Clayton Wiest’s string of bad luck in Northlands Canadian Derby looks like it may have finally ended. But the word ‘may’ needs to be italicized.
In one of the closest, nail-biting finishes in the 88 runnings of the Derby, Chief Know It All, whom Wiest co-owns with his dad, Rick, Tim Rollingson and Randy Howg, took Saturday’s $150,000 edition by half a length in a three-horse photo over local favourite Trooper John and 10-1 outsider Double Bear - the latter two dead-heating for second. But that’s still the ‘unofficial’ result.
After the race Double Bear’s jockey, Dane Nelson, and trainer, Rod Cone, claimed foul alleging that Chief Know It All interfered with their horse. The stewards denied the objection but Cone and Double Bear’s owner are going to appeal that decision.
“Chief Know It All clearly came over on us,” said Cone. “The judge’s ruled otherwise but I talked with the horse’s owner, Hal Veale, and we’ve agreed to appeal. We have 48 hours to appeal and that’s what we are going to do.”
Nelson concurred that he was fouled. “(Chief Know It All) bumped me several times,” said Nelson. “He kept coming down on me. At the top of the stretch - bang; I was against the rail. Then - bang. He hit me again.”
For Wiest, in particular, an appeal is the last thing he wants to hear. After all, Wiest’s luck in the Derby, has largely been all bad. “This is the fifth Derby my family has been involved with and this was our first win,” said Wiest. “My dad, Rick, had Controlled Meeting in the 2004 Derby. After getting post 10 in the 11-horse field, Controlled Meeting lost by a nose to Organ Grinder. Then last year, my dad, Tim Rollingson and I entered Solve. He got post 11 too and lost a close decision to Ready Intaglio.” On Saturday Wiest’s luck ‘may’ have finally changed. But there’s that word again. “Down the backstretch, around the final turn and into the stretch, I thought ‘Here we go again; we’re going to finish second,’” said Wiest in a jubilant winner’s circle.
“I can’t believe the heart that he showed.” But that could be said of Trooper John and especially Double Bear too. Double Bear set all of the early fractions. When he was headed by Chief Know It All and Trooper John entering the final turn he appeared to be finished. After all Trooper John had defeated Double Bear by almost 10 lengths in their previous encounter, the Count Lathum.
But Double Bear refused to quit. He kept trying and trying, somehow finding more in the gruelling mile and three-eighths Derby, the richest and most prestigious race in Western Canada. And Trooper John? He rallied three wide down the backstretch and he never quit trying either.
“I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” said Wiest. “In the last couple of jumps I thought, like Controlled Meeting and Solve, it was going to happen again.” But no. A $100,000 claim by the Wiests, Rollingson and Howg at Churchill Downs in Kentucky - reportedly the highest-priced claim in that track’s history - Chief Know It All kept reaching down and finding more too.
“We had been following this horse for months,” said Wiest. “We tried to buy him privately but that never happened. Then, when they put him in for a price, we put our chips in.” With the Derby worth $90,000 for first, Wiest and his partners are almost ‘out’ already.
And to think that just two weeks ago, Wiest was devastated when Coors Lute broke down in the Aug. 7 $75,000 Manitoba Derby. “He was a horse that we had bought specifically for that race,” said Wiest. “When he broke down I was ready to sell all my horses and the farm. It was an all-time low. Now we win the Canadian Derby and I’m ready to buy some more horses.”
Chief Know It All, who paid $6.30 to win, had all the credentials to win the Derby. In his previous two races at Churchill Downs, Chief Know It All finished ahead of Warrior’s Club, a horse that ran second earlier this month - by just a neck - to Neolithic. The latter ran third to Arrogate, a winner of over $17 million, in both the Dubai World Cup and the Pegasus World Cup - the two richest races in the world.
Capably looked after at Northlands by Bob Jackson, Robertino Diodoro’s assistant trainer in Alberta, this was the third Derby win for Diodoro and the fourth Derby triumph by jockey Rico Walcott. “My horse relaxed the whole way until Trooper John came up… Trooper John was the horse I had to watch,” Walcott said of the local favourite who had won five straight races coming into the Derby. “Then (Chief Know It All) picked up the bit and went on again,” said Walcott.
“It was a great ride by Rico,” said Diodoro. “It was a great race.”
Wagering once again topped $1 million on the 12-race Derby card with $1,097,288 going through the mutels which was slightly down from last year's handle of $1,116,000. There were four other stakes on Saturday’s Derby program. Brian and Janet Alexander won two of them - the $75,000 City of Edmonton Distaff with Tara’s Way and the $50,000 Timely Ruckus with Sir Bronx. Both are trained by Rick Hedge, who continued his great year.
For Sir Bronx the Timely Ruckus marked his third straight win at Northlands after coming from Woodbine in Toronto. Tara’s Way, who had also previously raced in Ontario, the Distaff was her third win in five starts at Northlands.
In the other two stakes, Killin Me Smalls romped in the $50,000 Westerner for his 19th win in 41 starts as the heavy favourite while Anstrum captured the $50,000 Sonoma for her second stakes win at Northlands having previously won the Red Smith Stakes.
We’ll have more on those four horses later this week.
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