It stood to reason that Keith Clark was going to cash at least one cheque following the Meridian Farms Breeder Stakes for 3 year old fillies on Sunday afternoon at Century Downs. After all, three of the nine starters in the $50,000 finale came out of the Clark shedrow.
I don’t know if he thought it would be You Talk Too Much, though. The Hall of Fame horseman is out with a shoulder problem, but he watched with approval as Phil Giesbrecht piloted the daughter of Well Said into the winner’s circle. You Talk Too Much was a $48,000 yearling buy out of the Lexington Ky. yearling sale in October of 2016. Clark and Robert Jones of Stoney Plain share in the ownership and Mr. Jones was on hand to salute a fine effort by horse and driver.
“She’s tough,” he told me. “She was parked on the outside all the way around until the head of the lane and she still had enough left to seize the lead.”
Blue Grotto, driven by Dave Hudon, and Bearcat Jose with Jamie Gray in the bike, chased the winner home. You Talk Too Much scored her first win in ten starts this season and her fourth win in 19 starts lifetime. Her bank account now stands at $76,242.
The other stakes event Sunday was the Brad Gunn Memorial for the 3 year old colts and geldings. Cheddar Jack led this wire to wire under the guidance of Paul Davies, getting to the finish line in 1:54.3. Cheddar Jack is now 6-1-1 in ten starts this season. His bankroll stands at $54,301 at this point which is pretty good for a $20,000 investment at the Harrisburg Pa. sale in November, 2016.
“He’s getting better,” says trainer and co-owner, Rod Hennessy. “Paul gave him a good trip, and after setting the pace off the gate, he had enough left for the stretch.”
Cheddar Jack’s win took a little of the sting away from a seventh place finish in the Meridian by the filly, Custard Lite, which Hennessy also owns with Edmonton businessman, Lorne Duffield. Mr. Duffield will likely get the trophy, assuming, of course, he can find any more room on the shelves of his house. Through thick and thin, Lorne has been one of the tireless supporters of Alberta harness racing.
The stakes calendar takes a pause now for a week or so. Then it’s back to the Alberta Sire Stakes agenda with eliminations for the Alberta Diamond and the Alberta Marksmen for the 3 year olds in mid July. In both cases, this will be the second legs of qualifying for the Super Finals to be held at Century Downs on Nov. 17th. Exit Smiling leads the colts and geldings while Roaring Home is the top filly. Exit Smiling, by the way, was third in the Brad Gunn on Sunday behind Cheddar Jack and Custards Laststand. Roaring Home was 5th behind stablemate, Ginger Beer in the Meridian Farm Breeders for the Keith Clark barn.
Wedding Bells & Other News From the Drivers’ Room…
All the best to Phil Giesbrecht and Jocelyn Hudon who will marry Saturday in Edmonton. Keith Clark, Ryan Grundy, and Dave Hudon will all be at the wedding, which might leave a hole or two in the drivers’ room. It’s a good thing, then, that Lee Ibey has returned from Ontario to his home in Edmonton and that Tony Succarotte has shown up from California. Both are looking for an opportunity and I daresay racing secretary, Jackson Wittup, can find them some work pretty quickly.
Ibey grew up in Edmonton. His father, Chuck, was a long time participant in the Alberta standardbred breeding industry. The family sold out and moved to Ontario seven years ago. “Mom and Dad are both retired now and living in the Oshawa area,” Lee told me. “I had been doing a little driving on the Ontario circuit, mostly at Kawartha Downs near Peterborough. But most of my time the past five years I’ve been a carpenter. That’s what I’m doing in Edmonton at the moment. I still have an itch to drive though, so I can work all week at home and come to Balzac to drive on weekends.” Ibey got behind Mystery Dragon for trainer, Ricky Schneider, on Monday afternoon but the duo was never a factor against non-winners of six.
Succarotte is a regular at Cal-Expo in Sacramento. Born in California, the fifth generation horseman was raised in New Jersey and Michigan and has competed at a number of tracks in the U.S. His father, Bill, spent a season on the Alberta circuit in 1975, racing at both Calgary and in Edmonton.
“I know some of the guys from here who came down to Cal-Expo for the winter,” Succarotte told me. “I drove Machabyebaby for Quentin Schneider and did pretty well with him. I just decided that I’ve always been a horseman and it’s what I know. With the season not starting in California until late October, I didn’t want to sit around for 4 months. Jim Marino has offered me some work so I got here on Saturday night and I’m looking forward to being here for a bit. I promised my one daughter (he has two) I’d be home for her birthday on Oct. 25th, so that’s the plan at the moment.”
Succarotte had 11 wins from 165 starts at Cal-Expo in 2018 but he’s seen as reliable by trainers for whom he has driven. “I’ve always liked his work,” Quentin Schneider told me. “He listens well when I make a suggestion about how one of my horses should be driven. That’s a key for me.”
Speaking of Cal-Expo…
The exploration of a possible relationship among Cal-Expo, BC Standardbred and ASHA took another step forward on the weekend. Chris Shick and Ben Kenney, who head up the racing operation, came up for a visit with ASHA executive director, Fred Gillis. They were joined by Jimmy Perez who represents the California horsemen and by Carla Robin, executive director of Harness Racing BC.
