OK. Maybe it’s time Alberta horsemen simply put their hands in the air and start waving the white flag. What Alberta thoroughbred trainer Tim Rycroft is doing is not only beyond belief it isn’t even fair. It’s like trying to bite a lion. This past Saturday Rycroft entered six races at Northlands. He won them all - including the Don Getty Handicap with Trooper John - which set a Canadian thoroughbred record for most wins on a single card.
Norm McKnight, Ontario’s leading trainer last year won five races on Woodbine’s 2017 closing-day card. Mark Casse, who had been Ontario’s leading trainer the previous 10 years won five races last month at Woodbine. And Rycroft himself won five races on Northlands opening day card this year.
But no one had won six in one day. Especially on just an eight-race card. Until this past weekend that is.
“Crazy. Crazy,” said Rycroft after Trippi River Man went wire-to-wire to win the eighth and final race of the day to break the record. “I knew I had a good chance to win a lot of races. I knew I was pretty solid in each of the six races. I was dropping one horse (Super Cooper) way down in class, another one (Florist) was in for a tag after competing against allowance company and the other horses were running and training well. So I was going in guns ablazing. But to actually win them all… Well, that’s a different matter.”
But it wasn’t. Just about every horse race he entered turned out to be as fair as a deer hunt. He won the first race by five and a half lengths with Blues Roar, a three-year-old that was dropping into a claiming race after hitting the starting gate in her only previous outing. If that wasn’t enough Blues Roar’s stablemate - the aptly named favourite Betterthantherest - ran second. Somehow Blues Roar paid $17.00 to win. (Aren’t you racing fans paying attention?) A $17 winner coming out of Rycroft’s powerful barn is about as rare as finding Donald Trump at a flea market.
Rycroft won the second wire-to-wire with Super Cooper who was in for $7,000 after previously testing $22,000 maiden claimers and before that wide-open company.
In the fourth, Rycroft sent out Command the Land, who had won his previous three starts. As is his his custom, Command the Land won by just a head after winning those previous three races all by a neck. Not having a starter in the fifth, a Rycroft-trained horse won that one anyway - Supreme Rush trained by his dad, Tom.
Then it was Florist’s turn in the sixth. She won by five and a quarter lengths. In the seventh it was the afore-mentioned Trooper John’s turn. I’ll get back to him later but he won by a comfortable length and three-quarters. Finally it was Trippi River Man’s turn. Despite starting from post 8, he went wire-to-wire too while returning a flattering $10.50 to win.
That gave Rycroft the record. “Wow,” said Rycroft. “A Canadian record huh?” Yup. A Canadian record. But even that’s not the end of the story. Rycroft also won the last two races on Friday night’s card which means he has sent out eight straight winners.
It could even get better. Rycroft has four horses entered this Wednesday. And looking at the past performances, Rycroft would seem to have a very good chance to extent that streak. He’s got Chisum G in the second. Eight-to-five on the morning line, Chisum G won by seven and a half lengths against similar competition last time out. In the third race on Wednesday he has I Play to Win making his career debut - a horse which black-lettered four furlongs in :48 2/5 seconds on July 12.
In the fourth it’s Flat Out Sexy’s turn, who was second in his career debut against the same $22,000 price-tag horses he faced last time out. Flat Out Sexy is also favoured on the morning line. Then in the sixth he has Willy Be Smart entered - a horse that was a good third - despite a wide trip - against similar $15,000 claimers.
Who knows? The way he’s going, Rycroft could win all four of those races too. After all, it wasn’t just the last couple of days that has Rycroft riding high in the saddle. For the season, Rycroft has sent out 139 starters and 40 of them have come back winners. Do the math and that’s almost an unbelievable 29 per cent winning percentage.
Runner-up to Greg Tracy the last couple of years for leading trainer of the year, Rycroft is the runaway leader this season. “It would mean a lot to me to be leading trainer,” he admitted. “I’ve got a great crew and great owners. Those are the two biggest reasons for my success this year,” Rycroft said of an ownership group that is led by the powerful Riversedge Stable owned by Norm Castiglione and Robert Vargo.
Ironically, at least in retrospect given his huge performance in the Don Getty, the horse Rycroft was most worried about was Trooper John. “He missed his last start mostly out of precaution,” Castiglione said of last year’s Three-Year-Old champion and Horse of the Year. “After he finished second in the (June 9) Spangled Jimmy we had him x-rayed - which is what we do with all of our good horses.
“The vet saw something - just a shadow - on the x-ray. Some bone bruising in a front ankle. It was very minor but we take every precaution with all of our horses. It could be a bone bruise first and then a fracture later on. “We didn’t want to take any chances with him so we sent him to Moore’s Veterinary Centre in Calgary for a nuclear scan and he was cleared to go.”
Despite the go ahead, Rycroft, as is his nature, was 'Anxious.' “He missed the Fred Jones stake and I really hadn’t done much with him. I only worked him once and then two-minute licked him. I was worried if that was enough training. I don’t like to run a short horse,” he said of horses who come up empty because of a lack of conditioning.
But in a race which was left with only four starters after Alfie, Aqua Frio and For Cash were all steward scratches, Trooper John’s gas tank was as full as ever. Sent away to sit second behind pace setter Double Bear - with Killin Me Smalls a close third - Trooper John easily went by Double Bear down the backstretch.
Then the eight-year-old veteran Killin Me Smalls, who had bounced back in a huge way with an easy and explosive victory in the Fred Jones, took dead aim around the final turn. “When Killin Me Smalls came up to him I was really worried,” said Rycroft. “I was worried we hadn’t done enough with him. I would have hated to see him come up short in the last eighth of a mile.
“I kept thinking (crap) why didn’t I wait a little longer before running him and training him a little harder than I had? I didn’t get to do what I usually do. But I guess Gonzo (barn foreman Gonzalo Anderson) is right. He keeps telling me I worry too much.”
Anderson was certainly right about Trooper John. While Killin Me Smalls loomed dangerously, he never really threatened Trooper John who kept his lead throughout the stretch run. “Killin Me Smalls ran good,” said his trainer Ernie Keller. “The other horse (Trooper John) just ran super good.”
Not running ‘super good’ was Double Bear. Always tenacious and determined, Double Bear finished fourth and last. “The jock (Dane Nelson) said he was empty - that there was nothing there at all,” said Double Bear’s trainer Rod Cone. “When Trooper John came to him he had no interest at all. I don’t know the reason - he’s a horse that never stops trying - but he came back bleeding from his mouth which he banged in the starting gate. I honestly think he was a little woozy.”
“Good horses make you look good,” said Rycroft. “And Trooper John is a really good horse. He’s the picture of consistency.” Is he ever. The win was Trooper John’s ninth (including getting moved up to victory in last year’s Canadian Derby after a very long appeal process that finally resulted in the controversial disqualification of Chief Know It All) in just 15 career starts. In his other six starts he was second four times and third twice. “He’s a race horse alright.”
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