How do you make $60,000 at the races in less than half an hour? Actually in about two minutes and 33 seconds?
The answer is, you own and train a couple of really good thoroughbreds, Eclipse Clause and Langara, and you run them in back to back stakes races at Century Downs on a Sunday afternoon. Oh yes, and you give thanks on Thanksgiving weekend that you’re lucky enough to have this kind of talent to produce this kind of result.
Veteran conditioner, Donnie Schnell, is the lucky man. Luck, of course, is enhanced when you put in the time necessary to train a couple of racehorses to do your bidding – and when the race unfolds in a favourable fashion. In each case, jockey Antonio Whitehall was able to get his horse into a position to win, and then hold on as the horse completed the job.
Eclipse Clause has had some kind of year. A $3,200 purchase at the Manitoba yearling sale, the now 3 year old filly comes from modest breeding: by Going Commando from Danger Pay. She had a win and a runner-up share in four starts as a 2 year old. But her performance at 3 has been anything but modest. She’s now raced nine times this year, eight at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, and Sunday at Century Downs in Balzac. She’s been to the winner’s circle eight times and finished second once: against the boys in the Manitoba Derby on August 7th.
“I actually raced her twice in four days in July at Assiniboia,” Schnell confided, moments after Eclipse Clause had made short work of a field of eight challengers. “It played a little havoc with her training at the time. But she held her own in the Derby and I was really pleased with how she handled the race today.”
The $30,000 winner’s cheque pushes her career earnings to date to nearly $170,000. “We’ll see how she responds but there’s another late closing stake coming up on the 22nd and we might look at that. After that, I’m not sure. We’ve thought about taking her to Phoenix but we’ll just have to see how she responds.”
Schnell talked as we walked toward the paddock where he had to saddle Langara for the colts and geldings portion of the CTHS Stake. While the margin of victory over eight challengers wasn’t quite as impressive as that of Eclipse Clause, it was still a solid four lengths. The four year old son of Langfuhr out of Midnight Shadow has now won four of eight starts this season and has a lifetime bankroll that is closing in on $140,000. And, since owner Schnell is also trainer Schnell for both horses, the trainer only has to worry about filling out a paycheque for jockey Antonio Whitehall.
Although, I suppose there had to be a modest celebration of Thanksgiving and of a great Sunday at the races!
The work never stops for trainers
One of the things I’ve always admired about horse people is their willingness to go to any lengths to care for their animals. If you don’t take care of the stock, it won’t perform. It’s as simple as that.
Take the case of Deanna and Zack Davies who’ve had a lifelong love affair with horses. Deanna’s grown up in the Alberta industry, starting out as a stablehand for Ronnie Brock and moving on to work for Donnie Schnell, Rod Cone and Ernie Keller. At each stop she learned a little more. Sixteen years ago, she took out her trainer’s license. One of the first horses she got to work with was Sixthirtyjoe. All he did was win 19 of 51 lifetime starts and put $528,000 in the bank.
“He was my first really good horse,” Deanna told me, in the midst of morning chores on a chilly Sunday morning at Century Downs. “I had brushed the mom for owner, Cec Peacock and ultimately he sold the mare to me for $100. Joey was one of her sons.”
“Then about six years ago, I was asked if I would take on training a quarter horse and that’s how As Big As Texas came to my barn. I didn’t know anything about how to train a quarter horse but I’ve never been shy about asking questions and some of the other trainers helped me out.”
“I really don’t train thoroughbreds and quarter horses any different. It’s a combination of works and gallops and watching how they respond to what they’re asked to do. They’re like people. They’ll kind of tell you what works for them and what doesn’t if you pay attention.”
As Big As Texas comes from the mare, Sable Val. The colt was especially good in distance races, winning five of them at 660 yards or more. Big Hoss Rollin is out of the same family. He finished third in Sunday’s Century Downs 440. And there’s a full sister to As Big As Texas, Atomic Blondie, which has qualified for the $70,000 Canadian Quarter Horse Futurity to be run in Balzac on October 22nd. Meanwhile, Sable Val is at Sazwan Stables in Beaverlodge, awaiting a date with a stallion that hopefully will produce another solid earner for the Davies family.
Oh yes, speaking of not being shy about working, there’s now a farm at Ardrossan which Deanna and Zack have had for about five years. They’re able to board 40-45 horses each winter, along with the training and conditioning of the animals at other times of the year.
