The coming weekend might be the highlight weekend of the fall thoroughbred-quarter horse meet at Century Downs. The $40,000 added Canadian Quarter Horse Cup Futurity is the featured race on the Saturday program. It will be run over a 400 yard course. The $15,000 Century Downs 770 over a (you guessed it!) 770 yard track will be the supporting feature.
Then on Sunday, we’ll see the $50,000 added Founders Distaff for 3 year old fillies and up, going a mile and a sixteenth. That’ll be followed by the $100,000 Harvest Plate for 3 year olds, going seven furlongs. There’ll also be a couple of quarter horse stakes events: the Canadian Quarter Horse Cup Derby, going 400 yards for a purse of $20,000 added, and the Century Downs Cup Classic going 400 yards for a purse of $15.000 added.
Nine fillies have been nominated for the Founders Distaff and a whopping eighteen colts and geldings are on the nomination list for the Harvest Plate. There aren’t too many races of this kind left on the western Canada racing calendar, so owners and trainers who think they have a chance and whose horses are in good shape, weren’t shy about paying the nomination fees.
Owner-trainer, Don Schnell, has nominated Escape Clause for both stakes, but will likely put her in the Distaff where she should be an early favourite. The 3 year old daughter of Going Commando out of the mare, Danger Pay, has been absolutely outstanding this year with eight wins and one second in nine starts. She’s earned better than $114,000 in 2017. She’s coming off an impressive win in the CTHS Sales Stakes on Oct. 8th.
Trainer Monica Russell has a couple of fillies eligible. Anstrum has three wins, a second and two thirds from seven starts this season and has added better than $84,000 to her bank account. Included in those wins are the Red Smith Handicap and the Sonoma Stakes, both run at Northlands Park. She was runner-up to Escape Clause in the CTHS Sales Stake at Century Downs.
“She’s owned by Peter Redekop who has a big stable and races at various tracks along the Pacific coast from Vancouver south to Santa Anita,” Russell told me. “I spent four years at Hastings Park in Vancouver. He sent a couple of horses to me part way through last year. Anstrum was one of them and she’s done well.”
“I’ve also got Habida for Ed Keryliuk of Edmonton. This filly went blind in one eye this year but it certainly hasn’t hurt her racing results. We put her in a clear racing shield to protect the eye. She’s won three times and been second in three other races out of nine starts this season. Her wins have all come in allowance optional claiming races, but I think she belongs in this field.”
Tara’s Way (Rick Hedge), Onestaratatime (Greg Tracy), Smart Fix (Jerri Robertson), Quality Lane (Joan Petrowski), Madison Moon (Tim Rycroft), and Saveitforarainyday (Tom Rycroft) are the other nominees for the Distaff. The entry box will close on Wednesday.
A maximum of twelve starters will be allowed into the Harvest Plate, leaving six horses that have been nominated, on the outside. Alfie, owned by Cliff Strandquist and Wilde Racing, and trained by Dale Saunders, won Sunday’s second race at Century Downs, so it’s unlikely he will come back against this field just a week later. Hunters Appeal and Silvertown are based on the west coast, so their interests will have to make a decision pretty quickly about shipping in to Century Downs.
“Annie’s Candy will be in,” Russell told me. He won the Journal Handicap at Northlands Park this summer.
Trainer Greg Tracy has three horses nominated: Blue Dancer, Hemlock Channel, and Moon King. “I’m leaning towards Blue Dancer and Hemlock Channel going in the Harvest Plate,” he told me.
Trainer Donnie Schnell has three horses nominated as well, although Escape Clause is likely to run in the Distaff. The other two colts are Coolidge and Langara, which we last saw win the CTHS Sale Stake for colts on Oct. 8th. Coolidge, though, is quite a story.
“Three years ago, I bought a package of horses from an Arizona stable that was going out of business,” Schnell told me. Coolidge was one of five or six horses in the package. I didn’t think much of him at first. He was OK during morning workouts but I didn’t think he could do much in a race. In fact, when he was two, I took him along with one of my other horses, Heber, to a race in New Mexico, just to be company. Well wouldn’t you know it, Coolidge wound up winning that race.”
A shin problem cost Coolidge about nine months of training and racing between December of 2016 and this past August. He has one second to show for a couple of starts in 2017, but Schnell seems to think that both the distance and the track surface could make him a factor. He just has to get into the race, which should only be a problem if more than twelve horses show up in the entry box on Wednesday morning.
“They’ve added a condition of money earned in 2017 and I didn’t know about that one,” Schnell told me. “Obviously with just $5,200 in earnings this season, he’d be on the outside if the race fills. So, we’ll have to see what happens on Wednesday. But I’d like to see him in the field because he’s ideally suited to the distance.
And there’s another pending chapter to the Coolidge story. “I have a friend of mine in Phoenix, Dr. Justin McCormack,” Schnell told me. “He’s an equine surgeon who has spent some time in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. He came up with a surgical procedure for racing camels that proved to be really effective and that earned him the gratitude of some of the sheiks in that country. They told Justin he could have a couple of entries in one of the supporting races on World Cup Day which is their biggest day of racing of the year. The 2018 event is set for Saturday, March 31st. Justin called me and asked if I had anything that might be eligible. I told him about Coolidge. We found out the horse meets the qualifications for the race.”
