Maskwecis came into the 2018 Alberta Yearling Sale with a big, warning-sign bandage on his left, front leg. Now, the three-year-old is only cutting holes in the wind and is the local favourite for next month's $100,000 Canadian Derby at Century Mile with his next start scheduled for Sunday's Aug. 16 one-mile Count Lathum.
"I was worried about the injury," said legendary trainer R.K. 'Red' Smith, whose 2,634 career wins are 49th all time in North America. "But Leanne Knechtel who preps a lot of yearlings for the sale and who prepped this one said not to worry; that he was a really nice colt. Apparently he had put his foot through a fence. Leanne was probably the one who swayed me to bid on him. She kept talking about how much she liked this one. I bought him for $8,000 for myself and Jim and Carole Barker. I'm sure the bandage hurt his price. I figured he could have gone for as much as $15,000. I liked his breeding and he was a nice, balanced colt," he said of Maskwecis, a son of hot, young, Kentucky stallion Jimmy Creed, a Grade 1 stakes winner.
After the sale Smith took Maskwecis to Westana Ranches outside of Redwater, a world-class training and rehab centre where x-rays, which were negative, were taken. There was no structural damage to the bone. "When we took off the bandage it was pretty bad but nothing serious. It was a big scrape; there's still about a six-inch scar. But it needed to be cleaned up so that the bone didn't get infected. Doug Oberg, who bred the colt, paid for the whole bill which cost about $1,100. So that was nice of him."
Knechtel proved to be right; the injury certainly didn't affect Maskwecis' ability. He ran a nice even race in his debut last July and then in his next start, two weeks later impressively won the City of Leduc stakes, powering from behind to win going away by a length and three-quarters. "We never had a problem with that cut; he was never sore or anything. As soon as we trained him he always had a nice, smooth way of going," said Smith, who believes Maskwecis should probably have won another race last year, the Aug. 25 Birdcatcher. "I still think he should have won that race easily but I don't think he got a very smart ride. The jockey moved with him, took him back and then tried to move again. He ended up fourth."
But Maskwecis still wasn't over his problems. Shortly after the Birdcatcher Maskwecis got sick with what is believed to have been Cellulitis, a common but potentially serious bacterial skin infection that can affect humans as well as horses. "His hind legs swelled up and he had a temperature; we were pretty worried," said Smith's wife, Linda.
"I read every thing there was to read about Cellulitis. We wound up taking him to Delaney's Clinic in Sherwood Park. He was put on intervenous and antibiotics for six weeks. We took him home but when we took him off his meds it came back and we took him back to Delaney's Clinic for another six weeks. He wasn't eating and he lost a lot of weight. This time they slowly weaned him off his meds and his temperature stayed normal. It was very time consuming. Red really took his time getting him ready this spring."
It worked. This year Maskwecis is two-for-two. He won his 2020 debut very easily in the mud and then he got a great ride from Rico Walcott to win the July 26 Western Canada.
"Everybody said he drifted on the final turn but that was on purpose," said Red. "Rico said Maskwecis was trying to jump the dirt that was flying back at him. So he went wide on purpose so that he wasn't getting hit by that dirt. He's a very smart rider. He's so aware about everything that is going on. He figures out what everyone else in the race is doing. He broke on top from the outside eighth post and Rico just let the speed (Flat Out Leader and Triple Power) go and then came running down the stretch."
"It was exciting - a good race to watch," said Smith, of the Western Canada which Maskwecis would win by a length and a quarter in 1:10 flat for the six furlongs with Dune d'Oro slipping through along the rail to get second. Dune d'Oro was also bred by Oberg.
"Dune d'Oro is a nice colt too. Rico had ridden both of them but he picked this colt of mine to ride in the Western Canada. It's a good feeling to have when a top rider does that. Rico is a big asset," he said of Alberta's eight-time leading rider who is again leading the standings this year. "Rico doesn't get too excited. Just because a horse has speed, which Maskwecis has if you want to use it, he just doesn't send."
The Count Lathum is a mile and the Canadian Derby is a mile and a quarter but Smith said he doesn't think the extra distance is going to be a problem at all. "I think he'll enjoy going farther," said Smith, who was elected to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2004.