“I spent my mornings at the racetrack, training horses, and my afternoons at the farm doing chores,” Deanna told me. “It’s a lifestyle, really. You have to love it.”
Speaking of the 440, Cruisinfourabrusin got the job done nicely in the opening race on Sunday’s card. Trainer Janice Sather missed the performance. She had other horses running at Lethbridge that day. But her husband, Barry, was happy to talk about the sorrel gelding which got a great trip with Alejandro Hernandez aboard.
“This one is one of our own,” Sather told me. “We bred and raced the mare, Tagulator, and this guy’s now won 14 of 38 lifetime starts and about $170,000 for us. So, it’s been really nice to keep it all in the family.”
A Harness Investment of Note
I went looking at the results of the Lexington Select Yearling Sale, held last week in Kentucky. It didn’t take long to find a story. Hip #1 was a colt called Southport Beach by Somebeachsomewhere out of the mare, Benear. The name of the buyer was Geoff Martin of Calgary. The price was $250,000! I thought that was worth a phone call to find out more.
“We actually bred the colt and took it to Lexington to sell it,” Geoff’s father, Greg, told me. “But we didn’t like what we were being offered, so we bought it back. Somebeachsomewhere was a brilliant racehorse and is turning out to be a really good stallion. He’s got five sons already who are showing real potential as sires. And the mare has produced offspring which have won about $2.6 million at the races. Besides that, the colt is a beautiful individual. He’s going back to a farm in Ohio to start his training.”
The Martins used to race the Alberta circuit and also used to race in Ontario. At the moment, their racing and breeding operations are located in Pennsylvania, from which they venture to New York, Deleware and Ohio to race.
“But I wouldn’t rule out starting up a stable in Alberta again,” Greg told me. “We’re watching what Century Gaming is doing with a great deal of interest. Actually, I have a 3 year old called Young Drunk Punk and a yearling at Dave Lamont’s farm, not far from Century Downs. The colt is on a layoff from racing after coming down with an ankle problem. The yearling is a son of an Ohio stallion we’ve bred to named Pet Rock. We’ve named him Sugar Rock. So, we’ll see what Dave can do with him and we’ll keep an eye on how the racing scene unfolds in Alberta.”
Olds College Expands Equine Science Program
Everybody in the horse industry knows how challenging it is to find good help. It is not a business that is defined by a 9 AM to 5 PM workday. It is not a business where workers are going to become millionaires. It IS a business that demands a willingness to work hard, at all hours of the day and night, sometimes for not much more than minimum wage.
Marion Anderson can’t worry about the wages, but she can ensure that a well trained worker is produced out of Olds College. For the past two decades, she’s run the equine science program.
“This year the College has decided to create a standalone blended program called the “Equine Reproduction Technician program,” she told me. “It will expand the availability of this training to people from industry as well as to students who are enrolled in the Equine Science Program. This new course will be a one year certificate program in which four courses will be delivered online from late October until late February. It will start in the fall of 2018. After the online work is completed, students will come to the college for the period March to June for the “hands on” component. We bred about 100 mares this spring, so the students will be involved in the operation of the breeding and foaling program.”
“We just opened the application program for this course on October 2nd. It will launch in the fall of 2018. It’s the only program of its kind in Canada and we always get applications for our Equine Science Program from across the country. This program will allow anyone who wants to own, operate, or work in a breeding or foaling facility to be successful. It will also open doors for students in the Equine Science program, as they will have the opportunity to take the new ERT program to become certified in equine reproduction.”
Three wins on Monday for Craig Smith’s horses have him in the lead in the trainers’ standings. Bear Fabulous Son in the 1st, Kvothe in the 5th and Hero’s Ginger Snap in the 7th give Smith nine wins from 32 starters at Century Downs. Greg Tracy is right behind with eight wins and Jerri Robertson, who added two more wins with Forever Misty in the 3rd and Grat Substitution in the 4th on Monday, has seven… Entries close this Saturday morning for the $100,000 Harvest Plate for 3 year olds and up, which will be run on Sunday, Oct. 22nd. They’ll go seven furlongs that day. That’ll be a highlight day of the meet with the $15,000 Century Down Cup Classic and the $35,000 Canadian Quarter Horse Cup Derby on the same program.