“I haven’t decided whether or not to go. It would be several weeks in Dubai to get him ready and to give him at least one start before the big day. For the moment, I’m just hoping I can get him into the Harvest Plate and see how he does and how he comes out of the race. Then we’ll go from there.”
Other nominees for the Harvest Plate include Capitalism (trainer Ron Grieves), Killin Me Smalls (Ernie Keller), Private Money Game (Tim Rycroft), Royal Warrior (Dave Nicholson), Ruck (Dale Saunders), Sir Bronx (Rick Hedge), Venetian Mask (Jerri Robertson), and Zippity Zap (Craig Smith). Againm, entries close on Wednesday.
How to be a smart investor in horses
Maybe it’s in the genes. Maybe it’s having a sharp trainer. Maybe it’s just good luck. Whatever the reason, Charles Stojan has done pretty well investing in quarter horses over the years.
“My father owned them for a long time when I was growing up,” Stojan told me. I was interested in racing for awhile and then I got out of the business. I had my business in Grande Prairie, Stojan Power Sport and Marine and I had a family, so that took up a lot of my time. Then about six years ago, I had been on a Mexican cruise and wound up in Los Angeles with a couple of days on my hands. I drove over to Los Alomitos and renewed acquaintances with trainer Charles Treece. I claimed a horse with him and it kind of went from there.”
One of his first claims was the mare, Toughie, which we’ve seen at Century Downs this fall. She’s won in Alberta and has raced on some of the big quarter horse tracks in the US. She was sixth in the Ed Burke Memorial at Los Alomitos. She earned about $50,000 for that performance and Stojan made the decision to bring her to Alberta and to put her in the hands of William Leach. She went on to win the Canadian Quarter Horse Cup Derby last year.
“Now I’ve bought a full sister to Toughie, a yearling called Always Right,” he told me. “It’s a good family. This one cost a little more money, but she’s a lot bigger than Toughie was at the same age.”
“I just love the sport. Everything happens right in front of you. You cannot afford a misstep out of the gate because the race will be over before you can recover. Sometimes, depending upon things like post position, there will be some bumping as horses leave the gate. But you accept that as part of the game. And you try to do the best you can to get a good start and then trust the horse and rider to make a clean dash to the finish line.”
Last year, Stojan bought three yearlings. Two of them have made the Canadian Quarter Horse Futurity final set to be run on Saturday afternoon. Anyone who saw True Copy run in his last start a couple of weeks ago, came away impressed. Stripsteak wasn’t quite as dominant but still won his race on the same card. Overall, they were first and third fastest of the qualifiers heading to the final.
And there’s another one as well. Free Thought has shown himself to be good over a longer distance. Stojan claimed him as a 2 year old and the now 6 year old has won five in a row at distances of 660 yards and more. In fact, he was the top distance horse in Alberta last year. He won the Black Gold Stake run at Northlands Park this season. He’ll be in the Century Bet 770 on Sunday afternoon at Century Downs.
“I’m coming down from Grande Prairie to see them compete,” Stojan told me. “It’ll be my first trip to Century Downs and I’m very much looking forward to it.”
C-Cup Final a winner in more ways than one
Very seldom do we see a race involving both thoroughbreds and quarter horses. Very seldom do quarter horses run a turn in a race. But both of those factors were on display Sunday afternoon as five teams were represented in a fund raiser for the Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta. And wouldn’t you know it, Asbigastexas, the quarter horse, racing for Team Old, Tired, Cranky & Ugly, finished in front. Michael Nault was the winning rider.
“It was great,” said Jean Kruse, head of the CTHS office in Alberta, and one of the organizers of the event. “CTHS, the HBPA, Horse Racing Alberta, and Century Downs contributed to the purse. Each team had to raise a minimum of $250.00 to be a part of the event. We had a gala on Saturday evening where some more dollars were raised. And we sold scarves and took donations from fans at the track on Sunday. We should know by mid week how much money was raised. But for a first time effort, I was really pleased. And it was a good clean race with no unexpected surprises and that’s always good. I enjoyed the cheering of each of the teams’ supporters as the horses came down the lane.
The other teams were the Lethbridge Oldtimers (Manwiththeheart – Terry Roncin), Purple Heaven (Teemon’s Lemon – Ryan Bott), Itty Bitty T*tties (Slewfoot – Kaylea Hepburn), and Olds College (Saint Sassy Sue – Kirsty Luft-Nault). Kirsty and Michael happen to be husband and wife but that’s another story!!!
Donnie Schnell tells me that he’s found another race for Escape Clause after Sunday’s Distaff. “There’s a $300,000 filly stake for 3 year olds on Nov. 28th at Zia Park in New Mexico. So, if she comes through the Distaff, I think that’s where we might take her for her next start. We’ll turn her out for a good rest after that race…..Red McKenzie has run Long Time Don each of the first four weekends of the Century Downs meet. The horse must be a trooper. He’s added three firsts and a second to his year’s resume… Darren Dunn, General Manager at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, and Harvey Warner, President of the Manitoba Jockey Club, were among patrons at the races on Sunday afternoon.
“We’re friends of Century Downs GM, Paul Ryneveld,” Dunn told me. “It was a good chance to come out for the day, see some of our Manitoba trainers who are racing here, and see the facility for the first time. One question: does the wind always blow this strongly?”
Yes it does, Darren. Yes it does! Actually it wasn’t too bad early in the morning. By the time the visitors got off the plane, though, the wind was gusting up to 40 mph.