The doors opened wide at Northlands Park this weekend and two new Canadian Derby three-year-old hopefuls barged through leaping into prominence. Friday night Riversedge Racing Stables’ Gem Alta posted an eye-popping nine-length victory in an allowance race; Saturday it was Vancouver invader Apalachee Bay, owned by Peter Redekop, who thundered home five lengths on top in the Count Lathum, the final local stakes prep to the Aug. 25 Canadian Derby.
Despite their overpowering triumphs, neither connection would confirm they would run in the Derby. “There are still a lot of what ifs,” said Gem Alta and Northlands leading trainer Tim Rycroft. “We’re on a course right now to get him on a roll and give him some confidence. At this time of the year you want to have them peaking at the right time. “Right now we’re thinking of running him in the (Aug. 6) Manitoba Derby and depending on how he does there we’ll make a decision on the Canadian Derby.”
Rycroft however was clearly excited about what he saw from Gem Alta on Friday. And why not? “He was quite impressive,” understated Rycroft after watching Gem Alta race four-wide around the first turn and then power his way three-wide into the clubhouse turn and then simply explode. Perhaps even more convincing was how he picked up the pace on his own through a driving rain storm. After a rather leisurely opening quarter in 24 3/5, Gem Alta stepped it up running a second quarter in 24 seconds flat. Six furlongs were reached in 1:13 and then he finished the mile with a :24 3/5 closing quarter while eased up in the final stages.
“I was particularly impressed the way he finished and how strong he galloped out. “It looks like he will get more distance,” Rycroft said referring to the Canadian Derby’s mile and three-eighths. “He’s got a real nice, long stride.” Extremely well bred - and bred for a distance - Gem Alta, who was purchased for $70,000 (U.S.) as a yearling at the Kenneland September Sale, is by Gemologist and out of an A.P. Indy mare, Court Reception. Wood Memorial winner Gemologist, who is by Tiznow, was a top 10-second crop sire last year. A.P. Indy won the 1992 Breeders Classic and Belmont. In his previous outing Gem Alta also chased three wide before moving to the lead and the victory with aplomb.
Then there was Apalachee Bay, whom Redekop paid $140,000 at last year’s Horses of Racing Age sale at Ocala, Florida. Like Gem Alta, Apalachee Bay also won as he pleased. “I worked him five furlongs at Hastings in :58 3/5 and he did it comfortably,” said trainer Phil Hal, whose dad, Robert ‘R.W.’ Hall trained the great George Royal. “I knew if he ran back to that work he would be tough and he was,” said Hall, who watched Apalachee Bay set fractions of :24.35; :48.21 and 1:13.81 before disappearing down the stretch and stopping the clock for the mile and a sixteenth in 1:46.46 on a track far from fast after Friday’s heavy rain.
Unraced as a two-year-old, Apalachee Bay started his career at Golden Gate, California Apalachee Bay this spring. “I really don’t think he liked the Tapeta surface at Golden Gate,” said Hall dismissing his two California races where he could only manage a fourth- and a sixth-place finish. “He’s been a different horse on dirt. “In his first start for us in Vancouver he raced four wide and still finished a good fourth. In his next start he won by six lengths.”
Now this. Taking on Alberta’s leading Canadian Derby applicants, going a route for the first time and making just his fifth career appearance, Apalachee Bay was much, much the best. Regal Max raced well to take take second. However, Shimshine, winner of six of his last seven races failed to fire and finished fourth. “Apalachee Bay came to me fit from California. I didn’t really have to do a lot with him. Just enter him,” Hall laughed.
“Those are the kind of horses that make a trainer look good. The $4,000 maidens are the hard ones.” But, like Gem Alta, Apalachee Bay’s connections were non committal on the Canadian Derby. “He’s definitely getting better,” said Hall, who has been training thoroughbreds for 32 years. “I was excited to see what he would do when we stretched him out and I certainly liked what I saw. But I’ll talk to Peter and then we’ll decide what to do with him.
“It looked like he was nice and relaxed and when the jockey (Rigo Sarmiento, who also rode Gem Alta) asked him he picked it up and he had something left when he turned for home. “The only thing I told Rigo was not to fight him. Just let him do his thing. “I wasn’t surprised to see him on the lead especially given the fractions the race went in. “But the guy you should really talk to is Bryan Anderson, Peter’s racing manager.”
So we did. “At this point we really don’t know for sure what direction we’re heading,” said Anderson, who said two races at Emerald Downs in Auburn, Washington and the September 8 B.C. Derby are also an option. “There is a $100,000 bonus to a horse that can win all three of those races. Apalachee Bay is a nice horse. He was training at Santa Anita (California) and we were very impressed with him. He didn’t run very well at Golden Gate but when he came to Hastings Park and got back on the dirt we knew we had a nice horse. But whether he runs in the Canadian Derby or not… It’s too early to say.”
STOCK REPORT - Curtis Landry’s Raider looked poised again when the three-year-old filly won Friday’s $50,000 R.K. (Red) Smith Stake battling on the outside of I Miss Back When and emerging with a hard fought half length victory. It was Raider’s third straight victory having also won the Chariot Chaser stake and then, again, edging I Miss Back When by a head on a track which, by then, had turned to mud. Saturday’s card also unveiled a most promising and gorgeous two-year-old filly named Passive. Owned and bred by the Highfield Investment Group, Passive won by four and a half lengths in her maiden debut over stablemate Alberta Bound.
On Twitter: @CurtisJStock