I was walking through Northlands backstretch the other morning when ‘the voice’ echoed from one of the shedrows. “Hey buddy,” came the familiar sound. It could only be one person: Doctor Doolittle, the veterinarian of lore who talks to the animals and who shows up every year around the Canadian Derby.
Me: “Dr. Doo?” I said knowingly.
Doolittle: “Who else?” he replied matter-of-factly. “They closed the nominations on Wednesday night for the Aug. 25 $200,000 race. And I know you once again want to hear what this year’s 11 nominees have to say. “As I tell you every year: animals love to talk; it’s just that most people don’t bother trying to listen.”
Me: “OK, let’s go. Where do you want to start?”
Doolittle: “Let’s go in alphabetical order; they don’t draw for posts until Aug. 22 but in a race of a mile and three-eighths the posts don’t matter that much anyway.”
Me: “Fine with me; tell me what they had to say.”
Doolittle: “Let me get my notes,” said Doolittle, reaching into his back pocket.
“Did you see my last race? I came from last place and swept past them all at Vancouver’s Hastings Park in the Winston Churchill Derby Trial. Man, I was moving. Sure, it helped that they raced a real fast second quarter. Still, one of the horses I beat in that race was Apalachee Bay, who won the Count Lathum beating up on the local boys here by five lengths. And that was going a mile and a sixteenth. I’m going to love the extra distance. I was a little worried that there wasn’t going to be much pace to run at. It looked like Regal Max was going to get to the front by himself. But then Stripling Warrior nominated and he’s going to be off and winging. He’ll set a fast pace and I’ll be there near the back of the pack just biding my time."
“I do all my running late. Last year, as a maiden, I finished second in the Ascot Graduation, also at Hastings Park coming from the clouds again. I’ve got the breeding too. My daddy, New Year’s Day won the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and my mama’s daddy, Pleasant Tap, won the Goodwood Handicap and the San Bernardino Handicap.”
“I know. I know. I’ve only won one race and I got beat pretty bad in the Alberta Derby in Grande Prairie. But I didn’t get a good trip in Grande Prairie. I got too far out of it. My owners are probably taking a bit of a shot in here. But I’ll like the distance.”
“I’m two-for-two over this track at Northlands. I broke my maiden and then I showed what I’m really capable of when I won an allowance race by nine lengths. Nine! Count ‘em. Nine freakin’ lengths. And I didn’t have a good trip. I was four-wide around the first turn and then still three-wide into the last turn. Before I came here I was running against some pretty tough company in Florida, Kentucky and in Chicago. And you can throw out that last race in the Grande Prairie Derby. I was spinning my wheels; I just couldn’t get a hold of the track. Don’t forget they made me the favourite in that race over Shimshine and Regal Max. I’ll be a big underlay in this race."
“You do know who my trainer is don’t you? Tim Rycroft, who is mopping up with just about everything he sends out.”
“My owners paid some big money for me. And I’m going to reward them for their confidence. Did you see who I’ve been running against? Magnum Moon only beat me by a couple of lengths in Florida. And Magnum Moon won both the Grade I Arkansas Derby and the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes before he got hurt and had to stop running. In my maiden victory I beat Home Base, who ran in the Prince of Wales. And I was the odds-on-favourite in that race. Then I won a starter’s allowance by six lengths when they bet me down to 20 cents on the dollar."
“Throw out my last race. Don’t even look at it. That was my first start for my trainer Robertino Diodoro, who is one of the top trainers on the planet, and it was on the grass. I don’t like grass and I don’t mean marijuana. I ran fourth on the turf in my maiden debut. I ran OK. I was fourth. But I much prefer the dirt. My owners are pretty much the same guys who own Chief Know It All, who crossed the finish line on top in last year’s Derby. Robertino trained him too. And, don’t forget, Robertino also won the Derby with Edison in 2014 and Broadway Empire in 2013."
“My stablemate, Sky Promise, is coming off a big win in the Manitoba Derby and he seems to be getting most of the attention. But I’m here to win and that’s just what I’m going to do.”
“Hmm. Do you really want to talk to me? I dunno. I’m going to be a million to one. My trainer Bobby Kingston is a great guy and he’s having a pretty big year but… Geez. Me in the Derby? If I win the tote board is going to light up like the Fourth of July.”
