Well, we are through two legs of qualifying for the Super Finals in the Alberta sired 2 year old filly class, and there are 3 horses which have established themselves as favourites. Outlaw Fireball, Wedding Dance, and Lil Bit O Jingle each won divisions of the Alberta Starburst Stakes on Saturday afternoon at Century Downs. Added to division wins in the Alberta Starlet Stakes on August 7th and the trio tops the leaderboard with 100 points apiece. Triple Thick Shake follows with 62 points. Pickles on Top and Shesamysterytome are next with 50 points apiece, followed by Keep on Burning with 37 and Outlaw Imahotvixen with 30. That rounds out the top eight fillies and if the Super Final field was based on performance to date, that would be the field in the $80,000 final on Oct. 29th.
But it’s not! Because there’s still another leg for the 2 year old girls. It’s the Alberta Stardust on Oct. 14th. Thirty-one fillies have at least a point in qualifying so far. The most interesting one might be Steady Breeze, which did not compete in the Alberta Starlet, but which managed a runner-up share behind Outlaw Fireball in the third division of the Alberta Starburst on Saturday afternoon. That puts her in the conversation heading to the Alberta Starburst if Kelly Hoerdt can coax a little bit more out of her.
Among the boys, Ryan Grundy’s Senga Nitro is in the driver’s seat, having won a division of both the Rising Star and the Alberta Lonestar. The Ken Gunn-owned 2 year old son of Blue Burner has 100 points to lead the qualifying. Ima Dude, Retros Mystery, and Amysterytome are next with 75 points apiece. Hoerdt moved into the conversation in this class as well, getting 7-1 longshot, Wabash Cannonball to the finish line ahead of Ima Dude in the third division of the Alberta Lonestar. Mateo, Big Fantasy and Heated Exchange round out the top eight qualifiers after 2 legs. The third leg, the Alberta Shooting Star, goes to the post on Oct. 15th. Fifteen other 2 year olds have points in the series, so there’s still lots of chances for the championship field to change dramatically between now and Oct. 29th.
Live Wagering Up 22% This Year at Century Downs
It isn’t where it needs to be, but pari-mutuel handle is on the rise at Century Downs, compared to numbers from the inaugural opening season of the track in 2015. In three months of the 2016 season: May, July, and August, on-track handle topped $1 million. There have been nine days where the handle topped $100,000 and six other days including Sunday where live wagering ranged between $93,000 and $98,000.
“It’s progress,” reports Century Downs General Manager, Paul Ryneveld. “The days when we have done the best have been days where we have had special promotions. Things like the driver’s challenge, featuring appearances by Jack Moiseyev, Jody Jamieson and James McDonald. Things like the Packwood Grand promotion on Canada Day which brought an additional 1,500 people to the track. We’re getting more young people who have discovered Century Downs and love the various entertainments we provide. We have more experienced tellers, so that means we can move bettors through the windows a bit quicker. And we find more and more people willing and able to use mobile devices and accounts on betting websites to wager on our product.”
“We think there are growth opportunities through a stronger off-track betting program and through more sponsorships of racing. I’d like to see the pari-mutuel handle average $100,000 a day and we’re not there yet. Then I’d like to see us keep pushing the envelope to get more individual days at or above $150,000. We’re offering good strong cards with full fields which means lots of betting interests. We’ve got more work to do but we are making progress.”
Strong Yearling Sale for Custard the Dragon
The recent ASHA yearling sale served notice that one of the newer stallions in Alberta has caught the eye of owners and trainers big-time. Custard the Dragon is in just his third full season in the province, standing at Allan Neurauter’s farm near High River Alberta.
“We tried to buy this horse about 4 years ago,” Neurauter told me. “Kelly MacMillan, who runs Surdale Farms in Kelowna, and I, went to the Harrisburg sale. We were interested in him as a stallion, not as a racehorse. But we spent a bunch of money on new mares and couldn’t meet the asking price at the time. He had missed a season of racing due to injury and his owner at the time, George Teague, bred him to five mares. But our consortium which also includes Ken and Jim Newton, finally convinced George to sell Custard to us. He arrived in Alberta in March of 2013. We’ve gone to some trouble and expense to acquire mares that will cross well with him. I’ve got 23 myself and I think Kelly has six or seven at his farm in Kelowna.”
