One is a Hatfield. The other is a McCoy. Shimshine and Regal Max have had a longstanding rivalry and feud going on for four years and counting and they were back in the thick of it one more time in Sunday’s Alberta Breeders’ Handicap - one of 12 races and seven $40,000 stakes races for Alberta-breds on the Fall Classic card at Century Mile.
“In the paddock Rick Hedge, who trains Regal Max, looked over at me and said ‘Back at it again,’” said Shimshine's trainer Elige Bourne. “And I said, you know, I was just thinking the same thing. They’ve been butting heads since they were two-year-olds.”
Amazingly, the mile and a sixteenth Alberta Breeders’ was the 13th time Shimshine and Regal Max had met. As it turned out it was like most of Shimshine and Regal Max’s encounters. There was Regal Max, who had taken the lead away from Zicatela and Zippity Zap down the backstretch, gunning and running and then there was Shimshine, as is his fairly recent style, trailing at the back of the six-horse field.
But that was about to change. In a hurry. Anastasios Chalaris, Shimshine’s jockey, hugging the rail, unleashed his mount and took dead aim coming around the final turn. However, Regal Max and his rider, Shamaree Muir, weren’t about to give up. And so there they were - together one more time - battling for everything they had. At the top of the long lane at Century Mile, Regal Max still led by two lengths. At the eighth pole the margin was a length. At the sixteenth pole they were side by side neither one wanting to call uncle.
“The way he was closing I thought he was going to get there,” said Bourne. “But it was close. They were two really good horses who have been battling each other for a long time.” In the waning strides, Chalaris left the rail, split Zippity Zap and Regal Max and went by to a half length victory.
“Regal Max ran big; Shimshine just ran a little bigger,” said Hedge. “I told Shamaree not to strangle him. If Regal Max wanted to run I told Shamaree to let him go. Regal Max had a throat operation over the winter so I wanted Shamaree to be careful with him.”
“Every time I lead Shimshine over to the paddock he tries,” said Bourne. “I don’t know why he hasn’t been breaking that well. It really just started this spring in Winnipeg. But he always loaded first as a two-year-old and so I had them load him first again on Sunday. It worked a lot better. He still didn’t break really well but he wasn’t as far back as he had been getting.” Bourne said Shimshine didn’t act like he had just run a taxing race after the race. “In the test barn he was bucking and playing and jumping around. I just shook my head. He was happy with himself. He’s a pretty smart dude.”
Shimshine and Regal Max’s battles go all the way back to July 20 of 2017 when Regal Max was making his career debut and Shimshine was running for just the second time. That was also the first time that Shimshine was running for Bourne and White Pine Ranch owner Walter Petruniak, after the pair astutely claimed Shimshine away from Dale Saunders for $12,000 in the colt’s career debut three weeks earlier.
The pair would meet four more times that year - Shimshine winning three of those races each time with Regal Max running second. First Shimshine defeated Regal Max in the Birdcatcher. Then he got the edge - by a neck - in the Alberta Premier’s Futurity on that season’s Fall Classic card when Regal Max took three runs at Shimshine but couldn’t get by.
And then, in an allowance race, Shimshine got the decision again. The fifth and final meeting between the pair in 2017 came in the Canadian Juvenile. That time Regal Max finished second to Remarkable Vintage with Shimshine third. In 2018 Regal Max, bred by Stone Ranches, and Shimshine, bred by Wally Pugh and Andy Stronach, met six times. Shimshine won the first encounter that year in an allowance race with Regal Max again finishing second. Next up was the Count Lathum when Regal Max finished second behind Apalachee Bay with Shimshine fourth. Regal Max then got the best of Shimshine in the Alberta Derby at Grande Prairie when Regal Max went wire to wire - this time Shimshine finishing second.
“It was like Saturday’s Kentucky Derby,” said Bourne. “Authentic got loose on the lead and they couldn’t catch him. A horse with an easy, uncontested lead, is always dangerous. Regal Max got an easy lead that day too.”
Then it was the 2018 Canadian Derby won by Sky Promise. Regal Max got a horribly tough trip and finished nowhere; Shimshine probably moved too early and finished third. “He should have at least finished second,” said Bourne. “I told the jockey to sit and wait as long as he could but half way around the final turn he had the lead. Then he got tired and two horses came and got him.”
Two weeks after the Derby, Regal Max and Shimshine hooked up again - this time in the Fall Classic Beaufort. As he did in the Alberta Derby Regal Max went wire to wire with Shimshine battling mightily but forced to settle for second. The pair has even met outside of Canada with their ast meeting of 2018 taking place in Phoenix, Ariz. in the Last Chance Derby. Gato Guapo won that race easily with Shimshine second and Regal Max third.
