I was standing in the middle of Tim Rycroft’s shed row on Sunday when three gentlemen strolled down the aisle from the far end of the row. After they passed me with a nod and a “good morning,” I asked Rick Bunny who they were. “The older gentleman is Mitch Klimove,” said Bunny. I thought….my goodness, I haven’t seen him for 40 years. I didn’t know he was still around.
Not only is he still around, he’s very much at home in the backstretch of a racetrack and has been for more than seven decades. He’s owned more than 500 thoroughbreds in that time, and he’s got another one this summer that has shown some signs of being really special.
“He got in touch with me last fall,” Tim Rycroft told me. “I had Trooper John out in Vancouver for the BC Derby and Mitch asked me to keep an eye open for a horse. I’ve gotten into a couple of horses in partnership with him. Turns out, he bought Mr. Jangles privately from Roy McClintock over the winter and that’s the horse that has gotten going pretty well this summer.”
Mr. Jangles has 2 wins and a second in five starts this season. “He came from off the pace to take the Timely Ruckus Stake at Northlands Park on the last day of the meet,” said Rycroft. “I think he’s ideally suited for about 7 furlongs so he’ll be in the Red Diamond on Fall Classic Day.”
Turns out, Mr. Jangles won that very same stake when Fall Classic was held at Northlands Park in Edmonton in September of last year. He’s just one of a number of probable starters from the Rycroft barn in the big day of stakes races on Sept. 16th.
“I’ve got a bunch of younger horses I’m excited about,” Rycroft told me. We could have Smarty River Pants, Ten’s Legacy, and Play To Win in the Premier’s Stakes for 2 year olds. I’ve got Foolish Blue Moon and Only One Kiss which are eligible for the Sturgeon River Stakes for 2 year old fillies. Then, I Miss Back Then may go in the Alberta Oaks.”
He’s not got anything at the moment that could run in the Beaufort Stakes for 3 year olds. That one is likely to feature Shimshine from Elige Bourne’s stable and Regal Max which will be saddled by Rick Hedge. We’ll get a better idea of what the various races will look like when entries close on Saturday.
Rycroft has built his stable into a powerhouse in the past couple of years. He had a 7-horse stable when he learned that Norm Castiglione and Robert Vargas, who run Riversedge Stables out of Okotoks were looking to change trainers.
“They asked for resumes from a number of trainers,” said Rycroft. “I put mine forward. They called and asked to speak with me and I wound up with the job. Then I added Bob and Pam Cramer’s Westana Ranches last year. Now I’ve also got Chris Duggan and Shot In the Dark Stables. So I’ve got more than 70 horses but I can only get 30 stalls here at Century Downs. I’ve got a lot of good younger horses out at Riversedge in Okotoks. I can exercise them there, but I’d like to get some more in to the track if I can get some stalls.”
Alberta Fall Classic Day is set for Saturday, Sept. 16th, and for the first time in the 22 year history of the event, it will be held in the Calgary market. Century Downs will play host to the event which features seven stakes races exclusively for Alberta-breds.
“It’s grown to be a phenomenal event, especially for owners and breeders here in Alberta,” said Adrian Munro, who runs Highfield Stock Farm in High River and who serves as chair of the CTHS breeders committee. “We have to create marquee events in both Calgary and in Edmonton because both markets are critically important to the industry. Edmonton will always have Canadian Derby Day but we need to balance that with something that is equally a showcase event in the Calgary market. This year, Fall Classic will be one of those events.”
Also on the agenda for the fall meet are the CTHS Sales Stakes for 2 year olds on October 7th, the Founders Distaff and the $100,000 Harvest Plate on Oct. 8th, and the CTHS Sales Stakes for 3 and 4 year olds on Oct. 21st. The final weekend of the meet will feature the Freedom of the City on Oct. 27th and the Canadian Juvenile on Oct. 28th.
“The value to breeders of a day like Fall Classic Day is that only Alberta-breds are eligible to compete,” said Munro. “There’s $350,000 in prize money available. That puts a premium on having a good Alberta bred and that in turn makes a difference at our yearling sale.”
“We now are getting some stability in the industry. By next spring we’ll have two new racetracks, one in the Edmonton region to go along with Century Downs serving the Calgary market. We have the MOU which was signed with the government and which has another seven years to run. Those factors are great stabilizers to horse racing in Alberta. If you look at the sales catalogue for our upcoming yearling sale on Sept. 19th, it’s clear that our breeders are stepping up to increase the stallion power in the province. That’s another indication that there is a slowly growing confidence in the business.”
“Bob Cramer is part of our breeders group. He’s also one of our representatives on the board of Horse Racing Alberta. His group, the Alberta Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association has been formed to give that segment a voice in the ongoing development of the industry. His group represents owners and breeders, the people who put up a lot of the money to make the industry work. It’s a collaborative exercise among the racing groups and the racetrack operator. We’re all in this together and we need all the intelligent voices we can find to market our sport and grow our product.”
“The other point I want to make is the importance of having our breed running in both the Edmonton and Calgary markets. It is a fallacy, in my opinion, to think we’re going to be able to grow back the number of owners, breeders and fans of our sport in southern Alberta by only racing in the Edmonton market. Last year when thoroughbred racing returned to the Calgary market for the first time in nine years, I saw people who I hadn’t seen at the races in a decade. The pari-mutuel handle in southern Alberta has gone down significantly since racing left Stampede Park. We need to grow that fan base back.”
Quarter Horses Begin Their Fall Season
The 2 year olds were front and centre in the Alberta-bred Futurity trials on Day 2 of the Century Downs fall meet on Monday afternoon. It was not an auspicious debut as one horse acted up in the gate while loading and another clipped heals with a competitor and spilled its rider, just a few strides out of the gate. Both riders needed medical attention.
The story going into the Alberta Futurity Trials was that six of the fourteen starters in the two races were sired by Wes and Sue Oulton’s First Timber. One of those offspring, Timbersknightryder, won the first division easily in 17.911 seconds. The other division went to Last Unicorn in 17.940 seconds.
“First Timber was a qualifier for the All American Futurity in Oklahoma,” Sue Oulton told me. “We got him out of the Heritage Sale there, eight years ago. He comes from one of the leading bloodlines in the sport so we’re really pleased to have him here in Alberta. We’ve got 13 horses in training this year and all but one of them is by First Timber. I guess you could say, we believe in our bloodstock.”
The Oultons have spent the past few seasons racing on the American quarter horse circuit during the winter. “Our horses over the past few years have been good enough to qualify in both restricted and open stakes events,” said Sue. “At least, our horses are competitive at the elite level.”
Another First Timber offspring, Goldin Warrior, picked up a second place share in the second Futurity trial. He’s owned by Isaac Fehr who’s gotten into racing in recent years.
“I hope we can attract some more new and younger people to our Quarter Horse Day on Sept. 22nd and to our Sale which will be the night before here at Century Downs,” Sue Oulton told me. On the 22nd, we’ll have the finals for both the Futurity and the Alberta-bred Derby. And we’ll have two more aged stakes races on that card as well. So I hope it will be a good showcase for our sport that weekend.”
a terrific opening day for the fall meet on Sunday. A beautiful day attracted a big crowd to Century Downs, and despite some long lines at the windows and the machines, the on-track handle was very strong. That’s a good sign for the rest of the meet which continues on weekends until Oct. 28th. There are enough promotions both on the track and at the racing entertainment centre, to make it an attractive entertainment option. And it was good to see a number of stables share in the opening day winnings. Tim Rycroft and Rod Cone each won two races but four other trainers also found their way to the winner’s circle.