Now that HRA and Northlands Park have agreed to continue the racing license until the new track in Leduc is ready in late summer, 2018, horsemen I’ve talked to are anxious to hear about race dates for 2017. That, along with an HRA budget, which will determine what money is available for purses, are the next steps to be addressed in short order.
“We’d just like to know where we’ll be racing and when,” was the concensus commentary during a stroll through the backstretch at Century Downs on Sunday morning.
What is emerging is a harness racing schedule which will conclude Friday, Nov. 11th at Century Downs with a 12:10 PM post time. Horses will be able to get into Northlands Park on Sunday Nov. 13th and the track will open for training on Tuesday, Nov. 15th. The first day of racing in Edmonton will be Friday, Nov. 18th with post time at 6:30 PM. There will be racing Saturday afternoon, Nov. 19th with first post at 1 PM. That pattern will continue until Friday, Dec. 30th.
The 2017 calendar will feature racing on Saturday afternoons at Northlands starting Saturday, January 7th and continuing each Saturday until February 26th. Tentatively, the plan is to then open at Century Downs on Saturday, March 18th and race until Labour Day Monday, September 4th. Those dates still have to be finalized and approved but there seems to be a concensus that this schedule makes sense.
There are hopes to stage a fall thoroughbred schedule at Century Downs with the harness fraternity moving north to Edmonton in mid September of 2017. However, there are a number of issues to be addressed to bring thoroughbred racing back to the Calgary market for the first time since the fall of 2008.
“Retaining racing at Northlands until Century Mile is ready, is a win-win for everybody,” Northlands President, Tim Reid, told me. “HRA and the harness industry get some stability and the opportunity to create a good schedule. Northlands will retain its gaming license and will continue to be the home of horse racing in Edmonton for another 18 months. That gives us time to look at what our options are, going forward, for this 160 acre campus in the heart of the city.”
Tuning Up for the Western Canada Pacing Derby & the Northlands Filly Pace
There are only two stakes races on the Northlands harness schedule this fall, but they are two of the biggest stakes races of the year. Eliminations for the Northlands Filly Pace are set for Friday evening, Nov. 25th. There are 26 fillies nominated for the NFP with $20,000 eliminations followed by a $70,000 final on Dec. 3rd. The entry box for the eliminations will close on Tuesday, Nov. 22nd.
The 3 year old colts will race in eliminations for the Western Canada Pacing Derby on Saturday afternoon, Nov. 26th. There are 24 colts nominated. The final will be run on Saturday, Dec. 3rd. Eliminations are worth $20,000 apiece with the final carrying a purse of $70,000.
Most of the contenders have been turned out for a few days rest before getting back into their preparations for the two big stakes. The exceptions were two contenders from the barn of Hall of Fame horseman, Keith Clark. Appellate was a hard-charging second to 4 year old, Captain Hazardous in Sunday’s 4th race. The 3 year old son of Western Terror, came home in :28.4 and just missed in a photo finish. The runnerup share pushed Appellate’s bank account over the $40,000 mark for the year to date. Appellate is eligible for the Western Canada Pacing Derby.
However, Clark’s other contender, Kokanee Seelster, didn’t fare as well. A recent purchase by Clark and Archie Benekos off the Ontario circuit, Kokanee Seelster chased the field home in an Open pace on Sunday afternoon, despite starting on the rail. Clark watched the replay and was shaking his head as he walked away. The horse made its first start at Century Downs On Oct. 16th and finished sixth. He looked to be improving a week later when he finished third against older horses. Sunday, though, was not another step forward as Clark had hoped.
Stakes Racing at Fraser Downs
Meanwhile, a lot of familiar names are beginning to show up in the entry box, particularly for stakes events, at Fraser Downs in Langley BC. Don Richardson’s Badlands Palace started out the season in the care of trainer Harold Haining at Century Downs. But because he had several two year old fillies in the barn, and because Badlands Palace is a BC bred, Mr. Richardson decided to send Badlands Palace out to Paul Davies at Fraser Downs. The filly has qualified for Friday night’s $100,000 final in the Betty Millbank Stakes for 2 year old fillies.
