It took a little while but Jim Brown, a veteran trainer - though a new face in Alberta - has recently become one of the hottest conditioners at Century Mile. Brown has won with two of the last three horses he's sent out and three of his last six. Since June 9 he has won with six of his last 17 starters in Edmonton.
"I started off a little slow; I started seven horses before I won a race. But it's coming around now," said Brown who was previously based at Hastings Park in Vancouver but opted for a change of scenery. "I think the horses just needed some time to settle in here," who, as become his custom lately, wintered in Phoenix. "I've had a good last month but that doesn't make a good meet."
Low-keyed and humble, Brown, 55, who has been training for 30 years, said he decided to come to Alberta with his stable of a dozen horses for several reasons. "No. 1 was the opportunity to run on a mile track. The mile track offers a lot of different distances that you can run. You can run four and a half furlongs, five furlongs, five and a half furlongs, six furlongs, six and a half furlongs, seven furlongs, a mile, a mile… There are lots of options. It's easier to develop a horse if you find the right distance the horse wants to run. There's also more opportunities to race a horse out here. Vancouver only races two days a week. Here they race three times a week. I also knew quite a few of the trainers in Alberta. They're all friendly and the management here made me feel welcome."
Brown, who did well in Phoenix before coming here, didn't come to Alberta alone. He also brought jockey Keihton Natera, who has been riding most of Brown's horses and who, like the trainer, has also been getting hot. "He's kind of like me," Brown said of the veteran jockey who previously raced in Venezuela. "It took him a little while to get settled in too. Nobody knew him when he got here. He got here late but he's starting to do really well.
Francisco Arrieta, who easily topped the jockey standings in Phoenix and who is now the leading rider at Minnesota's Canterbury Downs where he rides a lot for former Alberta trainer Robertino Diodoro, pointed out Natera to Brown. "Francisco told me to watch some tapes of Natera. I liked what I saw. I was impressed so I made the arrangements to bring him to Edmonton. He's a good rider. He rides most of my horses but I've told him that if he's got a horse that's more live than a horse I have entered to go ahead and take the other one."
Natera will be aboard Primo Touch, Brown's entry in Sunday's Don Getty Handicap, one of two stakes on the card with the R.K. 'Red' Smith for aged fillies and mares the co-featured event. Primo Touch looked to have posted a 21-1 upset in the four-year-old's last appearance when he crossed the finish line on top in a conditioned allowance race. Instead, Primo Touch was disqualified and placed fourth for interfering with Red River Bear in the stretch run. "I didn't have a problem with the disqualification. He only bothered the other horse a little bit but if the stewards are consistent calling them that way then it's a good thing over all."
While disappointed with the disqualification, Brown said that at the same time he was excited to see Primo Touch return to form. In his only other start at Century Mile, Primo Touch finished a well-beaten seventh in the Fred Jones Stake. "We changed his running style in his last start. He had done most of his running on the lead before that. This time the plan was to come off the pace and that's what he did. He made a real good move and it seemed to work well. Other than the disqualification of course - that part didn't work out too well."
While Primo Touch is moving back into stakes company, Brown said that if the horse runs like he did last time he can win the mile and an eighth Don Getty. Owned by former Calgary Stampede chuckwagon champion Kirk Sutherland, Primo Touch has shown class in the past winning three stakes in a row in 2018 in Phoenix when he won the Startack, Turf Paradise Derby and Tempe Handicap. He's also been in the top three in 12 of his 19 career starts.
Thirteen horses nominated to the Don Getty including four owned by Riversedge and trained by Tim Rycroft: Trooper John, Strate Remark, Stone Carver and Gem Alta. All but Strate Remark are planning on entering.
Gem Alta exits a huge win in the Fred Jones when he ended up in the middle of the first turn, raced wide the rest of the way and still got up to nail Sir Bronx at odds of 26-1. "Prayven (jockey Badrie) told me he just about clipped heels on the first turn when he was in tight and when he tried to get him out of trouble the horse got mad and swung way out," said Rycroft.
"It was a big deal the way he recovered from that; most horses would have just packed it in but he kept running. He came out of the race good and has been training very well. Bob Fowlis, Badrie's agent, wanted to ride him back and Bob is usually right with horses he likes. He'd drop me in a second if he thought there was a better horse in the race."
Stone Carver ran third in the Fred Jones tiring in the stretch. "The big question is if Stone Carver wants to go that far," said Rycroft. "He didn't run a bad race and he didn't break as good as he usually does. Then he didn't get a breather because Sir Bronx came at him early."
Sir Bronx isn't the only forward presence in the Don Getty with Moon King also nominating. But the biggest question of them all is Trooper John. The former Alberta Horse of the Year was limited to just four starts last year - of which he won two of them. This year Trooper John looked good winning the Journal Handicap but he showed little in his next two outings - the Spangled Jimmy and the Fred Jones.
"The only thing I can think of is he didn't like the deep, mushy stuff he ran on in those last two races," said Rycroft. "I can't find anything physically wrong with him. He usually tries all the time but he's just gone through the motions the last two times. He trained good Monday morning. He was bouncing and happy."
If the track is muddy or sloppy on Sunday, Rycroft said he would likely scratch Trooper John. "I think so much of the horse that if I don't like the track I won't run him."
Despite Gem Alta's win, the horse to beat in the Don Getty is probably Sir Bronx. Last year's Champion Sprinter and top Aged Horse in Alberta, Sir Bronx ran well to get second last time out but trainer Rick Hedge expects him to improve on that outing.
"We turned him out for a couple of months after he raced in Phoenix following his Alberta campaign and the Fred Jones was the first time for him going over a mile this year," said Hedge. "He just got a little tired. I expect him to be tougher this week."
The R.K. 'Red' Smith isn't any easier to figure out. With Good Luck to You back in Vancouver after her smart win in the Shirley Vargo on June 30, the favourite's role may fall to Blues Roar, another Riversedge/Rycroft entry. "I'm really excited about her chances. The Shirley Vargo was her first time going long this year and she got a little leg weary," said Rycroft. Blues Roar won her previous two starts.
Raider figures to be double tough as well. Last year's Three-Year-Old Filly Champion, Raider acted up in the starting gate prior to the Shirley Vargo, didn't get away very well and ended up third. Raider won her previous start - the RedTail Landing in the mud.
The Red Smith will also see the return of former champion Tara's Way, who hasn't raced since last August. "She had a bit of an ankle problem last year but she's good right now," said Hedge. "But she needs a fast track. She doesn't like the slop at all."
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