Saturday, 09 September 2017 01:48

Favourite Day of the Year

Written by Curtis Stock
Rendering of the Century Mile facility near Redtail Landing and the Edmonton International Airport Rendering of the Century Mile facility near Redtail Landing and the Edmonton International Airport

We all have our favourite days. Christmas. Thanksgiving. And when we were younger the last day of school before summer finally arrived. For Cash has his favourite day too: next Saturday’s Alberta Fall Classic - a series of seven $50,000 stakes races for Alberta-breds of all ages and sexes.

“We’ve been pointing at Alberta Day pretty much all season,” said For Cash’s trainer Dale Greenwood. “It’s usually always been a special day for him. We’ve avoided those other bears like Killin Me Smalls all year getting him ready for September 16.”

Now seven-years old, For Cash will be competing in his fifth Fall Classic. He’s won two of them and finished second and third in the other two which speaks as much about his longevity as it does about his consistency and tenacity. And the way For Cash has been going, Greenwood fully anticipates his charge owned by Lyle and Phylis Farkash to have another big day.

“I expect him to run pretty good,” said Greenwood. “He’s been training good; he’s been running good. I’d have to say that he’s as good now as he has been in the last few years.”

Limited to just five starts this year, For Cash, who won the $200,000 Zia Park Derby in 2013, has two wins, a second and a third with the $50,445 he’s won this year pushing him over well over half a million dollars in career earnings. His most recent effort was a dandy as he and Blue Dancer turned a five-horse affair into a match race - both horses sprinting clear of the others with Blue Dancer on the rail and For Cash to his outside.

Battling shoulder to shoulder for the last three-eighths of a mile, the photo showed For Cash the winner by a slender nose; it was more than a dozen lengths back before the next horse crossed the wire. After slow fractions, For Cash and Blue Dancer really turned it on in the stretch - the winning time of 1:43 3/5 just a second off the track record set by Chilcoton Blaze way back in 1984.

But then that’s the way For Cash usually runs - with guts and determination. Showing his consistency, in 34 starts at Northlands, For Cash has 11 wins, seven seconds and nine thirds. Invariably, unless something physically goes wrong, when For Cash heads to the starting gate you know he’s going to show up.

The former, however, is exactly what happened last year when he tied up badly in the Fred Jones stakes - an ailment when a horse’s muscles cramp and seize up. “When he got back to the barn he couldn’t even hardly walk,” recalled Greenwood. “He went right to his stall.” Usually when a horse ties up it is in the hindquarters. But with For Cash it was his right front muscles that knotted leaving Greenwood fearing that For Cash had done some structural damage.

“He was such a mess that I was really quite scared. I thought he might have hurt an ankle, a foot or a knee or something.” Given two months off that’s how For Cash entered last year’s Fall Classic - the Alberta Breeders’ Handicap - leaving racing fans and handicappers wondering what they were going to see. But there was no reason to worry as For Cash rallied three wide and went on to a three quarters of a length victory over Water Wagon, a horse that is cross nominated to both the Alberta Breeders’ going a mile and a sixteenth and the six and a half furlong Red Diamond Express.

Water Wagon isn’t the only horse nominating to both of those races. Alfie, Go Wild, Mister Jangles and Zippity Zap have also done the same thing. Zippity Zap’s trainer Craig Smith is pretty sure he is going in the Alberta Breeders’ to test For Cash, whose half brother Toccetive won the Canadian Derby and the Speed to Spare in 2012.

“Zippity Zap is better running long,” said Smith, who claimed the four-year-old last June for owner Vern McDonald for $15,000 specifically with the Fall Classic in mind. The claim paid immediate dividends as Zippity Zap won his next start off the claim in a $25,000 allowance race. Then he ran second to champion Killin Me Smalls twice - both in the Don Getty and the Westerner.  Now, with Killin Me Smalls ineligible for the Alberta-bred only races, he gets For Cash.

“What can you say? For Cash is just a great horse and he’s certainly good right now,” said Smith. “But hopefully we’ll make a little noise in there too.”

