So here we are, about halfway through the Alberta harness racing season. If you were picking the top 3 year olds, and, perhaps, the Horse of the Year, what would your ballot look like?
Let’s take the fillies first. Outlaw Fireball has virtually guaranteed herself a berth in the Super Finals Oct. 28th at Northlands Park. The 3 year old daughter of Blue Burner, from the As Promised mare, Watchasgirlsgoby, has won the Alberta Princess and the Alberta Diamond and leads all earnings of Alberta sired fillies with $64,775. She still has the Alberta Marquis on her schedule in mid October, right before the Super Finals. But nobody’s going to catch her, at least until the final.
It hasn’t been easy for Outlaw Fireball. Don Richardson’s Wedding Dance gave Fireball all she could handle in a sterling stretch drive in the final of the Alberta Diamond on Saturday afternoon. The two fillies crossed the finish line in 1:55.3. It took a photo to sort out first and second place. In the process, Wedding Dance moved from fourth to second in the overall standings with $25,155 in earnings.
Steady Breeze, Stylomilohos, Legs Like Tina, Cardinal Rule, Outlaw Imahotvixen and Cenalta Cougar would fill out the championship field for the Super Finals if the race was to be held today. But there’s still a chance for one of the next eight to push her way into the final. Cenalta Cougar, Sideline Secrets, Nightime Chase, Pickles On Top, Itchin To CU, Queen of Thrones, Lil Bit O Jingle and Sufferin Succotash would make up the field for the $15,000 consolation for 3 year old Alberta sired fillies if the lineup was to be decided today. Ten other fillies have earned dollars through the first two stakes series. So they could improve between now and October. And there might still be a filly or two out there that turns out to be a late bloomer; that hasn’t earned any money yet but that comes out of nowhere to cause a stir in the Alberta Marquis. Still, it’s going to take something really special to knock Outlaw Fireball off that 3 year old Alberta bred filly of the year ballot.
On the colt side, Mateo has been just about as dominant. The Christine Cushing – Jim Marino owned colt has $62,300 in earnings after taking both the Alberta Plainsman and the Alberta Marksman. The next closest pursuer is Ima Dude which sits at $25,155. Ima Dude was third in Sunday’s Marksman final. Outlaw Blue Ice has been getting better as the season has gone along. He’s now third overall, followed by Getup Gideon, Senga Nitro, Retros Mystery, Mr Peterman and Wabash Cannonball. The second group of eight would go to the consolation final on Super Finals Saturday if the outcome was determined today. Amysterytome, Coz And Effect, Cold Case, Latestngreatest, Outlawstandndelivr, Naked Burner, Imawesternboy and That’s Amare are the eight horses involved. There are three others that have money won in the series, and, as with the fillies, there may be more that come out of the woodwork in time for the third and final qualifying stake, the Alberta Maverick, in mid October.
If I had a ballot (and I don’t), Outlaw Fireball and Mateo would be the headliners. But in both cases, they have had to work for what they have achieved. And for me, especially on the filly side, the race is still a ways from the finish line. It should be noted that in addition to what they have earned in qualifying for the Super Finals, Outlaw Fireball has won four times and finished second twice in six starts for earnings of $96,650 this year. Mateo has had ten starts and never missed the board, compiling a 5-4-1 log and earning $104,675 in 2017.
A Happy Trainer is likely to be a Successful Trainer
I have yet to walk through Ricky Schneider’s shed row and not be smiling when I departed. The 47 year old horseman tells a good story and usually does it with a smile on his face. It wasn’t always that way.
“I’ve been around the business all my life,” he was telling me on Sunday morning. “My father used to train horses for Bill Connolly back in the 1960’s when harness racing was just getting underway, again, in Alberta. I spent a couple of years taking pre-veterinary courses at the University of Alberta. But I decided to go a different way and took out my trainer’s license. I’ve done just about every job that needs to be done in the barn ever since. It starts with a horse’s feet and goes up from there. And, for the most part, I’ve done it with horses we’ve bred and trained. I’ve had a few that have done really well but a lot of my horses have been condition claimers.”
The most successful horse he’s had is probably Nighttraintovegas, a now 9 year old which has earned more than $272,000 at the races. Included on her resume is a runner-up share in the 2014 Northlands Filly Pace, during a season where she won nearly $150,000. Lilmessinaround, Lookinalilprecious, I Will Scoreand Dickies Motel are the other money winners in the stable this year. Schneider has been piloting Dickies Motel all season and has 3 wins this year with the 9 year old mare. They are his first wins as a driver in five years.
“I just wanted to get to 150 wins as a driver,” grinned Schneider. Well, you better check out the Standardbred Canada web site, Ricky, because you’re approaching another milestone. You’re sitting on 193 wins in 3,318 starts for a UDRS of .135. And this year to date has produced a 3-2-6 log from 30 trips to the starting gate. That’s a UDRS of .203. And the improved numbers extend to the trainers’ rankings as well. Lifetime, he has a 450-563-838 log from 5,587 starters, a UTRS of .174. In 2017, the UTRS is .268, thanks to a 17-10-21 log from 110 starters. Even without a stakes horse, what explains the improvement?
“This is a tough, competitive business,” said Schneider. “You have to work like a dog to get ahead. The last few years in Alberta hasn’t been a party. It’s been challenging mentally to stay involved. That’s one reason I started going to CalExpo in Sacramento a few years ago, just to get away from the Alberta scene. But the outlook is a little more encouraging now with Century Downs in place and Century Mile on the horizon in Edmonton. I’m starting to see a little more interest from a couple of guys who used to own horses with me. And I talk to people in the backstretch who’ve gone through what I’ve gone through. They know that I can identify with their frustrations. I’ve just tried to put the frustrations aside, to deal with the things I can control, and not to let the problems dominate my life.”
“Surprisingly, I seem to be doing better as a result. I’m certainly enjoying the work more than I did. And I think the horses pick up on that, and do better too.”
It’s all about options
CalExpo General Manager, Chris Schick and Chief Financial Officer, Benjamin Kenney, made a weekend trip into Calgary to talk to the ASHA folks and to Century Downs staff. The parties have spoken a bit on the phone but this was the first “in person” sitdown.
“Everybody’s got the same problem of horse supply,” Schick told me on Monday. “We wanted to kick a few ideas around as to how we could help each other. We’ve had the opportunity to welcome a number of Alberta horsemen to our facility and we want to see what the possibilities are for the future. We’ve started out with the stallion registry program which allows offspring of an Alberta based sire to race in the California breeders program if the sire is registered in the state. To date, I think we have six stallions registered, which means that foals of 2018 will be eligible to race in breeders’ programs both in California and in Alberta. We’ve talked with Alberta officials about what else might be possible. I think we’re agreed that the next step is to put together a more comprehensive proposal and then to see how horsemen in both jurisdictions react. To say anything more than that at this point would be premature, but I think there’s a basis for more discussion.”
A tip o’ the Smithbuilt to Keith Clark who reached the 6,500 mark in career driving wins on Saturday when he piloted Nightime Cheese into the winner’s circle in the fourth race of the day. The achievement puts the Hall of Famer in 17th place on the all time list of Canadian drivers… on the same program, Bearcat Josi became the second 2 year old to break her maiden in her first start when she won in 1:58 with a last quarter of :28.1… ASHA has added Sept. 8th to its racing calendar at Century Downs. That’s the final weekend of the Century Downs harness season, with racing on the Saturday and then the ASHA yearling sale in Olds on Sunday, Sept. 10th. There’ll be racing at Enoch the weekend of Sept. 16th & 17th before the harness crowd moves into Northlands Park to begin the fall meet on Sept. 22nd.