Shamaree Muir took off like he was being swarmed by bees that had drank too much coffee. And I’m not talking about the way he and Sir Bronx sprinted away from his opposition on Saturday turning the $50,000 Westerner into something as one-sided as an execution.
Oh no. Muir had much bigger things on his mind when, with his feet hardly off the pedals, he propped his bicycle against the concrete walls of trainer Rick Hedge’s barn and raced across the dirt alley way to the adjacent barn of Ernie Keller.
“I bet Mark (Ernie’s son) $50 that Killin Me Smalls wouldn’t beat me,” said the demonstrative, likeable jockey waving two twenties and a pair of five dollar bills high in the air as if they were flags on a parade route.
Muir pocketed $3,000 for his 10 per cent share of the $30,000 first-place cheque that Sir Bronx earned for his red-hot owners Brian and Janet Alexander. But that 50 bucks was all he seemed to care about.
First things first I guess. “Mark wanted to bet me $100 but I told him $50 was all I could afford,” said Muir when, wearing a grin larger than Fort Knox, he returned to Hedge’s barn where a small shedrow party was being held to fete Sir Bronx.
It turned out to be the easiest $50 wager Muir had ever won. Muir took Sir Bronx right to the top and had Killin Me Smalls, who was looking for his fourth Westerner title, poised dangerously just off his right shoulder; it was half a dozen lengths back to anyone else.
“I had him right where I wanted,” Muir said afterwards. “I was relaxed and so was Sir Bronx. “I knew at that point I could be useful or I could be useless. I could have gone faster but there was no reason,” Muir said of an opening quarter of 23.73 seconds and half a mile in 47.19 seconds. I had Killin Me Smalls playing my game and not the other way around.”
Continuing that way around the clubhouse turn, Killin Me Smalls and his rider, Larry Munoz, inched up to go head to head early down the backstretch. “I was a little worried at that point,” said Hedge. “But when they reached the quarter pole and (Sir Bronx) opened up I said ‘I think we got him.’”
‘Think?’ Please. This one was all over as certainly as a watermelon-carrying truck going over a cliff. As the late ‘Dandy’ Don Meredith used to say when he was calling NFL games: ‘Turn out the lights; the party’s over.’ In a heart beat Sir Bronx opened up two, then three, then half a dozen lengths.
It was so easy that when Muir looked under his shoulder just outside of the sixteenth pole and saw nothing but air in his rear-view mirror he grabbed a handful of rein and was almost standing straight up in the saddle when they crossed the finish line.
The official margin was three and three-quarter lengths over Royal Warrior but it could have easily been 10 lengths if Muir had persisted even with the slightest urging. Sir Bronx’s victory was the third stakes win in a row for the Alexanders and Hedge. Last weekend Regal Max, who is being aimed to the Aug. 25 Canadian Derby, won the Alberta Derby.
The weekend before that it was Tara’s Way taking the Duchess of York. “Three weekends. Three stakes wins,” smiled Hedge, who related that Sir Bronx had been training ‘super good’ coming into the Westerner.
“He’s really been full of himself the last couple of weeks. After he gallops three rounds - and I’ve had him gallop three rounds a lot - he still wants more. I’ve had to have a pony pick him up because he’s been so strong in the mornings.” After easily winning an allowance race in his previous start on July 14, Hedge had Muir work Sir Bronx five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 on July 27.
“He did that so easily. I didn’t want to work him in 59 seconds or anything like that. It was just a maintenance work. But good horses go a lot faster than you think they are going and that’s what Sir Bronx is like. You think he’s going in 1:02 and he’s really going in 59 seconds.” Now the plan is to run all three horses - Sir Bronx, Tara’s Way and Regal Max - all run on Derby Day.
With Regal Max headed to the big one - the $200,000 Derby where he is expected to face about 10 and perhaps as many as 12 rivals - Sir Bronx is being pointed to the Timely Ruckus Sprint while Tara’s Way is positioned to run in the Edmonton Distaff. Last year, on Derby Day, Sir Bronx won the Timely Ruckus while Tara’s Way took the Distaff. So be forewarned.
“It seems like every time Tara’s Way wins so does Sir Bronx,” said their groom Kirbi Pfannmuller, who is also Hedge’s barn manager. “It’s like Sir Bronx is saying I have to keep up and show up my ‘sister.’” Pfannmuller said Sir Bronx and Tara’s Way are two completely different animals.
“Tara’s Way is much easier to deal with than Sir Bronx. Sir Bronx likes to bite. I think he thinks that I’m his personal squeaky toy. With Tara’s Way it’s like ‘Hey, how are you doing buddy.’ “But I’m just so thankful to have horses like that to work with.
“I love puzzles and to to me horse racing is like a giant puzzle. It’s all about finding out what makes them tick and what makes them run hard,” said Pfannmuller, who also works with the standardbreds in the winter.“I go stir crazy if I don’t have something to do. I was so proud of Sir Bronx after he went head to head with Killin Me Smalls and then run away from them as easily as he did. When Killin Me Smalls moved up on Sir Bronx the way he did Sir Bronx just shook his head and said ‘No you’re not going by me.’”
With the $50 still clutched in his hands, Muir was undoubtedly saying the same thing.
STOCK REPORT - The Westerner, which went with only five horses, was noticeably absent the presence of Trooper John - last year’s Horse of the Year - who was cautiously sidelined with what leading trainer Tim Rycroft termed “a very minor injury. “I could have run him but better safe than sorry. He’s just too good of a horse to take a chance on,” said Rycroft.
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