Zippity Zap is one of two horses Smith haltered with the Fall Classic in mind. He also claimed Xtreme Denigray for McDonald for $17,500 - a horse who is headed for the Red Diamond, where he will face the likes of Mister Jangles, who crossed the wire on top in last appearance but was disqualified and placed sixth.

“He didn’t run very well the day we claimed him,” Smith said of Xtreme Denigray, who ran a lacklustre sixth. “He had an excuse in that race; he lost a shoe,” said Smith of the defending champion of the Red Diamond. “He came out of the race fantastic and we’re hopeful we are pointed in the right direction.”

Smith has a third horse in the Fall Classic - Makealittlenoise, who will contest the Beaufort for three-year-olds. “Makealittlenoise won his first four starts and then he got hurt in the starting gate in the July 30 Grande Prairie Alberta Derby. “The horse on the outside of Makealittlenoise hesitated in the gate and Makealittlenoise got excited and kicked the gate for a period of time. He got beat up pretty good.

“We’ve schooled him several times with no problems,” said Smith, who ran Makealittlenoise in an allowance race after the ill-fated Grande Prairie Derby. “He ran a good race that day,” Smith said of a third-place finish. “But the track was a little funny. Deep closing horses were coming from out of the clouds all day and that’s not Makealittlenoise’s style; he likes to be on top.”

Like Smith, Greenwood is also sending out three horses on Saturday. As well as For Cash he has Pacioretty running in the Beaufort and the much improved I Tricked My Ride pointed to the Fall Classic Distaff. Going without a win in five starts last year, I Tricked My Ride has three wins and a second this year with the latest outing resulting in a dogged victory against $25,000 allowance horses. “I really didn’t change much on her,” Greenwood said of the horse he inherited after Twyla Bensmiller retired from training. “She’s a big filly - some 17 hands high - and I think she just matured a lot over the winter. She’s just a better horse this year.”

As well as the aforementioned Alberta Breeders’, Red Diamond Express, Beaufort and Fall Classic Distaff, the other three stakes are the Alberta Oaks for three-year-old fillies; the Sturgeon River for two-year-old fillies and the Alberta Premier’s Futurity for two-year-old colts.

The Premier’s looks like it will come down to Regal Max and Shimshine. Regal Max won the Alberta Sale Stake by eight lengths and then had a very troubled trip in the Birdcatcher where he had no where to run - hemmed in by Shimshine and jockey Rico Walcott.

“I saw it coming for about five-eighths of a mile,” said Regal Max’s trainer Rick Hedge. “Rico was on the outside of us and didn’t give us any room. At the top of the lane the leader drifted out and I thought we finally might get some room but then that horse came back down and we were toast again.”

Shimshine, on the other hand, has proven to be a very astute claim by Elige Bourne. Haltered in his debut from Dale Saunders for $12,000, as well as the Birdcatcher, Shimshine also impressively broke his maiden by almost six lengths.

Speedy Street Made will likely be favoured in the Sturgeon. After breaking his maiden easily, Street Made finished third in the Princess Margaret and then ran third - albeit in a three-horse race - at Hastings where he again set the fractions.

Parcam Cowgirl is nominated in both the Distaff and the Alberta Oaks but the latter seems the more likely spot for the three-year-old filly, who just got nipped at the wire in the Sonoma. Parcam Cowgirl has only been out of the top three once in 11 lifetime starts. That was in the Northlands Oaks in July where she was taken back at the start and fought jockey Kyle Carter the entire way. Her main opposition is again expected to come from Saveitforarainyday, who defeated Parcam Cowgirl in last year’s Fall Classic Sturgeon and was the runner-up in the Northlands Oaks.

Also looming are Misty Do It and Piper Rose. “It’s a very strong card,” said Smith. “Sometimes on the Fall Classic you’ll get several horses taking flyers but that’s not the case this year. “You look at the nominations and you think ‘Man this is a good horse; this is a good horse and this is a good horse. “There’s real quality.”

STOCK REPORT - The Fall Classic marks the end of Northlands thoroughbred season. Harness racing returns the following week while the thoroughbreds head back to Calgary for the first time in nine years.

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