With Regal Max having breathing issues, last year the pair only met once. And once again it was in a Fall Classic Race - the Alberta Breeders’ where Zippity Zap won comfortably with Regal Max second and Shimshine third.
“They’ve had some great battles over the years,” said Hedge. “They’ve taken turns beating each other. They’ve been back and forth many times.” If you’re keeping score in the 13 times they have met Shimshine has the smallest of margins finishing ahead of Regal Max seven times. Money wise Shimshine has now won just under $300,000 while Regal Max has won over $200,000.
“I’ve always liked Regal Max,” said Bourne, who was a thoroughbred and quarter horse jockey for 25 years - winning just under 2,000 races - before he started training horses. “I like Regal Max almost as much as I like Shimshine. And they’re both Alberta-breds.”
Bourne said that Shimshine has mellowed as the years have gone by. But he can still be a handful. “He’s still rotten to gallop. There’s not too many people that can gallop him. Larry Munoz used to gallop him and he did a great job but he’s in Fort Erie now. Shimshine is a big strong horse - he weighs at least 1,200 pounds - and you have to be big and strong yourself to gallop him. And he gallops about two miles just about every day.”
Bourne found out just how strong Shimshine is early. “As a two-year-old he got loose in the barn area at Century Downs in Calgary. I had just bathed him and was taking him outside to walk and cool him off. But he had another thing in mind. He looked one way, looked the other way and then he just took off. Luckily I was able to get a shank around his neck. Fortunately for me there was a knot at the end of that shank so I was able to hold on. If that knot wasn’t there he would have been gone. But he still dragged me around the barn area through the manure and shavings piles and then some gravel. I was beat up pretty good; I had gravel burns everywhere especially up and down my arms. He probably dragged me for two or three minutes. It felt like an eternity. I was just about to the point of letting go. But then all of a sudden he stopped. Someone asked me after it was over why I didn’t just let him go and I said ‘Guess which horse that is?’”
Wagering on the 12-race card, which saw the 12th race as the last betting race available in North America, totalled $1,361,878. Not only was it a record handle for Century Mile eclipsing the $1.182 million that was bet earlier this year it was also one of the highest handles ever in Alberta. In 2000 $1,331,686 was bet on the Canadian Derby card and in 1989 $1,322,989 was bet.
In the other six stakes races Pearl of Knowledge won the Alberta Oaks for three-year-old fillies; Stormchaser took the six furlong Red Diamond Express Sprint; Light Fast Feet captured the Sturgeon River for two-year-old fillies; Maskwecis ran them down in the Beaufort; Dancing Willie was ann easy winner of the Alberta Premier’s Futurity and Piper Rose won the Alberta Fall Classic Distaff.
Veteran trainer R.K. ‘Red’ Smith trained both Piper Rose and Maskwecis. “It was a god day; a very good day,” said Smith. While Maskwecis was expected - winning as the odds-on favourite and returning $3.20 to win - Piper Rose paid $21.50 to win.
“I wasn’t even going to run her in the Fall Classic Distaff,” said Smith. “I was going to run her in a $10,000 claiming race but the race didn’t go. Then I had her entered in an optional allowance/$17,500 claiming race but that race turned out really tough so I thought we might as well go for the money. So I scratched her out of that race and put her in the Fall Classic. It worked out good.”
Last away, Piper Rose trailed the field most of the way before swinging four wide to defeat Saveitforarainyday by three parts of a length. Maskwecis continued to stamp himself as a Canadian Derby top contender with his win. Getting away on top and then settling in behind the speed for jockey Rico Walcott, Maskwecis got up in the final strides to edge out Bare Back Jack, who is also eying the Derby, by three-quarters of a length.
“So far so good,” said Smith, who added blinkers and went on Lasix for the first time. “He was completely washed out last time,” Smith said of the horse’s third-place finish in the Count Lathum behind Rail Hugger, another horse trained by Bourne, and Real Grace. “Rail Hugger is the tough horse,” said Smith. “He can run. He runs a little green sometimes but he can run.”
Smith almost didn’t get to ride Walcott, who is once again Alberta’s leading jockey. Not feeling well, Walcott booked off an early mount on Sunday’s card; rode Maskwecis and then booked off his his final two mounts. “Rico was completely beat and I thought ‘Oh, oh; who am I going to get to ride Maskwecis? Lucky for me he was able to ride my horse.” Walcott also rode Pearl of Knowledge.
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