It’s hard to say who rode Tara’s Way harder: jockey Shamaree Muir or the owners of last year’s champion aged mare, Brian and Janet Alexander. Give the nod goes to the latter.
“I almost fell down I was cheering so hard,” said Brian, whose wife wasn’t far behind standing and yelling in Northlands Colours dining room when Tara’s Way moved past front running C U A Eau Claire at the five-sixteenths pole of Saturday’s Duchess of York stakes.
Despite quickly surging into a three-length lead — earlier than trainer Rick Hedge would have preferred — the $50,000 stakes race was still far from being settled. Anstrum, who finally got some racing room at the top of the stretch, came charging on the inside while Sail On By, who was jostled during the early going, came pounding on the outside. That’s when Muir and the Alexanders really had to work hard.
“I was exhausted,” said Brian after Tara’s Way dug down deep and found more gas in the tank holding Anstrum clear by a length and three-quarters while Sail On By was another half length back in third. Muir? No so much. “I’ve been waiting for this kind of a trip all year,” said Muir, who positioned Tara’s Way in second place just behind the pace setting C U At Eau Claire. “I wasn’t worried. She wandered a bit down the stretch but I knew I had the race won. She’s a fighter. I knew she wouldn’t quit.”
If only the Alexanders and Hedge felt the same. “I was plenty worried,” said Brian. “I was thinking ‘Come on wire,’” echoed a relieved Hedge. “It looked to me like she started to loaf when she was all alone by herself. It looked like she started to relax and slowed down.
“A lot of horses will do that. They get clear, their ears come up and they think the race is over. I know Ky Alta was like that,” he said of the great local thoroughbred owned by Red Sherman he used to ride when he was a jockey - a horse that equalled Northlands track record for a mile and a sixteenth and then broke the record for a mile and three-eighths when he won the 1981 Speed to Spare. “You had to wait and wait with him. Tara’s Way looks like she might be the same.”
After winning five of her eight starts last year, the Duchess of York was Tara’s Way’s first of the season in four appearances. But that’s a little deceiving. “First time she’s finally got a fast track to run on,” said Hedge, who can’t explain why some horses - like, apparently, Tara’s Way - don’t like running on anything but a fast surface. “All three of her previous three races were on off tracks. She ran one bad race last year - the Delta Colleen at Vancouver’s Hastings Park - and that was in the slop.”
It wasn’t just the track that stopped her from winning earlier. In her last start, the Shirley Vargo, Tara’s Way reared at the break losing a good half dozen lengths. Somehow, she still managed to finish fourth. “I knew that as long as Tara got out of the gate and had a fair trip that she would be tough (on Saturday),” said Hedge. “She’s a really nice mare.” Indeed.
Purchased at the 2014 Kenneland, Kentucky September Yearling Sale for $45,000, Tara’s Way wasn’t on the short list for the Alexanders, who also bought stakes winner Sir Bronx for $50,000 at the same Sale. “Brian is into bloodlines. He starts going through the catalogues a couple months before the sales. I’m more of a conformation person. “We narrow it down to a short list and if Brian and I both agree on a horse then we have a vet, who we work with, look at them.
“Tara’s Way didn’t happen that way. I just happened to catch a look at her out of the corner of my eye. “I said ‘She’s beautiful.’ But then it was hard not to look at her because she really looked good.” The Alexanders sent both Tara’s Way and Sir Bronx to Toronto’s Woodbine racetrack where they ran as two- and three-year-olds. Last year, with neither of the horses running to their potential, the pair were brought to Alberta.
“We just thought they would run better on dirt than the polytrack at Woodbine,” said Brian, who has certainly proven to be correct. “When I got them they were both sore behind,” said Hedge. “The polytrack can do that.” Tara’s Way got two rounds of applause on Saturday - the first when she waltzed into the winner’s circle and then again when she arrived in trainer Rick Hedge’s shed row led by her proud groom Kirbi Pfannmuller.
“It’s been a team effort,” said Brian, who, with Janet, have owned thoroughbreds for some 32 years previously winning stakes with My Laverne and Weekend Ceilidh. “Rick, Kirbi and the whole crew have done a great job of getting her back to her championship form.”
STOCK REPORT - The Duchess of York was one of two stakes races on Saturday’s program. Earlier on the card Riversedge Racing Stable’s two-year-old Smarty River Pants made a mockery of the Princess Margaret. Coming into the race off a powerful three-length victory in his three-and-a-half-furlong maiden debut, Smarty River Pants won the six-panel Princess Margaret even more impressively.
Sent away to contest the early pace set by Thatsafactjack, Smarty River Pants was so much the best that jockey Wilmer Galviz was already looking under his right shoulder entering the final turn not worried in the least about the Thatsafactjack.
“Smarty River Pants seems to be a special horse,” Galviz said of the colt who was bred by Riversedge out of their mare Smarty Jill and sired by Afleet Alex, who won both the Preakness and the Belmont in 2005. “He’s done everything he has been asked. “Very easy win,” understated Galviz after winning by an eased-up nine lengths. “I enjoyed the ride.”
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