On a stroll through the backstretch at Century Downs on Sunday morning, I ran into Brian & Jan Alexander, who I had not seen since last year. They were awaiting the arrival of their veterinarian who was to X-ray the leg of one of their horses. As an aside, it is amazing the progress that has been made in recent years in the treatment of race horses. The horse went through the procedure as Brian and trainer, Rick Hedge, peered at the monitor. Fortunately, there were no problems. But it’s terrific that horses can be diagnosed and treated this quickly as required.
“I just retired after 38 years in business,” Brian told me. “I served a couple of terms on the board of Horse Racing Alberta but that commitment ended at the end of April. We’ve just sold our home and bought a 40 foot trailer and we’re going to live in that for awhile and travel around while we think about what to do next.”
What to do next will be to continue a long time love affair and association with thoroughbred racing. The Alexanders have 13 horses at the moment. One of them, Sir Bronx, put on quite a show on Saturday afternoon. The 5 year old gelding led an allowance field until the ¾ pole when it was over-taken by Killin Me Smalls. But Sir Bronx fought back, under the urging of Shamaree Muir, as the field turned for home and prevailed in a new track record for 7 furlongs in 1:22.1. Hemlock Channel, the previous record holder for the distance, finished third. The race was a tune-up for the Harvest Plate to be held at Century Downs on Oct. 8th, so that should be fun to watch.
“A pretty gritty effort,” said trainer, Rick Hedge. “He always gives you his best. I’m glad Brian and Jan were here to see it.”
The Alexanders will be back again next Sunday afternoon to join the rest of the Alberta thoroughbred family in the Alberta Fall Classic. A check of the horses eligible for the big day of racing shows that Almac Racing has Bud Time and Regal Max nominated for the Alberta Breeders Handicap going a mile and a sixteenth. Regal Max is also nominated for the Beaufort Stakes for 3 year olds going the same distance. So, there’s a decision to be made there. The Beaufort drew 8 nominations while the Breeders Handicap drew nine. Final decisions await the closing of the entry box on Thursday morning.
Later in my wandering, I came across Jennifer Hunt who has 16 horses and one son in her care. She has an interesting background. She started in show jumping as a child through the influence of her grandparents. She spent some time working with standardbreds before moving to a thoroughbred stable in Vancouver. From there, it was a matter of getting her trainer’s license and settling into the lifestyle of the backstretch.
“I had a pretty good summer in Edmonton,” she told me (a 4-12-4 record from 43 starters). “Emma Jean Too won a 2 year old stake last year and is nominated to the Alberta Oaks (10 nominations for 3 year old fillies going a mile and a sixteenth). Weareallpatriots has had one start and finished third in allowance company. He’s nominated for the Premier’s Futurity (10 nominations going 6 and a half furlongs). And Black Magic River is nominated to the Alberta Breeders. They’re for three different ownership interests so I’m fortunate to have good folks supporting my work.”
In all, there will be seven races Sunday, exclusively for Alberta breds as the industry celebrates and prepares for the Alberta Thoroughbred Yearling Sale on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 19th at the Olds Megadome. The other races are the Sturgeon River for 2 year old fillies with 13 nominations for the 6 and a half furlong sprint, the Fall Classic Distaff for the older fillies and mares going a mile and a sixteenth with ten nominations, and the Red Diamond Sprint for the 3+ crowd with 11 nominations for the six and a half furlongs.
And the Made in Alberta marketplace will be something new for the Calgary area audience, given that this is the first time in the 22 year history of the event that it has been staged in this market.
“The "Made In Alberta" marketplace highlights ten vendors from the Calgary and Edmonton area. Past vendors like Marilyn Wesley from Vintage Illusions and Robert Barclay from Barclay Pottery will be returning to the "Made In Alberta" marketplace. Homemade candy from Country Made Gourmet Foods will be handed out to the first 200 people to the Marketplace. Free shopping bags will be provided,” says Jean Kruse of the CTHS.
It will be a fun day and it’s liable to draw a crowd. Plan to be a little early so you can browse the marketplace before the 1:15 PM first post.
ASHA Yearling Sale is Down A Bit
The rest of my Sunday was spent at the Megadome in Olds where the Alberta Standardbred yearling sale took place. Fifty-nine yearlings were sold for a total of $583,200, an average of $9,667.80 per head.
“I was a little disappointed,” said Bill Andrew, the proprietor of Meridian Farms which consigned 14 yearlings to the sale. Bill also serves as president of ASHA.
