Tuesday, 05 June 2018 09:29

Hoofprints - June 4

Written by Peter Watts
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Nine-Eleven conjures up all sorts of sobering thoughts. Each year, we stop for a moment and reflect on what that date has come to mean in this world.

But if you add a different year to the date, life can deliver some happier circumstances. Which is essentially what happened to driver-trainer, Jamie Gray on 9-11-2016.

“I went to the ASHA yearling sale that day in Olds,” Gray told me on Sunday morning. “I knew I had to rebuild my racing stable. Fred Gillis had looked at one yearling and thought it might be a good fit for a couple of prospective new owners, Geoff Smith and Natasha Peiskar. Fred was going to join them as well. We got the yearling for $6,000 and named it Exit Smiling. At the same time I got Yankee Up for myself and Jim Rhodes. And I picked up the filly, Nice Aint My Color, for the Wild Dunes Stable from Delta, BC.

Each of them took very different routes to get to the races. Exit Smiling was, perhaps, the most problematic.

“He was high in his backend when we first took him on,” said Gray. “Imagine a horse that was essentially running downhill and putting all of his weight on his front legs. That’s not going to work. We got him an ultrasound and found out the fibres around the front tendons were weak. So we tried a few treatments of shock wave therapy on him to stimulate the fibres. Then we turned him out for the season.”

“He’s come back as a 3 year old and done everything we could ask of him so far. He has a mark of 1:56.3 and has 3 wins in four starts this year. He won in just his second lifetime start and now he’s added a win in an elimination of the Alberta Plainsman series. So he’s on the road to qualifying for Super Finals on Nov. 17th at Century Downs. There’s a long way to go but after the last couple of years, it’s encouraging.”

Yankee Up has had a little more of a standard development program. He logged a 3-2-1 record from seven starts as a 2 year old. So far in 2018, he has four wins in as many starts, including an elimination of the Plainsman on Sunday afternoon. It presents Gray with a dilemma that every horseman would like to have. Which one does he drive in the final and who does he recruit to take the other colt?

He’s also got a dilemma when it comes to the filly, Nice Aint My Color. The horse’s racing career began last season at Fraser Downs. The decision was made to send her to Gray when the Century Downs season started in April. At the time, the filly was only going to be in Gray’s care until June 1st. But now, she’s to stay in Gray’s barn until the end of the meet in August. Gray qualified her third in an elimination of the Alberta Princess on Saturday afternoon. But he also picked up wins in the other two eliminations, with Bearcat Josi for owner, Derek Stout and with Ginger Beer for owners Keith Clark, Doris McDougall, and John Hind. He’s going to have to drive his own filly in the final, leaving two ownership groups to look for other pilots.

It's a problem, but there isn’t a horseman on the grounds that wouldn’t trade places with Gray in a heartbeat.

Kelly Hoerdt also has to take a look at his schedule for the coming weekend. He qualified Cusdmagicdragon for Saturday’s $40,000 Alberta Princess final. He’s also got Custards Laststand in Sunday’s final of the Alberta Plainsman. It’s hard to turn the driving duties over to someone else when both horses are among the favourites to be in the Super Finals in November.

The problem is that the Stollery Children’s Hospital fundraising event is on Sunday at Hoerdt’s Bedrock Stables in Beaumont. Last year, more than a thousand people turned out. It’s a big deal, especially for hospital patients, some of whom are able to come to the event.

“We’ll start setting up for it on Thursday but I may have to let my staff and my partner, Peter Giannakopoulos, take on the hosting role,” Hoerdt told me.

The other qualifiers for the Princess final are Born A Dragon (Keith Clark), Roaring Home (Keith Clark), My Day (Stephen Crump), and Duannes Horizon (Sanford Campbell). So, Mr. Clark has some recruiting to do with three in Saturday’s final.

The Alberta Plainsman final on Sunday will also include Outlaw True Grit (Rod Starkewski), Spikes Revenge (Dave Lamont), President Elect (Sam Johnson), In For The Chase (Ryan Grundy), It’s a Great White (Keith Clark), and Mortgage My Villa (Nathan Sobey).

Track on 2 in Major Renovation…

Last Wednesday, I drove to Lacombe and spent a couple of hours with Kurt Belich and Ross Morrison. They’re the men who now own and operate Track on 2. And they have some pretty ambitious plans for the property. Fortunately for horse racing, the entrepreneurs want the sport and the business to have a presence in central Alberta.

“Ross and I both have ties to the business community here,” Belich told me. “We have a unique facility for this part of the province and we’re hoping to grow it as an entertainment venue, a gaming destination, and a place that offers something for everyone. We’re open minded about what could take place here. We’re already getting inquiries and we’re still trying to get our buildings refurbished.”

There are plans to add more space for stabling. At the moment, the facility can handle about 100 horses. There are plans to add some type of facility for horsemen. But the main emphasis right now is on the grandstand. I got a tour and saw what it will hopefully look like when the renovations are completed this summer.

“We’ve added washrooms on both floors,” Belich noted. “We’re putting in a kitchen on the ground level to service the building. There will be a full restaurant and bar on the main level. We’ll have an all purpose room on the second level and it will be the biggest room of its kind in the area. We’re getting calls about whether we could handle things like weddings. We could do that. We’re getting calls about community meetings. We could handle those too.” 

“We’re adding a couple of private boxes along with space for racing officials. There will be a covered walkway out to the boxes which will sit under the roof and provide an excellent view of the racetrack. The whole place will have capable wi-fi service because in today’s world that’s really important.”

