It’s hard to believe that the 55-day long summer harness meet, which began April 25th at Century Downs comes to an end on Saturday afternoon. After that, the harness fraternity will shift its attention north to The Track on 2 at Lacombe for racing on Sept. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 8th. Sunday Sept. 9th will be the yearling sale at the Olds Regional Exhibition Megadome. Pedigrees for the 73 yearlings to be auctioned are on the ASHA web site.
Sunday racing will continue there from Sept. 16th to Oct. 28th. The Northlands fall meet, which will be the last racing meet at the 118 year old facility, begins Friday evening, Sept. 14th and will run Friday and Saturday evenings through Oct. 27th. After that, harness racing returns to Century Downs beginning again on Saturday, Nov. 3rd.
I had a note from Kyla Belich the other day. Kyla, her husband, Kurt, and Ross Morrison are the new owners of Track on 2. They have spent a lot of money this summer improving the customer service operations like the new skyboxes and restaurant. They’ve also spent a lot of time on the mile-long racing surface and on expanding the capacity of the barn. Track guru, Ron Grift, who looked after Northlands Park for thirty years has made a couple of trips to Lacombe this summer. He’ll likely make another one before the harness fraternity arrives. The new owners are eager to welcome the public on Sept. 1st.
And clearly, they’ve already learned about the value of promotion. They have teamed up with twenty local venders to offer up a dream wedding experience for one lucky couple. The announcement will come on Sept. 1st following opening ceremonies and the first day of harness racing. The prize is worth $35,000. One lucky couple in the running happens to be Marjorie Dumont and J-F Gagne, who are part of the Alberta Standardbred racing family.
Closing Day at Century Downs
Meanwhile, closing day at Century Downs on Saturday afternoon will feature four stakes races for 2 and 3 year old fillies and for colts and geldings. The ASHA events mean that a racehorse must be owned, sired, or foaled in Alberta. If more than nine horses enter any one of the events on Wednesday morning, the races will be split into divisions. Each of the four stakes goes for a purse of $25,000.
“I think we’ll see enough entries to mean two divisions for each of the four stakes,” racing secretary, Jackson Wittup, told me.
Some of the 2 year olds that raced this past Saturday in the Alberta Starlet and the Alberta Rising Star will certainly find their names in the entry box on Wednesday morning. Class track recordholder, Outlaw Grabbingears will be at the head of the list for the 2 year colts, along with Crackle N Burn and Bad Moon Rising. Those three each won a division of the Rising Star and earned 50 points apiece towards qualifying for the Super Finals Nov. 17th at Century Downs.
‘Gears is coming along very nicely,” co-owner and driver-trainer, Paul Davies, told me. “He’s a pretty obedient colt and he learns quickly. I deliberately kept him off the gate at the start of Saturday’s race because I want him to learn how to come from off the pace. It was a short field of five, so I didn’t figure to be too far off the pace. He was third by four lengths at the half, but he accelerated nicely down the backstretch and wound up winning by a nose. He did just fine.”
“I’m headed back to BC on Tuesday with the rest of my stock. I’ll leave ‘Gears with Rod & Jacquie Starkewski for the fall and commute into Edmonton to drive him. He’s got the Super Finals on Nov. 17th, if all goes well. Then there’s the Dan Ingram Memorial on Nov. 23rdat Fraser Downs and he’s eligible for that. So, we’ll see how he does as the fall goes along.”
Maxsamian, Gin Twist and Mrs Suhwiggins each won divisions of the Alberta Starlet this past Sasturday. Each earned 50 points towards qualifying for Super Finals. There are still two more chances for the 2 year olds to qualify. The girls get their turn in the Alberta Starburst, Sept. 22nd at Northlands Park and in the Alberta Stardust Nov. 3rd when the scene shifts back to Century Downs. The boys will have their turn in the Alberta Lonestar, Sept. 23rd at Northlands and in the Alberta Shooting Star Nov. 4th at Century Downs. The top nine through qualifying go to the $80,000 final. The next nine will race in a $15,000 consolation, all on Nov. 17th.
As for the 3 year olds, 36 colts and geldings and 33 fillies are paid up for the two stakes races on Saturday afternoon. A number of them tuned up for the $25,000 features by getting in a race on the weekend. Cheddar Jack, which won a judges inquiry to take the Ralph Klein two weeks ago, heads the list of likely entries for the colts. Hot Kiss and Blue Grotto, out of Kelly Hoerdt’s barn, finished one-two in the Rumpul Memorial and both are eligible for the ASHA 3 year old filly stake. Another intriguing possibility out of the same shed row is Cusdmagicdragon. She has not raced since June 2nd, but Hoerdt got her qualified last week and raced her Monday. She finished second against non-winners of 6 in 1:56 (:28.4 last quarter), and beat at least a couple of fillies which are likely to show up in the stake on Saturday.
“She’s a challenge to keep sound but when she’s good, she’s really good,” said Hoerdt. “I’m hoping she’ll be OK to race on the weekend.”