“I thought the prospect of the new track opening in Leduc next year might attract some interest. It was one of those years where some of our bigger buyers have a lot of horses on hand and weren’t looking to add more. This is where owners have a chance to add strength to their stables and develop racing stock that can qualify for the $1 million Alberta Sire Stakes program. The economy is still not really strong. And while it’s great to have some younger trainers in the mix, they are still building up strength with ownership, so they may not be as active as buyers as some of the older guys.”
“It’s a bit like buying a house. If you only have one bidder, that bidder has more control over the price. If you get three or four offers, you’re more likely to see the seller get a better return. So we need to continue to work at attracting more people to our industry. And we may look at the way the catalogue is laid out next year to provide better distribution of fillies and colts throughout the sale. I think it was a solid catalogue with good value spread across the entries.”
Two yearlings tied for the high price of the sale at $30,000. Blue Star Dreaming a bay filly by the late Blue Burner from the stakes winning mare, Movin Uptown, went to Lorne Duffield, who’s long been one of the big supporters of standardbreds in the province. And Kelly Hoerdt put a halter on Coco Kola Cowboy, a son of Vertical Horizon. Hoerdt also paid $20,000 for Rapidash, a son of Mystician and a first foal for the mare, Hare Canada.
“I got the two I wanted,” Hoerdt told me. “So I’m pretty pleased. Another couple of years we should know what we bought today.”
Hoerdt also took a moment to tell me a tragic, and yet heartwarming story of a little girl he met on Saturday during the Stollery Children’s Hospital fund raising event at his farm in Beaumont.
“Her name is Ciara Stanton and she’s 10 years old,” Hoerdt told me. “She’s got an aggressive tumour that she’s trying to deal with. She and her sister came out to the farm and I took the two of them around the track in a jog cart pulled by Iwontdothatagain. She told me she has a dream to build a memorial garden. I talked to Peter Giannakopoulos who has a big hand in putting on this event. We’re agreed that we’re going to do whatever we can to help Ciara realize her dream. I’ll tell you, Peter, we’ve been doing this event for four years now and I’ve never had an experience quite like that one. She’s an incredible little girl, and so brave, considering what she is facing.”
The Track on 2 Tries Something New
Those who are headed to Track on 2 for harness racing on Sunday will hear a different voice. Melissa Keith, an award winning harness racing writer in both Canada and the United States, will call her first full card of harness racing.
“I’m a big fan,” long time announcer, Sugar Doyle, told me. She’s called the odd race in the Maritimes and in London, Ontario. But this will be the first time she’s done a whole card. I’ve talked to her. I know she’s nervous, but excited. And she’s going to stay on the following week when there is no harness racing at Track on 2. Instead, we’re going to have pony chuckwagon races and she’ll join me to call those. It should be fun.”
Quarter Horse Crowd Gearing Up for Sept. 21-23
Gone To Be Bright (19.827 seconds) and Machete (19.805 seconds) led the way in the two trials for the Alberta bred Derby which led off the Saturday program at Century Downs. The top eight for the Derby along with the top eight in last weekend’s Alberta bred Futurity trials will be part of a big day of quarter horse racing at Century Downs on Sept. 22nd.
I caught up with veteran trainer, William Leech, on Sunday morning as well. “We have to bring our riders up from Lethbridge, since the thoroughbred jockeys at Century Downs don’t want to ride our horses,” he told me. That presents some problems both here and in Lethbridge when Rocky Mountain Turf Club is operating the same day. That’s something we’re going to have to sort out within our association. I don’t want to be in the position of having to tell an owner his horse has to be scratched because there aren’t enough riders. That’s not fair to anyone.”
The quarter horse yearling sale is set for Friday evening, Sept. 21st at 7 PM at Century Downs.
Jockey Rico Walcott rode Saturday at Hastings Park in Vancouver and it was a worthwhile jaunt to the west coast. He won the Delta Colleen Handicap with Reginella for owner, Luigi Di Pietro. He finished third in the BC Oaks with Raider. And he capped off the day by winning the BC Derby aboard Sky Promise for owners Rick and Clayton Wiest, R-6 Stable, and Norm Tremblay. The same connections also won the Canadian Derby, Aug. 25th in Edmonton. Robertino Diodoro is the trainer… Shamaree Muir won the first three races on the Monday program. He scored with Dangerous Pursuit for trainer, Jennifer Hunt and followed that up with another win with Sharp Dressed Beau for trainer, Rick Hedge. He completed the triple with Miss Hesi in Race 3 for trainer, Ernie Keller... we also have another track record to report. The owner of the best clocking for six furlongs is now Hot Rodin for trainer, Jarrod Brown of Winnipeg… all the best to Hall of Fame horseman, Keith Clark, who is having a hospital procedure this week. He was still well enough to stay in touch with brother, Bobby, by phone during the ASHA sale on Sunday afternoon.