It’s 1:30 a.m. and Doug Stout is already out of bed ready to begin his day. “Sleep is over-rated,” said Stout, 68, who has been a harness trainer for some 50 years. “Getting up at 1:30 was a little early for me. But not by much. These days usually I’m up around 3:30 or in the morning. “I have my coffee, take a shower, maybe watch a little sports replays on t.v. and I’m ready to go.”
Ten years ago 3:30 in the morning would have been late for Stout. “When I had 25 horses to train I’d be the barn by 2 a.m. all the time. “I’d feed the horses, clean their stalls, fill up their water pails and harness two or three horses. By that time, at least in the summer, it would almost be daylight.”
Even when the sun wasn’t on its way up, it wouldn’t stop Stout, who was always the first person to arrive at the track. “Sometimes I’d open the gate to the track and let myself on. I’ve been that way - getting up early - all my life,” said Stout, who looks after the six horses he currently has at Northlands by himself - “I never had anybody help me until my stable got over a dozen horses.”
It’s not as if Stout, who lives in Camrose but spends his nights these days in a dormitory at Northlands, goes to bed real early either. “I'm usually in bed between 7 and 11 o’clock. But it doesn’t matter what time I go to bed I’m still always up early.”
These days Stout has an extra incentive to get up early: Bearcat Josi, who is owned by his son Derek. A winner of four of her seven career starts, Bearcat Josi will certainly be one of the favourites in Saturday night’s $80,000 Super Finals for two-year-old fillies (Race 6.) There are three other $80,000 Super Finals: one for two-year-old colts (Race 7); one for three-year-old fillies (Race 9) and a fourth for three-year-old colts and geldings (Race 10).
As well, there are four $15,000 consolation races for each of the four above-mentioned categories.
“Bearcat Josi didn’t race very well in her last start,” Stout said of a third-place finish behind Duannes Horizon and Paperback Thriller in one of the two Oct. 13 Stardust Finals - both of whom which will be back on Saturday along with the likes of Roaring Home, who won the other Stardust division in an eased-up three and a quarter lengths in 1:59 but a horse that Bearcat Josi easily handled in two previous encounters.
“I honestly don’t know what went wrong two weeks ago but she just didn’t feel very good. Maybe she’s getting tired. But she’s had a week off and she’s been training good this week. I trained her with an older horse of mine, Karate King. I just sat in behind Karate King and and she seemed a little stronger. At the end they were neck and neck.”
Bearcat Josi had to come first over in the Stardust but Stout quickly dismissed that as an excuse. “She’s been first over in just about every one of her starts and it didn’t stop her those times,” Stout said of similar trips in the Sept. 30 Jim Rogers, which she won in a photo over Noisy Nora, and the Aug. 26 Alberta Standardbred Horse Association Filly Pace where she took her mark of 1:56 4/5.
“It would be nice to draw inside and get a good trip,” Stout said prior to Tuesday’s post draw where she ended up with post four. As for the trip I guess we’ll know that after the race. A little luck never hurt anybody.”
Bearcat Josi has only finished worse than third once - the $25,000 Emerald at Balzac’s Century Downs on Aug. 7. Ironically Stout believes that might just have been her best race. “She broke stride at the start of that race and spotted the field about 15 lengths. But she still caught up with them and while she finished seventh she was beaten by less than five lengths. That showed me just how tough she can be.”
Bearcat Josi gets that toughness honestly - from her dam Barona Josi. “Barona Josi was tough — and I mean real tough,” said Stout. “She took a mark of 1:54 1/5 as a two-year-old. Unfortunately she broke her knee so we turned her into a broodmare. “Bearcat Josi is her first foal and she’s an awful lot like her mother. Now she’s also got a yearling, Bearcat Romi, and a weanling, Bearcat Abagail.
As is his wont, Stout came into the racing business early. “My dad bought a standardbred broodmare when I was young and we used to go the races all the time; I was 12 when I drove my first horse,” said Stout, who, until half a dozen years ago, used to drive his own horses too. “One day when I was 16 or 17 I went to the backstretch just to see what it was like; I’m still here today. I worked for Jeff Ringrose for a year or two and then I went out on my own.”
Through the years, Stout has had a lot of good horses. “One of the first was Dougie Riggs. He raced until he was 14.” Then came Stewart Fraser winners Moon Maid and The Hood, Western Pleasure, Barona Ice - Barona Josie’s sister, who won the Western Canada Pacing Derby as well as the Super Finals, the same race Bearcat Josi will try to win this weekend - Blue Star Beauty, who won $320,000 and Smooth Criminal, who banked $184,000 before we sold him.
Now he has his hopes pinned on Bearcat Josi, a juvenile who Stout knew had some talent almost from the outset. “When she was just six months old I had the harness on her and line drove her. But then I like to do that with all my young horses. They learn quicker when they are younger. And then when I first jogged her I knew right then that she had some ability.”
The two-year-old colt division of the Super Finals is headed by Outlaw True Grit, who won his division of the Shooting Star most impressively by two and a half lengths in 1:56 4/5. By comparison, Freedoms Rescue won one of the other Shooting Star divisions in 1:58 1/5 and Paradise Hill, who has paced in 1:56, took the first division in 1:58. But, as Outlaw True Grit’s trainer and co-owner Rod Starkewski said “They’re two-year-olds so you never know.”
Still, Starkewski has to be feeling pretty confident given that Outlaw True Grit has never been worse than second in eight career starts - four wins and four seconds. An easy winner of the Rising Star, ASHA Colt Pace and the Lonestar by a combined total of 13 1/4 lengths, one of Outlaw True Grit’s most impressive finishes - much like Bearcat Josi - came in defeat.
That happened in the Sept. 30 Horizon. Shuffled back to last place in the nine-horse field and 14 lengths off the leaders after the opening quarter, Outlaw True Grit was still eighth at the top of the lane but rallied furiously to finish second. Purchased privately as a yearling from Outlaw Stable breeders, Starkewski said “(Outlaw True Grit) wants to do it and he’s doing it the proper way. He loves his job.”
The other two Super Finals will see Senga Nitro and Mateo hook up one more time in the race for three-year-old colts and geldings and Outlaw Fireball looking to continue her winning ways in the three-year-old filly stake. Outlaw Fireball just outlasted Outlaw Imahotvixen in last week’s $56,300 Marquis Final. Senga Nitro, who finished second to Mateo in the Western Canada Pacing Derby, has now turned the tables in their last two meetings - the Maverick elimination leg and then in last week’s Maverick Final.
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