The results are impressive. I counted 13 yearlings that went through the ASHA sale, generating $202,000 for the consortium.
Kelly Hoerdt is one of the happy buyers. “I paid $24,000 for one of his sons, Custards Last Stand,” Hoerdt told me. I also bought two shares in the stallion which means I get a couple of breedings every year. So I’m looking forward to seeing how this one does. I can tell you Custard’s yearlings were among the best looking yearlings in the entire sale.”
Allan Neurauter says we haven’t seen anything yet. “He’s bred to 56 and 67 mares the last two seasons,” Al told me. We’re going to keep upgrading our own broodmare band and we’re headed to the Harrisburg sale in November with the goal of finding more good breeding stock. And we’re trying to get BC horsemen to take an interest in breeding to Custard. That would make foals eligible for breeders programs in both Alberta and BC. And based upon what I know about this year’s activity, I think next year’s crop of yearlings could be even better than what we recently saw in Olds.”
Ship-ins and Ship-outs
Manitoba horseman, Marc Fillion, has shipped in to Century Downs with 4 horses following the end of the Manitoba summer fair racing season. One of them is Baylor Out, a 3 year old son of Armbro Baylor, which is nominated to the Western Canada Pacing Derby, to be run at Northlands Park in Edmonton in November.
“I paid him up to the Derby because he’s had a good summer,” Fillion told me on Sunday morning. “He had a problem stifle early in the season but after we got that sorted out, he made about $17,000 in just 10 starts. So, I’ll leave him and the others here with my cousin, Phil Giesbrecht. I have to go back to work at a feedmill but I had a couple of weeks off to bring the horses out here and get them settled.”
Baylor Out got his first start at Century Downs on Sunday afternoon in a non-winners of 4 condition pace. He got away well but was parked for much of the first ¾’s and didn’t have anything left for the stretch drive. He finished eighth.
Meanwhile, Travis Cullen has packed up and headed east to his hometown of Glenboro, Manitoba, en route to southern Ontario and a new challenge on the Woodbine Entertainment Group circuit. He’s got a half dozen racehorses already stabled near Hamilton and he’ll be adding to that string as the fall season continues.
“Those six will get me started as soon as I get there,” Cullen told me on Sunday. A couple of them just arrived and I’ll be buying more once I’m settled. It’s time for a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
Cullen picked up 2 wins Sunday, with Redonkulous and Raging Fingers. That gives him 204 wins on the season as he departs Century Downs.
Personally, I hope he does well, and that he’s prepared to give himself a couple of years to get settled, build up his stable, and give himself a good chance to do establish himself as a solid horseman on the richest and most competitive circuit in the country.
Among the horses he’s leaving behind is the 2 year old filly, Lil Bit O Jingle, one of the Alberta Sired filly contenders. Owners Kurt & Kathy Schmidt have opted to move the filly to Rod Starkewski’s shedrow.
“I haven’t had horses for them before but we’re all good friends through Connie Kolthammer,” Starkewski told me. “I got a call from Kurt asking me to take on the filly when Travis announced he was leaving. I’ve been studying tape to watch how she’s raced and how Travis warmed her up and kept her relaxed in the moments before a race. It’ll help me to get her ready and it’ll help Phil Giesbrecht who’s going to drive her.”
Cullen’s sister and brother-in-law, Ashleigh and Ed Hensley have been there for 3 weeks. They’ve picked up a couple of wins from 17 starters through Saturday. Its Huw You Know raced to victory in a non-winners of $14,000 over the last five starts on Sept. 12th at Mohawk. Lightning Legs, which was on display this summer at Century Downs, came through in a $6,500 claimer at Flamboro on Saturday night.
Elsewhere, Kim and Quentin Schneider left Monday morning for Cal Expo in Sacramento. They’ve got six horses in the trailer and Quentin will make two more round trips to get the full stable established at the one mile facility in preparation for the long winter meet.
A couple of BC-based trainers, Rick Lancaster and Gord Abbott, are ready to move back home and get ready for the six month long Fraser Downs meet which begins on Oct. 6th. They’ll give their stock a chance to freshen up a bit as well before the BC meet gets underway.