Several horsemen including J-F Gagne, Sanford Campbell, and Kelly Hoerdt are sending older horses to Fraser Downs for a couple of added money events in mid November. One of the Campbell horses, American Passion, already has a win to her credit last Friday night. The Hoerdt barn is shipping Get Thereovernight, Cool Cowboy, That’s Extra and Showtime Terror on Wednesday morning. Get Thereovernight and Cool Cowboy will race in the Jim Vinnell eliminations next Sunday, Nov. 13th and hope to come back for the final on Nov. 27th. That’s Extra and Showtime Terror will line up in the Lady Elements eliminations next Sunday as well. The final in that event is also Nov. 27th. The eliminations in both stakes go for $10,000 apiece with the finals carrying a purse of $50,000 each.
Alberta Harness Racing’s Best Ambassador Does it Again
Anyone who has children knows that fund raising for events is part of the parental job description. The Calgary Saints Novice 3 hockey team wanted to attend a couple of hockey tournaments. The parents were dutifully running such events as a bottle drive which netted $250 but which wasn’t going to send anybody beyond the city limits. One of the parents approached Fun For Fans Stable owner, Fred Gillis, and asked if he could help.
If you’ve forgotten, Fun For Fans Stables owns a 3 year old filly named Outlawburntpopcorn. She’s raced for various charities over the course of the Century Downs meet. When she gets to Edmonton on Nov. 18th, she’ll race for the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation until the end of December. Saturday, she went out against 6 challengers and motored up through the middle of the field in the stretch to finish first and claim half of the $6,900 purse. After expenses, it meant a cheque for just over $2,300 to the Calgary Saints. The entire team of 8 and 9 year olds turned out in team jerseys to cheer on their new favourite racehorse. They were more interested in petting the horse in the winner’s circle than they were in having their picture taken.
“It was pretty special,” Gillis told me. “I got a lot of hugs from moms and dads. We cut them a cheque on the spot and now that team can afford to go to its hockey tournaments. The boys took turns feeding carrots to ‘Popcorn. And I think now she’s raised about $20,000 for various charities since we started this.”
Legends of Alberta Racing
Yet another idea spearheaded by ASHA’s Colleen Haining may have found a permanent place on the Century Downs calendar. Five of the great drivers on the Alberta circuit over the years took part in an exhibition race Saturday afternoon following the regular card. The oldest teamster, 75 years young, Pat Tracy, beat Fred Gillis to the wire in a snappy 1:59, which was pretty good for a guy whose last pari-mutuel race was 15 years ago. Gillis was right there at the finish with John Baxter, Ron Graham, and Don Monkman following.
“I’m 64 and I was the youngest guy in the field,” said Gillis, who retired from racing 8 years ago. “We went out for post parade and Ron Graham said to me it was just like old times. I had the lead off the gate then settled in behind Pat and moved my horse out to challenge coming off the final turn. And it was really nice to see a lot of folks stayed around after the regular card to watch, although it seemed like most of them were members of the Tracy family. Veteran driver-trainer, Ed Tracy, was on hand to present the award in the winner’s circle. And I think the food and beverage folks were a little busy on Saturday evening.”
A number of Alberta harness folks will be at the annual Harrisburg sale which begins Monday and runs all week. Some are looking for breeding stock. Others will be shopping for yearlings. Given the state of the Canadian dollar, it will be interesting to see what Albertans can afford. Given the horse supply across North America, the best offerings will command good prices if recent sales on both sides of the border are any indication… Calgary owner, Ray Henry, has been steadily adding to his stable throughout the summer. The latest addition is Beau’s Cowboy, a 3 year old gelding which has been racing in the Maritimes. The horse has a 7-3-4 record from 22 starts this year with earnings of $31,919.
“We’re going to ship the horse to Ontario and see if he can make some money there,” trainer, Sanford Campbell, told me. “We may bring him west depending upon how he does on the Ontario circuit.”… the Alberta harness racing community is extending its sympathy to the family of Pat McAuley, who passed away last Friday at the age of 66. Pat, who worked for years as a chart caller at both Stampede Park in Calgary and Northlands Park in Edmonton, leaves behind her husband, Wayne, and son, Scott. Both trained standardbreds on the Alberta circuit in years gone by.