“I know - I was eaves dropping - and several of the other horses in this race are saying to throw out their last races. But you can do that with me too. The Count Lathum was my first start at Northlands and I didn’t ship very well. Then I didn’t get much out of my prep work because a horse got loose and was heading right at me. Scared the beejebeers out of me. Have you seen my latest works? I black lettered on Aug. 3 when I worked four furlongs in :45 3/5 and black lettered again on Aug. 11 when I worked five furlongs in :59 4/5."
“My trainer says I’m waking up but I’ve been awake for a long time. Throw out the Count Lathum like I’m telling you to do and I look pretty good. The only other time I didn’t run well was in my maiden voyage. Otherwise I’ve been right there against some tough company in Kentucky and Arkansas. I’ll like the distance too and a little rain wouldn’t hurt me. I’m the sleeper in this race. You’ll see.”
Red River Bear:
“I’m still a maiden but I’ve run pretty good in all my five races. My trainer, Craig Smith, has had a big year. He’s the third leading trainer on the grounds and that’s despite having a whole pile of seconds - more runner-up finishes than anyone. If half of those seconds had been wins he’d be challenging Tim Rycroft for leading trainer honours. He’d probably be real happy if I run second in here. Me too for that matter.”
“Call me Ocho. That’s what everybody calls me around Rick Hedge’s barn because I was the eighth horse in the 2016 Alberta Yearling Sale when I went for just $2,200. That Hedge is one smart cookie. And he’s having another big year. Not just with me but also with my buddies Tara’s Way and Sir Bronx, who both will be running on Derby Day too. I’m coming into the race in great shape. Been training like there’s no tomorrow. My record is a little deceiving because I’ve gotten myself into a lot of trouble and ended up second seven times."
“In last year’s Birdcatcher I got stopped cold and still finished second. In my first start this year I stumbled at the start and then was herded wide around the first turn. Really, it’s just been one thing after another. And I’ve still won $140,000. I’ve had a nice little feud going with Shimshine. He’s got the better of me a bunch of times but, again, I’ve gotten into trouble in a lot of those races.
“You saw what I did in Grande Prairie when I went wire-to-wire and set a track record on the front end. I don’t like seeing Stripling Warrior in the race. Before he nominated I looked to be the clear speed. But I don’t have to be in front to win. I can come from off the pace too.”
“I’ve won more money - more than $183,000 - than anyone else in this race. That’s got to tell you something. And who was last year’s Two-Year-Old Champion and top Alberta-bred? Me! I went on a nice stretch when I won six of seven starts. I didn’t fire in the Count Lathum and Regal Max beat me in Grande Prairie. But I know I can beat Regal Max. I’ve done that plenty of times. If you switched places with Regal Max in Grande Prairie and I was on the front end instead of chasing I probably win the race."
“Elige Bourne, my trainer, never had a stakes winner before until I came around. He’s the guy who claimed me for just $12,000 for my owner Walter Petruniak. You have to know I’m going to like the distance. My pop is Wilko, who won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Wilko’s sire is Awesome Again, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic going a mile and a quarter. I’ve also got Sky Classic in my blood and he won going a mile and a half. I’ve settled down a bit but I used to be a pretty bad dude. I admit it, I wasn’t very easy to deal with. They had me on the starting gate list and on the steward’s list."
“And then there was the time last fall when I got loose and dragged poor Elige around the barn area last fall at Balzac’s Century Downs. I really shouldn’t have done that. But, like I said, I was a handful when I was younger. I’ll be up close to the pace and they’ll hear from me down the stretch too.”
“You saw what I did in Winnipeg. Do I have to say more? Yeah, they went fast early but I won the Manitoba Derby by seven and a half lengths. After I crossed the finish line I wanted to keep running. They had to get the outrider to pull me up. So now I get to run farther? Great. Bring it on. I’ve been mostly running on the grass but I like the dirt better. I’ll be way back during the early running. But don’t get worried. That’s just the way I run.”
“Surprised to see me? I’m sure you’re not alone. One thing for sure is that they’re going to have to catch me. I haven’t run a distance and I’ve been stopping a bit going shorter. But I’ve run with Regal Max and Shimshine before. And I’ve won three stakes races. Sure they were in Lethbridge but a win is a win is a win. I can see you’re shaking your head. Well, stranger things have happened. Especially in the Canadian Derby.”
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