Both the sport and the business of harness racing were on display Saturday as the Alberta summer meet came to a close at Century Downs. On the track, there were winners and losers. Driver-trainer Kelly Hoerdt took both divisions of the ASHA 3 year old colts and geldings stake with Peace Out Posse and with Custards Laststand. Peace Out Posse took advantage of a bobble by the heavy favourite, Cheddar Jack, winner of the Ralph Klein on August 6th. On this day, though, Cheddar Jack wound up fifth.
Another heavy favourite, Lady Neigh Neigh, also broke stride after kicking herself while trying to make a move in the backstretch of one division of the 2 year old filly pace. “She’ll be alright but it just wasn’t her day,” co-owner, Chris Lambie, told me. “I’m not sure exactly what triggered the misstep.”
Instead it was Maxsamian, the second favourite in the race, which closed strongly to take the race for owner Morrine Kennedy. The filly, which was bred by the late Norm Kennedy, is named for three grandsons, Max, Sam and Ian.
Trainer Rod Starkewski had a good day, getting to the winner’s circle with Maxsamian and with Crackle N Burn in the 2 year old colt stake. He also won one of the supporting races, taking the ninth with Outlaw Tootsieroll which is owned by the Fun For Fans Stable. Starkewski is especially proud of Crackle N Burn. He also owns the mare, Crackers Hot Shot, which he trained and raced for several years. “Pretty good day,” Starkewski told me. “Three wins and a third with Outlaw True Grit in the 3 year old colt stake.”
A good day as well for driver-trainer, Jamie Gray. He scored with Bearcat Josi for Doug and Derek Stout in a division of the 3 year old filly stake. He came back to make a superb drive in the second 3 year old filly division, catching My Day in the stretch to score in 1:56.3. Bearcat Josi became the third filly this month to tie the new track record of 1:54 for that class.
For me, it’s always a good day when some of the smaller stables get a piece of the action. The Stouts, father and son, have a winner with Bearcat Josi and might have another star with her 2 year old half-sister, Bearcat Romi. She was third in her division of the ASHA filly stake. Steve and Shannon Crump own and train My Day, which got a runner-up share in a division of the 3 year old filly stake. Richard Remillard co-owns Raging Chihuahua. He also trains the 2 year old filly and drove her to victory in the 2 year old filly division in 1:57.4.
There was another big winner on the day, although he wasn’t on hand as part of the festivities. The sire, Custard the Dragon had four of his offspring in the winner’s circle over the course of the afternoon. Peace Out Posse and Custards Laststand swept the 3 year old colts divisions. Ranging Chihuahua (2 year old fillies) and Nice Aint My Color (3 year old fillies) also got their pictures taken.
The day’s results leave all four divisions very much wide open as the scene shifts to Track on 2 and to Northlands Park in Edmonton for the fall harness meet which begins on Sept. 14th.
“I think it’s been a pretty good meet,” ASHA executive director, Fred Gillis, told me. “Paul (Ryneveld, GM of Century Downs) will have some final numbers in the next few days but both on-track and off-track wagering is up over last year. We’ve done very well with the horse population we’ve got to work with and I want to thank owners and trainers for their support of the entry box.”
“We’ve got two more big stakes events as part of the Northlands calendar, the Don Byrne Memorial for 3 year old fillies and the Western Canada Pacing Derby for the three year old colts and geldings. Both of those will be staged over a couple of weekends in October. And then when we come back to Century Downs in November, we’ve got the Super Finals on Nov. 17th.”
“Beyond that, we’ve had some preliminary talks with Paul about racing dates at Century Downs and at Century Mile for next year. We’ve also talked to Track on 2 about what might be possible going forward. We’ve got a board meeting at the end of September and I hope we’ll have more information to release at that time.”
Speaking of Track on 2…
The old Alberta Downs facility has been transformed into a new community events destination in Lacombe and a big crowd is expected on Saturday afternoon for the grand opening.
“The owners have put a lot of time, money, and sweat equity into revitalizing the place,” said business development advisor, Jim Reed, who I ran into on Saturday afternoon at Century Downs. “I think folks will be pleasantly surprised by what they see and how they are treated when they join us on Saturday. We won’t be quite at the level of a full service restaurant for Opening Day but we’re getting there. We’ll have three bands to provide entertainment in and around the races. We’ll have a barbeque for the horsemen after the Sunday card to welcome them to Track on 2 and to thank them for their support.”
“As far as racing is concerned, we’ve spent a lot of time with Ron Grift who has made several trips to Lacombe to supervise the preparation of the racing surface. Ron is also teaching our people how to take care of the track. We’ll have 140 stalls available for horsemen for the ten days of racing we have scheduled this fall. In fact, we’ll have 87 stalls occupied with horses which will be racing both here and in Edmonton.”