"The further he works in the mornings the more he wants to keep running. Rico has always had trouble pulling him up after a work. He wants to keep going. He wants to run at everything. Even in the mornings. He sees another horse in front of him and he wants to catch it. He picks up the bit and wants to run that horse down. He's a very determined horse. He's also really smart and he was that way as soon as we started training him. He does everything right. You don't have to holler at him or anything."
Smith said that Dennis 'Bear' Sexton, who rubs and grooms Maskwecis, and who also took care of multiple champion Killin Me Smalls for Ernie Keller, was thinking of retiring. "The only reason Bear said he was coming back was because of Maskwecis."
The dark bay three-year-old also caught the eye of clocker Cliff Sleeten. "Cliff watched all of his works and he told me last year that this colt was the best colt on the track bar none. He's nice to be around and he feels good."
Of all the accolades that Smith, whose horses have earned $19.8 million, has bestowed on Maskwecis the most powerful comparison he made came when he likened him to Elmbrook Farm's Sea Reason, one of the very best colts Alberta has ever seen and one of the many outstanding youngsters Smith, 82, has sent out.
Smith and Elmbrook were especially potent in the early 1970's when they sent out the winner of Calgary's Stampede Futurity four years in a row: Trochu Joe in 1972; Sea Reason in 1973; Western Dangler in 1974 and Careless Word in 1975. After missing in 1976, Elmbrook then won the 1977 Futurity with Tojero. Of that quintet, Smith has always maintained that Sea Reason was "by far the best."
"He was a big horse and very strong. He won everything around here except the Canadian Derby and the Speed to Spare. "Maskwecis is the same kind of horse," said Smith. "They're both really nice horses and both like to come from behind." However, Smith said neither Sea Reason nor, at least at this point, Maskwecis, can compare with Fancy As.
"He was unquestionably the best horse I've ever trained. And I'll never another horse like him," Smith said of Fancy As, who won 16 of his 26 starts - including 10 of his first 11 races including the Canadian Derby - for earnings of $672,746.
All that from a horse who was purchased by Smith's wife, Linda, for just $3,200 at the 1999 Manitoba Yearling Sale. "I sent him away and probably never should have done that. I got offered a good price for him - Bob Baffert offered me $500,000 (US) - but I didn't sell him. He ran third and fourth in two graded stakes races in California and they were both tough, tough races."
I'm pretty sure they will send one or two of the horses that ran in last Monday's Manitoba Derby for the Canadian Derby," Smith said of the Winnipeg race won, in an upset, by Mongolian Wind with race favourite, Something Natural, trained by Robertino Diodoro, third. "And somebody from Vancouver will probably come over too. But I like where I am. I think he's going to be very competitive with anything I've seen this year."
STOCK REPORT - Fourteen three-year-olds nominated to the Count Lathum. As well as Maskwecis and Dune d'Oro, there are two horses that ran in the Manitoba Derby - Gambler and Real Grace - the Mitch Klimove-owned highly regarded Irish Trick and Greek Geek, who returns from Ontario.
Sunday's card also features the Canadian Juvenile which attracted 14 two-year-old colt nominees including impressive first-out winner Bang On. There are also two stakes on Friday - the Sonoma for three-year-old fillies and the Princess Margaret for two-year-old fillies.
The Sonoma has eight nominees; the Princess Margaret has 14 nominations including Bells and Whistles, who won her debut by three and a quarter lengths.
*Direct Livestock Marketing Systems (DLMS) will provide online bidding for all of the 2020 Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society yearlings sales including the September 18 Alberta sale. DLMS, an internet marketing company specializing in real time internet auction sales and is part of the largest livestock marketing network in Canada, offers instant bidding, streaming live audio and video to create a live-auction experience from the safety of purchasers' computer, tablet or mobile device. Purchasers may establish an account through the DLMS website or through the C.T.H.S. Divisions. Account holders will then be eligible to view and purchase at any of the upcoming C.T.H.S. Sales. Go to https://dlms.ca/Account/Register
Viewing days will still be held prior to the sale date which will allow for interested purchasers to view consignments under COVID-19 guidelines. Those purchasers who are not able to attend viewing days will be able to view consignments through online videos and photos posted on both C.T.H.S. and DLMS websites.
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