The skies opened up Monday afternoon, just before the start of the harness racing card at Century Downs. We haven’t had very much rain this summer and farmers have been praying for it. Now that southern Alberta farmers are moving heavy equipment into the fields to begin the harvest, we get hammered. Such is life in the world of agriculture.
It made for a really sloppy racetrack for the Monday card. But it didn’t put a damper on what has otherwise been a pretty good weekend at the Balzac facility. Horsemen deserved a lot of credit for stepping up to the entry box and filling 26 races over three days. Five of those races on Saturday afternoon were part of the inaugural leg of the World Driving Challenge, meaning each race required eleven horses. Century Downs staged a Sunday backstretch barbeque to thank horsemen for their support.
Marcus Miller, representing the United States, and James MacDonald, representing Canada, each won two of the races going a mile and a sixteenth. Bjorn Goop of Sweden won the other race. Miller with 57 points and MacDonald with 50 points, took the early lead in the Championship as drivers earn points for each race regardless of where they finish.
Finnish driver, Mika Forss, is planning to leave a bit of a legacy from this year’s event, over and above whatever he’s able to win. Forss, who uses an Advantage Tomahawk sulky in Europe, set aside five new bikes to use in Canada. The one at Century Downs now belongs to Dave Lamont and Donna Wyse.
“I was in the tack shop paying a bill and found out about the bike,” Donna told me. “It’s really beautiful, all painted in our favourite colours. I don’t know what they go for new, but we got it for a really good price, so I’m very pleased.”
“I like them because they fit a horse really well,” Forss told me, “and I still have good visibility. I’m hoping the other bikes are all in place as we get to each racetrack.”
Forss got to drive in the new bike for the new owners in the 7th race on Saturday. He was supposed to drive Wild Flight but that horse came up lame. Hush A Bye Baby, owned by Dave Lamont and Donna Wyse, came off the also-eligible list to start and Forss got the drive. Alas, no Cinderella ending as Hush A Bye Baby finished sixth.
Forss did find something he liked on Monday evening at Mohawk Raceway, however, winning three races in the second leg of the World Driving Challenge and taking the overall lead in the series. MacDonald remains second and Markus Miller of the US is now third. The series continues Tuesday evening at Georgian Downs and Wednesday night in Trois-Rivieres Quebec before wrapping up in Charlottetown on the weekend.
The other legacy the drivers are leaving is a bit of a financial legacy. The drivers waived their driving fees for each race at Century Downs. The money will go to the charity of choice of the winning driver, in this case, Markus Miller.
Stakes Schedule This Weekend
I don’t know about you, but it’s always nice to see one of the smaller stables come up with a good horse and be in a position to do something good with it. This week’s example is a 2 year old filly named Bearcat Josi, owned by Derek Stout of Camrose and trained by his father, Doug Stout.
“I had the mare, Barona Josie, for Barry & Mona Hill’s Barona Stables,” Doug told me. “She made nearly $120,000 during her racing career. She was fast and she was tough. She raced with a broken sesamoid bone at 2 and still managed to win the Alberta Starburst and a division of the Alberta Princess. Then at 3 she hurt a knee but still won an elimination of the Alberta Diamond and finished second in both the elimination and the final of the Northlands Filly Pace in 2011.
“Bearcat Josi is her first foal. She had the 7-hole in her division of the Emerald Filly and the first quarter went in :27.3. That’s pretty quick for just her second lifetime start. She spotted the leaders 15 and a half lengths after she broke stride off the gate and still managed to close ground before fading in the stretch. She’ll be in the Alberta Starlet on Saturday and I expect that she’ll show much better than she did in the Emerald Filly.
Barona Josie has a yearling named Bearcat Romi who’s by Mystery Chase. “I already like her size,” Doug told me. “She’s bigger than Bearcat Josi, and if she turns out to be as tough and as fast as her mother, we might have something special. And Bearcat Josie is back in foal to Mystery Chase, so we’ll hope for another good foal next spring.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Stout has had something special. He’s trained some good horses over the years. Smooth Criminal was one he started with, out of the ASHA yearling sale where the gelding went through the sales ring for $3,500. He’s now racing in New York and closing in on half a million dollars in career earnings. Blue Star Beauty is another one, a $2,000 buy at the 2010 yearling sale who’s now built a bank account that’s topped $311,000.
In 51 years in the business Doug Stout has piled up 480 wins and more than $3 million in purses earned. The numbers are modest, but they are a tribute to perseverance, hard work, and knowing what to do when he gets his hands on a winner. He’s hoping Bearcat Josi might be just that. She’ll go to the post in the $50,000 Alberta Starlet on Saturday afternoon. It’s the first of three stakes for 2 year olds that will determine the field for the Super Finals to be staged at Northlands Park in Edmonton on Oct. 28th. Horses competing at the 2 year old level will earn points for performance in each of their starts. The top eight go to the championship which will be worth $80,000. The next eight eligible will be in the $15,000 consolation race which will be part of the Oct. 28th program as well.
“We’ve got more colts than fillies in the 2 year old class,” racing secretary, Jackson Wittup, told me. “The colts get their turn on Sunday in the Alberta Rising Star. For the 3 year olds, it’s just the opposite with more fillies likely to enter than colts.”
We’ll see the 3 year olds on Monday, August 21st in the ASHA Stakes. While the two events for fillies and colts aren’t a qualifier for the Super Finals, they offer a total of $100,000 in prize money for horses which are owned, sired, or foaled in Alberta. So, they become an important way for owners to recoup at least some of their investment.
A New Fall Stake for Northlands
And, ASHA has come up with a small stake that should make it attractive for owners to keep filling the entry box late in the fall meet at Northlands Park.
“Once we get past Super Finals at the end of October, we’ll open up this late closing stake to non-winners of $20,000,” ASHA executive director, Fred Gillis, told me. “The first leg, worth $6,000 will go on Nov. 25th. The second leg, also worth $6,000 will be held on Dec. 2nd. The third leg will be worth $7,000 and will go on Dec. 16th and the fourth leg worth $7,000 will go on Christmas Eve. The final will be on New Year’s Eve. It’ll be worth $18,000 and the consolation final the same day will go for $8,000. The rule will be that horses must race at least three legs to be eligible for the final.”
“It’ll be a good chance for owners to make some money and for the top horses in this class to finish the season on a positive note.”
it’s the first time in anyone’s memory that a father-son duo has finished in a dead heat in a race. It happened in the 7th race on the Sunday afternoon card at Century Downs. Mike Hennessy, who’s having a terrific season, was at the controls of Odds Western Three for owners Robert Parish of Calgary and Bill Roberts of Edmonton. Father, Rod, had That’s It, which he co-owns with Lorne Duffield of Edmonton and Jean Crochetiere of Beaumont. The two horses paced the mile in 1:59.2.
“Mike said he thinks that’s the first dead heat he’s been in,” Rod Hennessy told me. “I think I’ve been in four of them. I know one of them came in the elimination of a Western Canada Pacing Derby in Edmonton in 2003. John Chappell had Armbro Aviator and I had Talon Seelster and we both crossed the line in 1:54.2 that day.”
Through Monday, Mike Hennessy has a commanding lead in the drivers’ standings with 83 wins. He’s never had 100 wins in a season. Kelly Hoerdt holds a 62-44 lead over Rod Hennessy in the trainers’ standings.