in her previous start.
“I still had a lot of confidence in her,” said Port Protection’s trainer Ron Grieves. “I’m not making any excuses for her last start when she ran third to Curlish Figure. All I can say is that I guess she wasn’t at her best last time."
"I just love this horse. I’ve been a big fan of her since she was a two-year-old,” said Port Protection’s jockey Shannon Beauregard, who hadn’t ridden the four-year-old filly since last fall. “She broke so good. I knew she would relax and she did. She ran awesome.”
Also on the card was a race for three-year-olds - principally Xtreme Lyra and Bar No Q - hoping to perform well enough to merit an opportunity to run in the Aug. 19 Canadian Derby. Xtreme Lyra, however, finished last in the six-horse field and Bar No Q could do better than fourth while Captain Will upset them all. Despite winning by six lengths, trainer Ron Scott shook his head when asked if he would now be contemplating the Derby.
“You never want to say never but it’s unlikely,” said Scott. Interestingly, Captain Will is a half brother to Moon Dude. “It was a great disappointment to have to scratch Moon Dude,” said Byron Kluth, who owns both horses with his wife, Rose. “But this really made up for it.”
Follow me on Twitter at CurtisJStock
- Dennis and Wendy Barton Dennis and Wendy Barton
- Douglas Blair and Star Czar Douglas Blair and Star Czar
- Killin Me Smalls and Keishan Balgobin Killin Me Smalls and Keishan Balgobin
- Shannon Beauregard and Port Protection Shannon Beauregard and Port Protection
- Emma Jean Too Emma Jean Too