While the inquiry sign keeps figuratively flashing on the Canadian Derby - the connections of Double Bear having filed an appeal with Horse Racing Alberta to contest Chief Know It All’s victory - here’s a look at some of the other performances on Derby Day.
At the top of that list are owners Janet and Brian Alexander and trainer Rick Hedge, who won two of the other four stakes races on the card - first with Sir Bronx in the $50,000 Timely Ruckus and then again with Tara’s Way in the $75,000 City of Edmonton Distaff - both open stakes.
“I’m floating not walking,” said Janet after Tara’s Way won by an eased-up length after putting away Blameitontheknight early and then handily holding off Quality Lane in the stretch.
Sir Bronx was equaling impressive. Duelling early with Capitalism from the outside, Sir Bronx allowed Capitalism to take a brief lead down the backstretch but jockey Shamaree Muir knew what he was sitting on - turning Sir Bronx loose with three-eighths of a mile to go.
While the margin of victory over runner-up Private Money Game was only three parts of a length it was a very comfortable three-quarters of a length; Sir Bronx simply wasn’t going to get caught in the six and a half furlong sprint which went in 1:17 2/5.
“Thrill of a lifetime,” said Brian of the double stakes wins. “It was a high beyond high.”
Sir Bronx and Tara’s Way came to Edmonton this spring from Toronto joined at the hip as both horses were purchased by the Alexanders at the September 2014 Kenneland, Kentucky yearling sale.
Sir Bronx was bought for $50,000; Tara’s Way’s sales price was $45,000.
“Brian does the preliminary work. He goes through the (catalogue),” Janet said of what has become her husband’s hobby - following nicking, blood lines and dosage to see what mare might go well with what stallion. I’m more of a conformation person.”
Painstakingly the Alexanders ear-marked a staggering 500 of the 4,479 yearlings that were up for sale over five days and then and had their handlers pull them out of their stalls for a closer look.
“We’ve done that for years,” said Brian, who has owned thoroughbreds with his wife for 32 years. “We don’t use bloodstock agents. We’re a team. If Janet and I both agree on the horse together then we get it vetted out.”
After running at Toronto’s Woodbine as two- and three-year-olds, Sir Bronx and Tara’s Way were sent to Alberta this spring.
“At the end of last year we just at it and decided both horses were not running to their potential,” said Brian. “We thought they would run better on the dirt than the poly-track at Woodbine."
“Sometimes you make the right decisions and this was one of them,” said Brian, whose point has been definitively proven given that The Timely Ruckus marked Sir Bronx’s third win in three starts at Northlands while the Distaff was Tara’s Way’s third in five starts locally.
“The other thing is that we are long time supporters of the Alberta horse racing industry. We believe in Alberta racing and we wanted to bring our best horses to Alberta to run. For us it’s all about the horses. The horses come first.”
Hedge said he knew Sir Bronx was going to run big again. “After he breezed four furlongs four days before the race - and galloped out five furlongs in a minute flat - I said ‘We’re ready.’”
Hedge also believes Sir Bronx is more than a sprinter. “He’ll run a route too. In his last start at Woodbine he had post one and broke last. He was still eighth at the top of the stretch and was really running at the end. He finished third that day but he was in front just after the wire. He ran huge and that was going a mile and a sixteenth. The only reason we haven’t run him a distance yet this year is because he got an infection in the back of one of his front ankles after he hit himself and that cost us a few weeks of training time.”
As for Tara’s Way, Hedge said Muir liked his chances with her better than he did with Sir Bronx. “It looks like she likes the dirt as much as Sir Bronx does,” Hedge said of the four-year-old, who, in addition to running on Woodbine’s poly-track also tried the turf a couple of times.
“She ran really good in the Distaff. After watching the replays you can see that Shamaree just tapped her a couple of times and was looking back to see where the others were. She got beat by Port Protection in her previous start fair and square but that was the first time Tara’s Way had run farther than a mile. We had a lot more miles into her for the rematch.”