Cleaning Up On The Weekend
Some notes from a weekend of racing at Century Downs. Last week, I wrote about some of the young talent that is getting its feet wet in standardbred racing. All six of the stakes races were won by drivers under the age of 30. At age 28, Paul Davies won two divisions of the Alberta Starlet with Gin Twist and with Mrs Suhwiggins. He also won two divisions of the Rising Star with Outlaw Grabbingears and with Bad Moon Rising. Dave Kelly, who drove Maxsamian to victory in a division of the Starlet, is 28. Phil Giesbrecht, who won a division of the Rising Star with Crackle N Burn, is 26. Trainer Rod Starkewski, who’s 30 and holding, sent out Maxsamian in the Starlet and Crackle N Burn in the Rising Star and each had to stop by the winner’s circle before heading back to the barn. Another “mature youngster,” Harold Haining sent no fewer than eight horses to the starting gate and was on hand to watch two of them, Gin Twist and Bad Moon Rising, lead the way across the finish line.
“A good day for owner, Don Richardson, who owns both of them,” said Haining. “I know he’s especially pleased with Bad Moon Rising because that’s one of his homebreds. Don’s been a great supporter of harness racing in Alberta for quite a while. It’s nice when things work out.”
Saturday was an especially tough day for racing because of the smoke drifting over Alberta from the fires in BC. There was a paddock meeting in late morning to discuss whether or not to race. A variety of opinions were expressed and the decision was made to go ahead with the card. Several horsemen chose to withdraw horses from races that day without penalty. There are no formal rules, it appears, to guide decisions of this kind. Perhaps there will need to be. This was the worst anybody can remember in terms of smoke and the particulates that travel in the air and that can cause problems for animals and humans who are competing. I saw one statistic on the weekend that says the three worst fire seasons in BC history have come in the last five years. Given that the winds often blow from the west, it is something to consider.
Sunday, Marjorie Dumont came within a whisker of a cold shower. She was at the controls of Shales Storm and led almost wire to wire in the 4th race. She was trying to win her first race as a professional driver. But Paul Davies came up in the closing meters with Firecracker Finish and it took a photo finish to determine the winner. Marjorie also drove Outlaw Fireball to a third place finish in the 7th race. So she didn’t get soaked, but it wasn’t for lack of performance. I just hope when she does win her first race it’s not -30 on the thermometer!
While Marjorie is trying to win her first career race, Brandon Campbell has gone past 1,500 career trips to the winner’s circle. The milestone win came on Saturday afternoon when he guided Itchin To Cu to the finish line in 1:59.2 for owner-trainer, Brent Bodor.
And a tip o’ the cap is in order to Dave Lamont and Donna Wyse. Their small stable has produced a 14-5-8 log from 50 starters during the meet. That’s the most by a single (couple) owner and puts them ahead of other groups consisting of multiple ownership.
Dave Kelly continues to add both horses and owners to his stable. He picked up Explainnotcomplain from trainer, Shelley Arsenault, who is cutting back her stable a bit and who had too many horses for one particular class. He also got a newcomer to Century Downs thanks to a phone call.
“Kathy and Cliff Coonfer called me about a 4 year old mare named Wests Lucky Aria which they have acquired for their broodmare band,” Kelly told me. “Because we’re out of the breeding season, they wanted to know whether I would take her on and see whether she can still race. She’s by Camluck and has been racing in Ontario and in the US. We got her from Travis Henry. She’s paced as fast as 1:53.4 although lately she’s been in the 1:55 range. I think she’ll fit in with the $16,000 claimers. So we’ll likely start her there and hopefully race her through the fall. After that, the Coonfers will have to decide if they want to breed her next spring.”
Also on Monday, Iwontdothatagain tied the track record of 1:51.4 in winning the Open Pace for owners Kelly Hoerdt of Beaumont and Ed Keryliuk of Edmonton. Hoerdt was at the controls. The original mark was set by Kokanee Seelster and driver, Bill Tainsh Jr., on Sept. 9th, 2017.
Track superintendent, Don Monkman, doesn’t expect to get much sleep over the next week to ten days. A crew is set to begin installing the inner rail for the thoroughbred quarterhorse meet, this week. “We’ll finish sealing the Standardbred surface after the racing on Saturday,” he told me. “Sunday morning, Ron Grift and consultant, Steve Wood, will be here. Each of them will run a grader and we’ll start getting the dirt surface spread. The material is on site and I expect to have a bunch of dump trucks ready to move it onto the track. Harness horsemen have to be out of their shed rows by Monday evening. The thoroughbred trainers will start checking in on Tuesday morning and we’re supposed to have the track ready for training by Wednesday morning. The trainers want some time on the surface before racing begins on Sunday, Sept. 2nd. I guess I can sleep after that if everything goes well and we get done on time.”
Thoroughbred racing secretary, Tim Lawson, expects a half dozen stables from Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg and a couple of others from Saskatoon for the fall meet. He’ll also get some interest from Lethbridge, especially from the quarterhorse community which has several stakes scheduled for Century Downs. He’ll be able to make full use of the four new barns which are in their final stages of assembly on the east side of the barn area.
“I’ve got room for about 490 horses on the grounds along with 60 ship-in stalls,” Lawson told me.
Brandon Campbell continues to lead the drivers standings for the meet, heading into the final day of racing on Saturday afternoon. Campbell, who missed the early part of the meet, has moved steadily up the standings over the past month or so. He now has 53 wins from 274 drives. He’s 4 ahead of Paul Davies, who has had a good month including wins in 7 different stakes events. Phil Giesbrecht is next with 47 wins followed by Jamie Gray with 46 and Dave Kelly with 43. Among the trainers, Sanford Campbell has led almost since the start of the meet and has piled up 36 wins from 179 starters. But his lead is down to three over Kelly Hoerdt. Rod Hennessy and Nathan Sobey are tied for third with 28 wins apiece… the final day of racing begins at 1:15 PM on Saturday afternoon.