“What we talked about was an idea to create an aged pacing series that would start with two $20,000 legs at Cal-Expo.” Gillis told me. “Those races would likely start in mid-March. Then we’d move up the coast to Fraser Downs and have two $20,000 legs there, likely in early April. The final $20,000 leg and a $50,000 final would be held at Century Downs in late April.”
“It would give owners of racehorses which are 4 or older, a nice opportunity. And it would enhance the breeders program we’re developing among the three jurisdictions. We have half a dozen stallions which are based in Alberta which are paid into the California breeders program. That should help the value of their yearlings at our sale in September because we may see some more buyers in Olds.”
“We still have some work to do on this and each of us has to present this idea to our respective boards. But I think horsemen will be interested and we’re hopeful we can find some sponsors to help us develop the idea, if, of course, our own people give us the go-ahead.”
Alberta Welcomes a New Stallion…
Meridian Farms owner, Bill Andrew, sends word that another new stallion will be making its way to Alberta in August.
“In partnership with Connie Kolthammer at Outlaw Farms in Falun, we have acquired Captive Audience and will be bringing him to Alberta this summer,” Andrew told me in an e-mail. “He’ll stand at Meridian for his first year. We were attracted both by his race performance and by his pedigree. As a two and a three year old, he held his own against an exceptional crop of colts including Captain Treacherous. He raced in the finals of the Breeders Crown at two and at three. He also raced in the Metro Pace as a 2 year old and he was in the North America Cup as a 3 year old. His major stakes win came in the Champlain as a 2 year old. As an aged horse, he swept the Whata Baron Series, capturing the final in a lifetime mark of 1:48.3. His aged competition included Sweet Lou, Bettors Edge, Captain Treacherous, State Treasurer, and Foiled Again.”
“On the pedigree side, he is an Abercrombie line sire by Art Major. The Abercrombie line has had good success in Alberta, through sires such as As Promised, Blue Burner, and Mystery Chase. Capriva Island, the dam of Captive Audience was a multiple stakes winner of more than $300,000 and the second dam, Sanabelle Island, was a world class racing mare with earnings of better than $1.6 million.”
“We expect that Captive Audience will complement our current roster of stallions in western Canada very nicely.” Captive Audience earned just over $800,000 at the races and compiled a record of 18-26-23 from 142 lifetime starts. He’s now 8 years old. A stallion fee has not yet been announced.
What to do With a Racing Star?...
The ownership group for Tajmeallover is in a spot as the calendar turns to July. The partnership, which includes J-F Gagne, Peter Van Seggelen, Carl Waarner of Kelowna and Joe Tinelli of St Albert, own a 7 year old mare which continues to be sound, continues to race well, but is running out of competition. If there’s no racing competition and the animal can’t get a start in Alberta, what are the options?
“We just don’t know at this point,” Gagne told me on Sunday. “We could have bred her this season but she is still good enough to be racing. We could sell her. Or, I could take her, along with Outlaw Fireball and Watch My Luck down to Ontario in the fall and see how we do. I don’t really want to be away from my family and there’s lots of work for me to get done at my farm in Wetaskiwin. But it’s going to be tough to get her enough races here in Alberta. Saturday, I had to scratch Watch My Luck out of the Open when she came up lame, and then G Ts Jamie was scratched because of sickness. So, we were left with just four horses in the field. Unless we can find some more for this class, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
One which might be ready for a promotion is You Name It which is in the hands of Mona Roy. The 6 year old mare won a week ago in 1:55.2 and Roy has told friends she’s not putting her in the claiming ranks and risk losing her to someone else.
To some extent it’s a horse supply issue, a familiar lament in harness racing in certain classes all over North America. In one way though, it’s the problem of having a really good horse which has won at just about every level. Tajmeallover now has a lifetime mark of 43-14-10 from 76 career starts. That includes a win and a second in just four starts this season. In all, she’s earned $309,183 as a homebred.
Outrageous Art, the 11 year old which was purchased by Karen Sobey and Diane Bertrand for breeding purposes, qualified on Saturday at Century Downs. Nathan Sobey took him around the track in a snappy 1:54.1. Seems he hasn’t lost his zest for competing… Cool Cowboy won the Open pace on Monday afternoon in 1:52.4 with Serge Masse at the controls. It’s the fastest mile of the year at Century Downs but a full second off the track record held by Kokanee Seelster and set Sept. 9th, 2017… two more wins for Phil Giesbrecht on Monday gives him the dash lead at Century Downs with 35 victories. Giesbrecht is just two wins ahead of Jamie Gray who moved into second spot with three winners on Monday... Sanford Campbell continues to lead the trainers with 24 winners from 113 starts. He’s three wins ahead of Rod Hennessy who took Monday off. The punters wagered $182,866 on Century Downs racing which is the best day of the year at this point. In fact, I think it’s the best day in the sport’s history at Century Downs.