The double stakes wins by Tara’s Way and Sir Bronx on Derby Day were actually the third stakes win in a week for the stable as two-year-old Regal Max took the Aug. 12 Sales Stake by six widening lengths. The Alexanders and Hedge bought Regal Max for just $2,200 at last year’s Alberta Yearling Sale.
“He was just the eighth horse into the ring and when nobody was bidding I thought maybe there was something I didn’t see. It’s been a super year,” said Hedge, who has won with 11 of the 34 horses he has run this year.
“It’s all because of my new feeding program. I’m feeding better horses,” quipped Hedge, who, started training horses in 1988 after his after his 20-year riding career came to an end.
Hedge didn’t just ride in Alberta where he was a two-time leading jockey and finished in the top three some 15 times as he found himself riding at the same time as Don Seymour and Ron Hansen - two of the greatest riders to come out of Alberta. Winning close to 2,400 races as a jockey, Hedge also rode in Chicago, Detroit, Hollywood Park, Phoenix, Delta Downs and Louisiana Downs.
Now Hedge primarily uses Muir, who was aboard for all three stakes wins. “He can really belly down and ride,” said Hedge. “Shamaree is a big part of the team too; we really like him,” said Brian, whose previous stakes winners were Weekend Ceilidh in the 2004 Northlands Oaks and My Laverne in the 2009 running of the Oaks.
“To get three horses to win three races of that calibre you need good a good jockey, a good trainer, good grooms and good owners. We’re hands on owners but team approached with everybody else.”
Sir Bronx will now be eying a $100,000 seven furlong stake at Balzac’s Century Downs next month while Tara’s Way is being pointed to the Delta Collen at Hastings Park in Vancouver given that there is no place to run her in Edmonton.
The other two Derby Day stakes were the mile and a sixteenth Westerner where they gave Killin Me Smalls owners Dennis Dale and Ed Welsh $30,000 for nothing more than a public workout and Anstrum, who took the $75,000 Sonoma. Sent off at 1-5, paying just $2.40 to win and winning as he pleased, Killin Me Smalls has now won $612,015 with his 19th win in 41 starts.
Surprisingly, Welsh was nervous. “When you are expected to win you feel more pressure,” said Welsh. “It’s not like when you are 10-1. I played a lot of sports; it’s hard to be at the top all of the time especially at that level. Killin Me Smalls just seems to be getting better and better.”
Ernie Keller, Killin Me Smalls trainer, didn’t have much to say. “I said it all three weeks ago when he won the Don Getty. It was a repeat of last time.” Indeed it was. In the Don Getty Killin Me Smalls won by 9 1/4 lengths; in the Westerner he won by nine with similar fractions and an almost identical finish time.
Killing Me Smalls next start is expected to be the Sept. 2 Speed the Spare going a mile and three-eighths. “He likes that distance too,” said Keller, noting Killin Me Smalls won the 2015 Speed to Spare. Now a winner of four of his six starts this season, Killin Me Smalls had excuses in his two losses.
He hurt himself in the starting gate in the May 27 Journal when he came back with several puncture marks on his left hind ankle and caught a track that wasn’t favouring speed in the June 17 Spangled Jimmy.
Anstrum’s victory - her second stake win at Northlands having previously won the RK Smith - saw the three-year-old filly hug the rail for most of the mile and a sixteenth’s journey.
Swinging to the outside rounding the final turn, jockey Keishan Balgobin, who also rode Killin Me Smalls, overhaul Parcam Cowgirl, who had opened up a two-length lead at the top of the lane, in the final strides to win by a head.
“I had her in a good spot and she responded,” said Balgobin, who finished third with Anstrum in her previous start, the Northlands Oaks, where she was the 8-5 favourite. “She just didn’t like the track in the Oaks,” said trainer Monica Russell. “It was a dead surface and she never got going.”
Anstrum appears headed back to Vancouver where she raced last year and then this spring. “I’m just grateful to have had her,” said Russell.
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