Ok, that’s it. It’s time for a name change. The time-honoured prestigious Journal Handicap had it’s 65th running Sunday night at Century Mile and for the third straight year it was a Riversedge-owned, Tim Rycroft-trained horse that won.
But there’s more than that. In Sunday’s running Riversedge-owned horses Stone Carver and Trooper John ran one-two — Stone Carver winning easily by two and three-quarter lengths and Trooper John overcoming a very wide, albeit planned, trip to get second completing a healthy $36.30 two-dollar exactor.
Wait. There’s still more.
When Trooper John won The Journal in 2018 and 2019, Tim’s dad, Tom, ran second both times with Born in a Breeze. That makes it three straight years as well that a Rycroft-trained horse has ran one-two in The Journal. That’s remarkable.
So maybe the race should now simply be called the Rycroft. Or the Riversedge-Rycroft. After all, their recent ascendancy of The Journal is like the way the Boston Celtics used to dominate the NBA or what Notre Dame was to U.S. college football. It also brings to mind another horse that used to dominate The Journal, the great sprinter Timely Ruckus, who won The Journal three times and was named Alberta’s champion sprinter four times.
In his wonderful, long career Timely Ruckus, who turned just about every race he contested into a street brawl, won 18 stakes races for over $600,000 in career earnings and 43 top-three finishes in 59 starts. In the 1999 running Timely Ruckus set Northlands Park track record of 1:15 2/5 for six-and-a-half furlongs. Last year when Trooper John won The Journal it also came with a track record: 1:08 1/5 for six panels.
"That’s pretty special," said Norm Castiglione, co-owner of Riversedge along with Robert Vargo. "It’s one of our more special stakes and to win it three years in a row is pretty neat."
Yes it is. Stone Carver was by himself on Sunday winning his sixth race in 23 career starts. Duelling early with Coco Tiger, Stone Carver, ridden by Rigo Sarmiento, put that one away with half a mile to go. Then he simply widened as he pleased eventually crossing the finish line two and a half lengths on top of Trooper John.
"Big race in a fast time," said Tim Rycroft looking at the clock which was stopped in 1:08.96. "I felt good about both horses going into the race. They were both training good. I don’t go over to the starting gate expecting to get beat. Stone Carver deserved to win. He had two tough races in Winnipeg before The Journal. Both times he had a horse tackle him early but still finished second over a surface that was pretty deep."
"He’s got a high cruising speed and he can still kick away at the end," Rycroft said of the $35,000 (US) Keeneland, Kentucky yearling sale purchase, who is by Birdstone, who won three of New York’s most historic Grade 1 races: the Champagne, Belmont (defeating Smarty Jones) and Travers and whose first crop produced Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Belmont winner Summer Bird.
The win was reminiscent of last year’s Spangled Jimmy when Stone Carver led every step of the way winning by a comfortable length and three-quarters going seven furlongs in the mud. "He’s an honest, hard-trying horse that runs hard every time," Rycroft said of Stone Carver.
But let’s not overlook Trooper John’s effort. "If you do your job and get him feeling good he’s a warrior. I’ve compared him to Killin Me Smalls," he said of another powerful, consistent multiple champion, that, like Timely Ruckus, was trained by Ernie Keller. "If things get lined up for him you know he’s going to give you a big effort. Both horses ran really good on Sunday. We got a couple of things figured out with Trooper John,” said Rycroft of the six-year-old former Horse of the Year."
"When he gets dirt kicked in his face he gets mad. He choked on the dirt once last year and I think that scared him and threw him off his game for a while. That’s why I had Rico (Walcott) keep him wide throughout the race. He looked stunningly good at the end."
"When we were watching the race together and Trooper John was at the back of the pack, my wife said ‘Trooper is not going to do it,’ and I said ‘They’re only half way through the race. Let’s wait until the end,’” said Castiglione. "I was really happy with both horses."
In 25 career races Trooper John has only been worse than third three times. Once was in his previous start; the other two times were last year. His log now shows 10 wins, six seconds and six thirds in those 25 outings. "The crew did a good job with both horses and both riders rode excellent races. Even though he went real fast early with an opening quarter in 21 seconds and change and then a half in 44 and change, Rigo said he was just sitting on him."
"Stone Carver came out of the gate like a bullet," said Castiglione. "His ears were straight up; he was more than game to go. It looked like he lots left at the end. And Trooper John made a really nice late run."
Until Sunday it had been a pretty relatively pedestrian start to this season for both Riversedge, who are perennially the leading owners in Alberta, and Rycroft, who is the defending leading trainer. "It’s been slow and I really don’t know why," said Rycroft. “Our in-the-money percentage has been pretty good but the win percentage is not where I want it. I like to win. I’m blessed with a stable of nice horses and we’re going to press on."
"Maybe this will turn things around," said Castiglione, who had both Stone Carver and Trooper John along with many of their other horses in Florida for the winter. "The races are stretching out. Most of our horses have now had a couple of races under their belts and we’e got 11 two-year-olds that are pretty much ready to go."
STOCK REPORT - There was one other stakes race at Century Mile this past weekend with B.C. invader Sunburst taking the RedTail Landing stake on Friday night in a most impressive and easy wire-to-wire win in her season debut. In eight career starts, Sunburst has never been worse than second evening her record to four wins and four seconds. Walcott rode Sunburst for one of his five wins on the card.
There are two more stakes races this weekend with the Chariot Chaser for three-year-old fillies on Friday night and the Western Canada Handicap for three-year-olds, the first prep race of the year for the Canadian Derby.
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