That’s what Rod Starkewski will send out in this weekend’s stakes action at Northlands. The veteran trainer has Maxsamian in one of Friday’s two legs of the Starburst for two-year-old Alberta-bred fillies and both Outlawgrabbingears and Crackle N Burn in Saturday’s three legs of the Lonestar for two-year-old Alberta-bred colts and geldings.
“Three very nice two-year-olds,” said Starkewski. “All three have done everything right. They’ve made my job very easy. I started the year with six three-year-olds. I turned out three of them - I’m just in the process of getting them to come back and get ready for their careers - and I’m left with these three and they’re all good.”
Of that there is no doubt. Asked which one is the best, Starkewski didn’t hesitate very long. “On paper it has to be Outlawgrabbingears,” said Starkewski, who is looking after the precocious colt for regular trainer and co-owner Paul Davies, who has returned to B.C. He set the track record at Century Downs when he won a division of the Century Stake in 1:55 2/5.”
Outlawgrabbingears, who is also owned by Aldergrove B.C.’s Nicole Cecchin and Calgary’s Deborah Pinel, didn’t just win that Aug. 6 race; he annihilated the field by five and a half lengths with plenty of gas still left in the tank while going wire-to-wire. It was harbinger of things to come.
Outlawgrabbingears followed up the Century tally with two gritty, photo-finish wins in the Aug. 18 Rising Star and then the Aug. 25 Alberta Standardbred Horsemen’s Association Colt stake. In the former the Smart Shark colt held off Jean Francois Gagne’s I Ama Rocket by a neck. In the latter Outawgrabbingears just caught I Ama Rocket - obviously sure to be a threat again this week - to win by a nose. “Outlawgrabbingears is very nice, quiet horse,” said Starkewski. “He’s not raunchy or anything. He just does his business.”
Crackle N Burn isn’t far behind. If he’s behind at all. After finishing second in his first two starts - one of which Starkewski said was his fault - Crackle N Burn has romped in his last two appearances. He won a division the Rising Star by 11 lengths in 1:57 1/5 and then won a division of the ASHA Colt Series by six and three-quarter lengths again in 1:57 1/5.
Those wins were highly expected given that Crackle N Burn was bet down to fifty cents on the dollar in the Rising Star and returned just $2.50 to win the ASHA Colt. “I drove Crackle N Burn in his first two starts and then turned the reins over to Phil Giesbrecht for his last two starts,” said Starkewski. “Phil told me he had lots left in both of those two wins. Both times he was a very comfortable winner. He could have gone a lot faster if he had to. Phil said he hadn’t even turned Crackle N Burn loose in either of those races. Obviously that’s something I liked to hear. In his second start for me he went in 1:56 and a piece. I should have won that race; I blame myself. I thought I had it won and I think I eased up a bit and J.F. caught me with I Ama Rocket. I’m very pleased with Crackle N Burn. He’s done everything we’ve asked.”
The nice thing about Crackle N Burn is that Starkewski is the colt’s owner, trainer and breeder. “He’s a homebred - the first foal out of Crackers Hot Shot,” Starkewski said of the mare who was the Horse of the Year in 2013, a multiple stakes winner and a winner of 13 of her 42 starts. Crackle N Burn’s sire is Blue Burner, who took a mark of 1:49 4/5 and whom Starkewski said “puts out race horses.”
Like Outlawgrabbingears, Starkewski said “Crackle N Burn has also done everything he’s been asked. He does everything nicely.” Crackle N Burn got post 4 in Saturday’s first division; Outlawgrabbingears ended up with the outside post 6 in the second division.
Then there’s the big filly Maxsamian. After breaking her maiden at first asking, Maxsamian finished second while asked to come from well behind in the Aug. 6 Emerald Stakes. Then she won the Aug. 18 Starlet by four and a half lengths and the Aug. 25 ASHA Filly by a length and a quarter.
While Maxsamian has yet to break 1:59, Starkewski said “There’s still more there. She’s very easy on herself. Dave Kelly, who has driven her in all of four starts and who has done a very nice job with her, told me she gets off by herself and only goes as fast as she has to.”
Owned by Calgary’s Morinne Kennedy, Maxsamian was bred by her late husband, Norman Kennedy, who was a member of the ASHA Board and Horse Racing Alberta Board for many years. Maxsamian, who is named for Norman’s three grandchildren Max, Sam and Ian, got post 5 in Friday’s second division of the Starburst.
“Maxsamian does everything like a professional. There’s no baby in her. She already acts like an older horse,” said Starkewski, who is having another solid year. “I’m not going to complain that’s for sure. Lady Luck has been rolling the dice for us. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have some nice stock and some great owners.
“I’ve got 19 head in my stable which is plenty enough. Outside of the three two-year-olds and stakes winner Outlaw True Grit - who is having some issues - the rest of the stable is mostly meat and potato race horses - grinders who are nothing flashy but most of which come to play every week. It’s the two-year-olds that have stood out,” said Starkewski, who also has seven yearlings and six weanlings.
Starkewski’s entrance to harness racing was purely by happenstance. “Neither of my parents were involved in horse racing. But one of my high school buddy’s parents bought a horse so my buddy and I started hanging around the track especially in the summer. That’s all it took. I got hooked and that was the end of her.”
It wasn’t long before Starkewski started working at the track - first for Max Jorgensen and then later for Billy Companion and Jack Beelby. “I learned a lot about claimers and older horses from Billy and I learned a lot about young horses from Jack,” said Starkewski, 50, who has been training on his own for 25 years beginning with Mike Nutik’s LMN Farms.
“When I was with Jack he had Counterfeit Crown who was a beast; she was unbeatable around here,” Starkewski said of the two-time Horse of the Year in 1990 and 1991 - two years when she was also runner-up as Canada’s Filly or Mare champion. All told, Counterfeit Crown, the first filly to win the Nat Christie, won 47 of 68 starts with 39 of those 47 wins all coming in two minutes or less.
The track is also where Starkewski met his wife, Jackie, an indispensable part of his stable and success. “Jackie was working for Jack at the time and I was working for Billy. We just celebrated our 25th anniversary and we have one son, Ryan. In addition to the 19 horses we train together we also have a lot of babies coming up. We’ve got seven yearlings and six weanlings so that keeps us out of trouble.”
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