The Hatfields had the McCoys. Batman had the Joker. Edmonton has Calgary.
And now it looks like Trooper John, trained by Tim Rycroft, has found a nemesis in Born in a Breeze, who is trained by Tim’s father, Tom.
At Century Mile’s opening day two weeks ago Trooper John and Born in a Breeze both lagged behind the rest of the field during the early going. Trooper John moved first sweeping past the front runners to take the lead with about an eighth of a mile to go. But Born in a Breeze had the last laugh storming past Trooper John like he had just robbed a bank late in the stretch to win by three-quarters of a length.
Last year, the pair met twice. On June 9 it was Born in a Breeze making an early one and again winning by half a length over Riversedge’s homebred Trooper John, who dead heated for second with Double Bear. On May 19, in The Journal Handicap, it was Trooper John who prevailed holding off Born in a Breeze by a diminishing neck in a swift 1:10 1/5.
Three meetings. Three nail-biting close finishes. Three times they ran first and second.
Now, in Monday’s Journal renewal at Century Mile they meet again. “Two nice horses,” said Tim. “There doesn’t look like there’s a lot of separation between the two. They’ll both try hard. It all depends on how the race shakes out.
“I fully expect Trooper John to be better on Monday than he was in his first start this year,” said Tim. “Born in a Breeze was winter raced while Trooper John was coming off a long layoff.”
But at the same time, Tim said he fully expects to Born in a Breeze to give Trooper John all he wants. “Born in a Breeze beat some real nice horses in Ontario before he came to Alberta and he beat some really good horses in Phoenix too.”
“Nice horses,” echoed Tom, who, at the advice of another of his sons, Riley, claimed Born in a Breeze for $32,000 in the fall of 2017 for himself, Dale Stark and Lewis Mailer. “While you never know in a horse race - one of them could have a bad day - I’m pretty sure they are both going to be knocking heads.
“Born in a Breeze looks like a million bucks. He’s bouncing. He’s looking real good and I think he really likes the long lane at Century Mile.”
Unfortunately, neither horse was able to race into the summer last year. The Spangled Jimmy was Born in a Breeze’s last start of the year. He chipped a bone in his knee and needed surgery. Trooper John, on the other hand, raced once after the Spangled Jimmy winning the Don Getty on July 21 before being turned out for the season with some tendon problems.
For both horses, for horse racing in Alberta, it was like the film breaking before the trailers were even finished or the ‘Godfather’ ending at the toll booth.
Now they are both back healthy and strong looking to renew this just-getting-started rivalry. Five-years-old, Trooper John has never finished worse than third in his career building a log of eight wins, six seconds and two thirds in 16 starts. He’s as consistent and stubborn as a weed. Meanwhile, Born in a Breeze has only finished worse than third twice in his last nine starts - both at Arizona’s Turf Paradise.
Trooper John, Alberta’s Horse of the Year two seasons ago, has won $280,000. Born in a Breeze, now seven-years-old with 38 career starts has banked $407,411.
“Unless something freakish jumps up, Trooper John is probably the one to beat again,” said Tom.”They’re both exceptional horses. Both horses would probably like to run longer than the Journal’s six furlongs. Mine would for sure. But he can sprint if he wants to. In his first start off the surgery layoff he won in Phoenix when they went 1:08 and change going six furlongs. There’s quite a bit of speed in there. We’ll be coming from well back but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Trooper John a little closer to the pace - chasing the speed - on Monday.”
Trooper John showed his speed Tuesday morning when he worked four furlongs in 45 seconds and change. “I didn’t want him to go that fast - the rider wasn’t really riding him; he was just sitting on him. But he’s got gears and when you ask him he responds,” said Tim.
“I remember when he was three-years-old, Keishan (jockey Balgobin) gave him a little whack and he went five furlongs in 58 seconds. You ask a good horse a little bit and they do that.”
The only thing Tom doesn’t like about Monday’s Journal is the weights with Born in a Breeze high-weighted at 124 pounds and Trooper John getting in at one pound less — in the opening race at Century Mile.
“This is May and they’re already putting 124 pounds on Breezy. That’s ridiculous. That’s a lot of weight. How do they expect these horses to last all summer? “I’m not happy with that at all.”
Tim will be doing something different in The Journal: for the first time he is taking the blinkers off Trooper John. “It’s a risky move taking the blinkers off in a stakes race and if it doesn’t work I’m sure there will be a lot of people second guessing me. But I don’t worry about that,” said Tim, who is never afraid to roll the dice and take a chance. “Trooper John doesn’t work or gallop in blinkers and, for the most part, I think less is better as far as equipment goes.
“I just thought that he started waiting for horses to come at him in his first start this year. I also didn’t like the way he broke in that race. I expect him to break a little better and find a better spot early. He had to weave his way through traffic and thence had to work hard to get the lead.”
Tim is also entering a second horse, Spring in Alberta, in The Journal, “He deserves a shot. He ran a big race last time out,” Tim said of Spring in Alberta’s win on May 5. Going back to last year Spring in Alberta has now won three races in a row. “He needed some time to grow into himself. He’s been training forwardly. I’m excited about trying him against the good ones.”
STOCK REPORT - The co-feature on Monday is the six furlong JetSet Handicap with three-year-old filly champion of 2018 Raider making her first foray against aged fillies and mares.
Sorry to hear that long, longtime racing fan Norval Honey passing away on Tuesday. He loved his horses - taking vacations where he could watch the horses and hardly ever missing a race card - and he loved his wife, Linda, and his daughter Shannon. A fixture at the track he will be missed.
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