“We’re aiming to have the construction work done well before Labour Day. We’ll have ten days of harness racing this fall. I want my staff in place and time to train them before we open.”

“And then we’re going to see what other events we can add to the mix. I’m going to go to the Millarville Races on July 1st, just to see how they handle a race day and a farmers market. That’s another idea we’re thinking about. Imagine if we could make this a place where area merchants want to be and what could happen if people in the area felt it was a destination for them.”

From a racing perspective, it’s a place both Shirley McLellan of Horse Racing Alberta and Fred Gillis of Alberta Standardbred think could become a fixture on the Alberta racing circuit. The ten days this fall will be a good test for a new facility, incorporating live racing and wagering, simulcasting, and, perhaps, some stabling. There will be a mixture of live tellers and machines spread out through the grandstand.

“I really applaud what they’re doing,” McLellan told me. “They’ve made a considerable investment even before they’re open for business. And it’s just nice to see the positive spin they’ve taken towards racing. We need more of that in this province. I’m impressed with their overall plan to be a top entertainment destination for the area and really pleased that they want horse racing and that they are prepared to do what needs to be done to accommodate both the sport and the business.”

“Our board was unanimous in its support of Track on 2’s application for racing dates for this fall,” Fred Gillis told me. “With Northlands racing Friday and Saturday evenings in September and October, We think we’ll have enough horses to put on a show in Lacombe on Sundays. It’s a reasonable commute, especially for those horsemen who have property in the area.”

“We’ve now confirmed that our fall racing dates for November and December will be at Century Downs. It’ll give us a total of 101 days for 2018, including a New Year’s Eve card on Monday, Dec. 31st.”

Now that 2018 scheduling is completed, it’s hoped that planning can begin on a 2019 calendar that will include Century Mile, which is slated to open in the first quarter of 2019. 

“It’ll provide for a little stability for horsemen,” both McLellan and Gillis told me. “It’ll give horsemen a chance to plan their own lives a bit better than the scramble we’ve had the past few years.”

(See Track on 2 photo gallery below)

R U Stable...

Add 14 more owners to the list of people who are part of the harness racing fraternity in Alberta. The new stable started in March when a couple of transplanted Prince Edward Islanders, Randy Smith and Hughie Murphy showed up in the backstretch, looking to buy a horse and have some fun.

“We were talking to Carl Archibald at first, and then he introduced us to a Cape Bretoner, Dave Kelly,” Smith told me on Sunday morning as he took a quick break from the morning’s chores. “There’s eight of us with roots in Prince Edward Island and six others who I’ve recruited here in Calgary. Hughie’s daughter, Molly, is out here for the summer and she’s got a horse called Elm Grove Kaptain which she brought out with her. She’s working at Moore’s Veterinary Clinic for the summer before she goes back to school.” (Elm Grove Kaptain was seventh against non-winners of 2 on Sunday afternoon).

“Anyway we asked Dave to find us a horse. It took until the paddock sale at Century Downs on May 25th to get one. We wound up with Meadowland Darby which is one of the horses that came out of the sale in Ohio. Dave says she should be ready to qualify this coming weekend.”

“I like the mare,” Kelly told me. “I trained her the other day and she did the last half mile in a minute flat including a :29.2 last quarter. I think she’ll fit in non-winners of 2 to get her started here.”

“We just thought we could have some fun and introduce some new people to the business,” Smith told me. “As for the stable name, I suspect when we win one and all of us crowd into the winner’s circle, the answer to the question, R U Stable, will likely be no!”

Drivers Challenge…

One more week to go to qualify for the west regional drivers challenge to be staged at Century Downs on Saturday, June 23rd. Dave Hudon, Paul Davies, and Jim Marino have already qualified, representing Fraser Downs. Michael Rey will represent the Manitoba drivers. That leaves four spots for representatives from Century Downs. Through Monday, Jamie Gray and Phil Giesbrecht have 22 wins apiece. Giesbrecht moved into a tie for top spot with three wins on the Monday card. Dave Kelly and Paul Davies are next with 20 wins apiece, though Davies is already into the regional. Kelly Hoerdt has 17 wins and Nathan Sobey has 15. Qualification is set to close with the Sunday program.

Among the trainers, Sanford Campbell continues to lead the way with 18 winners from 76 starts. He’s followed by Kelly Hoerdt with 15 wins, and then Rod Hennessy and Nathan Sobey with 13 wins apiece.

Briefly noted…

Just over $3,000 were raised during the Pacing For Charity event, held a week ago at Century Downs. Doug McNair raised $697.60 for Perky in Pink, including Fred Gillis’ matching donation of what McNair earned. Autism Canada gets $843.60 including a contribution from Kelly Hoerdt. James McDonald, who drove three winners on the card, raised $1,520 including a matching donation from ASHA vice-president, Don McDougall... Century Downs GM, Paul Ryneveld, reports that average daily handle on live Standardbred product continues to grow with the track now in its fourth year. “We’re up 27% year over year through the first 18 days of racing,” Ryneveld told Standardbred Canada. “We’ve still got a big list of events ahead of us including the annual visit by the Packwood Grand crowd which regularly brings more than 1,500 fans to the races. And we have our Calgary Racing Festival which runs between July 28th and August 6th. Industry day will be Sunday, August 5th and the Mid Summer Classic on the holiday Monday, August 6th will feature five stakes races and more than $300,000 in purses.”

Track on 2 Photo Gallery

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