“Canadian Pari-Mutuel Racing Agency is scheduled to conduct a survey on Monday afternoon. We hope to get our betting permit at that time. After that, I can follow up on some preliminary inquiries and see if we can get the signal into a number of other tracks. I think the fact we have a one mile track here will make people at least curious to see quality racing. And our three camera racing photography will be available to those who can’t get to the track. They’ll be able to watch the races over Track on 2’s, website https://www.thetrackon2.com, much as fans have been able to watch racing at Rocky Mountain Turf Club in Lethbridge or at Evergreen Park in Grande Prairie.”
Thoroughbreds & Quarter Horses at Century Downs…
The 21 day fall meet begins on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 2nd at 1:15 PM. The thoroughbred calendar is highlighted by the Alberta Breeders Fall Classic, the first time in the 22 year history of this event that it will be held in the Calgary area. Seven stakes events for Alberta-breds will be run on that day. The CTHS Sales Stakes for 2 year olds are set for Sunday, Oct. 7th. The following day, which will be Thanksgiving Monday, the $50,000 second running of the Founders Distaff along with the $100,000 Harvest Plate will be featured. Two more CTHS Sales Stakes for the 3 and 4 year old classes will be featured on October 21st. The Freedom of the City for 2 year old fillies will be part of closing weekend, on Saturday, Oct. 27th and the Canadian Juvenile for 2 year old colts and geldings will be staged on Sunday, Oct. 28th.
As for the quarter horses, the Alberta organization will stage its yearling sale and stallion auction at Century Downs on Friday evening, Sept. 21st starting at 7 PM. The next day, there’ll be four stakes races, the Century Downs 770, the Bonus Challenge, and the trials for the Alberta bred Derby and Futurity. Then on Saturday, Oct. 6th it’ll be the Canada Cup Futurity Trials, followed on Oct. 7th by the Canada Cup Derby trials. The Canada Cup finals for both events will be held on Sunday, Oct. 21st.
The business of sport…
Meanwhile, as Northlands prepares for the fall harness meet and Century Downs moves quickly to convert its surface for a thoroughbred and quarter horse meet which begins on Sunday, Sept. 2nd, the business of sport is never far from the spotlight. Every time I walk through the backstretch, I am asked about where racing is to take place in 2019. I don’t know a lot about that, and I’m reluctant to share what I do know because I don’t think adding to speculation is healthy. But it doesn’t seem outrageous to suggest that people like to know where they are going to spend the next year of their lives so that they can do some planning in anticipation of that decision. There are elements in the Standardbred community that would like to see a multi -year calendar developed. I’ve not talked to other breeds but I doubt that the desire to know where they’re going is much different.
There’s also a question about how much racing there is in the province, given the dollars that are available. I think the industry is looking forward to seeing what the revenue stream will be like when Century Mile opens next spring. I think it will be at least 2020 before the business model will be well enough developed to address that question with any degree of accuracy. At the moment, the only way for groups to develop new ideas is to find additional sources of revenue or to cannibalize or eliminate existing programs to focus the dollars on something new.
Those same questions apply to individual horsemen. I had an interesting conversation on Saturday morning with Preston Shaw, who has shipped his entire stable to Fraser Downs for the start of the fall-winter meet at that facility on Sept. 20th.
“They’ve made us feel wanted,” Shaw told me. “I’m an Alberta boy and would prefer to stay at home. But there’s no stall rental fee at Fraser Downs. I can’t afford to be shipping up and down the highway from one racetrack to another. Fraser is paying some dollars to those of us who have horses ready to race and who are prepared to commit to the meet. So is Cal-Expo in Sacramento, for that matter, which is one of the reasons why a number of horsemen will be heading there at the end of October.”
Briefly noted….The Campbells served up some hot horses over the course of the Century Downs meet and claimed their rewards on Saturday afternoon. Driver Brandon Campbell captured the dash title with 53 wins from 280 drives. He was closely followed by Paul Davies who won 50 races during the meet. Phil Giesbrecht finished third with 49 followed by Jamie Gray with 48 and Dave Kelly with 45. Davies’ horses earned the most money, $420,261. His own Outlawgrabbingears helped that total with 3 stakes victories and $27,300 earned.
Among trainers, Sanford Campbell took the lead in the early stages of the Century Downs meet and held the lead the rest of the way, although he was very nearly overtaken on the final day by Kelly Hoerdt. Campbell finished up with 36 wins from 180 starters. Hoerdt, who won 2 of the stakes races on the final day, was right behind with 35 wins from 178 starters. Hoerdt’s horses won $410,655 during the meet, far and away the highest amount of purse money available. Nathan Sobey (29 wins) Rod Hennessy (28 wins) and Jim Marino (25 wins) completed the top five.
Sept. 1-2-3 — Opening weekend at Track on 2. Post time is 1:15 PM each day.
Sept. 2-3 — Opening weekend for thoroughbreds and quarter horses at Century Downs. Post time is 1:15 PM each day.
Sept. 8th — Fund raiser for the Stollery Children’s Hospital at Bedrock Stables in Beaumont, AB – 10 AM
Sept. 9th — ASHA Yearling Sale at Olds Megadome. Auction begins at 2:30 PM
Sept. 19th — CTHS Yearling Sale at the Olds Megadome. Auction begins at 2 PM