Chris Lancaster is finally letting himself exhale. Even if it’s just a little bit. “All year I worried about getting as many horses as I could get qualified for the Super Finals,” Lancaster said of next Saturday’s Nov. 2nd card - the richest day of racing at Century Mile - yes even richer than harness racing’s Derby Day - where there will be four $75,000 stakes and four $15,000 consolations - all for Alberta-sired horses.
“Now that day is almost here and the qualifying is over. I’m actually less nervous now than I have been all year.” Exceeding even his own lofty expectations Lancaster, 28, who is in just his second full year of training on his own, has qualified an amazing five entrants into the four $75,000 big ones. No one has more.
“To get five in is incredible,” said Lancaster, who proved the voters right when he was named Canada’s Future Star winner at last year’s O’Brien Awards.
“Getting five horses in takes a lot off my plate. It’s been a hell of a ride. A Cinderella type year,” said Lancaster, who found his glass slippers more than 100 times.
“Saturday Nov. 2 should be a big day. It looks promising. All five should be in the top three as far as betting goes,” he said of Rockin Mystery, Freddy Two Socks, Just Mac, Custards Crown and Jewels Dragon. “I’ve been able to pick up some very good drivers for all of them.”
Kelly Hoerdt will drive Custards Crown and Jewels Dragon; Mike Hennessy will be on the bike for Just Mac; Phill Giesbrecht will handle Freddy Two Socks and Dave Kelly has taken Rockin Mystery.
“It should be a big day; it looks pretty promising. I’m just hoping we can pull it off and do well. Now about the only thing I have to worry about is the post draw. My fingers are crossed.”
Here’s a look at those quintet of horses, who will all get one more start this weekend before the Super Finals. You have to start with Rockin Mystery, who will undoubtedly be the odds-on-favourite in the Three-Year-Old Filly event. A career winner of 11 of her 27 starts, Rockin Mystery has been first or second in 13 of her 18 outings this year. In her last two starts she simply aired winning the elimination leg and then the Final of the Marquis Stakes on cruise control to go over $200,000 in earnings this year alone.
Described by Kelly as a horse you can drive with two fingers, Rockin Mystery is so versatile that she can come from off the pace or go right to the top. Depending on the post draw the latter is probably going to be Rockin Mystery’s choice of paths because once she makes the front she’s been almost impossible to beat.
Owned by Blair Miller and Rod Therres, who bought her at the Alberta Yearling Sale for $16,000 Lancaster said “Hopefully she can go out with a bang. She’s been doing really well. She came out of the Marquis Final healthy and strong.
It wasn’t always wine and roses for Rockin Mystery. “She was really sick at the start of the year. She was in the Moore Veterinary Centre for a week where they did a great job of getting her healthy. Dr. Jordan Cook in particular. Her lungs were full of fluid and they put her on I.V. fluids. She got the full meal deal for seven days. But she’s bounced back incredibly. We gave her time and she got good again. She’ll be tough to beat. She always is. She’s a superstar.”
Then there’s Jewels Dragon in the Three-Year-Old Super Finals division. Century Mile’s track-record holder when he paced in 1:51 1/5 while winning the elimination for the Western Canada Pacing Derby, Jewels Dragon - owned by Paul Sanders and Christine Cutting - has won 10 of 23 races lifetime and eight of 15 this season.
The horse Jewels Dragon will have to beat is Outlawgrabbingears, who couldn’t be in better form having extremely easily winning the elimination leg and Final of the Maverick Stake never really asked at all in the stretch on both occasions. “I think we can give ‘Grabbingears a good run for the money. I was really impressed with him last Sunday when he beat aged horses,” Lancaster said of the come-from-behind performance where Jewels Dragon rolled down the stretch winning with a last quarter in :27 3/5.
Hoerdt, Jewels Dragon’s pilot in that race against older horses and the man who will drive him in the Super Finals, thinks highly of Jewels Dragon too. “I would not count that horse out,” said Hoerdt. “With the right trip he’s definitely got a legitimate shot especially as well as he raced last Sunday against aged horses."
“Jewels Dragon beat Outlawgrabbingears in the Derby Final and he beat my horse, Kneedeep N Custard in the Derby elimination,” said Hoerdt, who is not entering Kneedeep N Custard in the Super Finals electing to keep the Western Canada Derby winner in B.C. for that province’s own $100,000 Super Finals on Nov. 11.
“I could race Kneedeep N Custard at Century Mile and then ship him to B.C. But that would be greedy and it’s asking too much. I don’t want to take the risk of him getting sick,” said Hoerdt of the horse who just swept the three-race Robert Murphy Series at Fraser Downs.
Hoerdt, who will also drive Custards Crown for Lancaster, likes that filly’s chances too in the Two-Year-Old Filly Super Finals. Unraced since Sept. 22, Hoerdt qualified Custards Crown on Sunday with a last quarter in 28 seconds. “She qualified really strong,” said Lancaster. “She was on cruise control the whole way even through that last quarter. Kelly wasn’t asking her. She did it all on her own. Kelly was really impressed.
“She’s a really nice filly,” Lancaster said of the winner of three stakes - the July 28 Emerald, Aug. 5 Starlet and the Sept. 1 Starburst with the first two coming in her first two career races. “Custards Crown came out of her last start, the Jim Rogers where she finished fourth after being parked out most of the way, sick. She had a respiratory virus. But we gave her the appropriate amount of time off and she’s ready now. Hopefully she can polish off her two-year-old season with a win too.”
The other two horses Lancaster will send out for the Super Finals are Freddy Two Socks and Just Mac in the Two-Year-Old colt and gelding division. Freddy Two Socks, named because of his two white hind feet, came out of his Sept. 22 Century Mile sick just like Custards Crown.
“Same thing, respiratory virus,” said Lancaster. “Like Custards Crown we gave ‘Freddy’ some time off and he’s back in full too.”
A winner of two stakes - the Rising Star on Aug. 5 and the Sept. 2 Lonestar - Freddy Two Socks finished behind Trip Hammer, who has qualified for the Super Final, in his last two outings. Freddy Two Socks, however, defeated Trip Hammer in the Rising Star. “Those two horses have a bit of a rivalry going,” said Lancaster.
“I think ‘Freddy’ is going to be tough. At least I hope so. But you can’t rule out his stablemate Just Mac. He set the track record last week for two-year-olds when he won the Shooting Star and went in 1:54 4/5. And he paced his last quarter in :27 2/5.”
Of the four Super Finals the Two-Year-Old male division is probably the most contentious. Hoerdt has Criminal Record and Ragged But Right in there and several others also loom dangerously. “Criminal Record has really been improving,” said Hoerdt. “And I think there’s more there to be had. He’s been right there at the wire just about every time. It’s a tough race and will probably be decided by post positions and the trips the horses get.”
Whatever happens on Nov. 2 it’s been a fabulous year for Lancaster.
“Yeah, pretty amazing,” he said. “To think that about a year ago I owned four horses. Now I have 21 horses in my stable - including seven yearlings that I’ll be focused on over the winter - and I own a piece of 19 of them.”
Job well done.
Follow me on Twitter at CurtisJStock