Sometimes fairy tales, even the bittersweet ones, do come true. One certainly did in Sunday’s Canadian Derby at Century Mile when Real Grace, sent away at odds of 18-1, went wire-to-wire holding off late charges from Something Natural and Rail Hugger to win by a neck.
“It’s a miracle,” said apprentice rider Mauricio Malvaez, who had never won a stakes race before and who only got his first win of his career three months ago. “It’s a miracle I got to ride in the Derby. It’s a miracle that I won,” said Malvaez, 24. “If you had told me last year that I would even ride in the Canadian Derby let alone win it I would have said you were crazy. Last year I never won a single race. That’s why I love this sport so much: anything can happen. I’m just so happy that I could win this race for Shelley.”
Shelley is Shelley Brown the trainer of record of Real Grace. Brown, however, couldn’t come to Edmonton for the Derby. She is in a hospital in Winnipeg where she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. In her absence Real Grace has been in the very capable hands of Rod Cone for the last two months.
“This is the best race I’ve ever won,” said Cone. “I’ve won the Derby four times now but the others weren’t anything like this. This was all about Shelley. I talked to her (Sunday) morning and I told her we were going to win this race for her. Somehow we did. She needed a boost and I’m sure this win did that for her. Shelley sent this horse to me in good shape. She’s the one who deserves all the credit. If anybody deserves to win a race like this it’s Shelley,” Cone said of Brown, who, in 2017, became the first female to win the trainer standings at Winnipeg’s Assiniboia Downs.
“She worked for me for a while about 20 years ago. She’s a really hard worker. She’d show up at 3 a.m. and have 25 stalls cleaned before anybody else even showed up at the track. She also worked for Ernie Keller for years. About 10-to-12 years ago she started training horses in Winnipeg on her own. She’s just a really good person. She would help anybody. And she was always happy. I’m just glad I could assist her with this win.”
It’s more than that of course. Just as Cone has done all of his long career as a trainer he can get a horse ready. Especially in big races at distances like Sunday’s mile and a quarter Canadian Derby. “Nobody can get a horse to run a distance like this guy,” said Cone’s wife, Jennifer Smith. “Nobody.”
Cone showed that in 1993 when he won his first Derby with Cozzy Grey, a noted come-from-behind runner who had been eased in its previous start but who, like Real Grace, went wire-to-wire as well returning $22.50 for every $2 wager. Cone also won the 1998 Derby - by six lengths - with A Fleets Dancer, a horse that would go on to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and win over $1 million.
Then there is the still asterisk marked 2017 Derby. Double Bear, trained by Cone for Hal Veale, crossed the finish line second - in a dead heat with Trooper John - behind Chief Know it All. Cone filed an objection for interference at the top of the stretch and while the stewards denied his foul claim a Horse Racing Alberta tribunal overturned that decision and made Double Bear the winner. That decision, however, has also been appealed and, three years later, is still before the courts. “Double Bear might not have been the best horse in the race just like Cozzy Grey probably wasn’t the best horse in the 1993 Derby,” said Smith. “But they were the fittest. Just like Real Grace was (Sunday).”
Malvaez said the plan was always to go to the top and see what happened. “I tried to slow the pace down as much as I could. The fractions weren’t real slow or anything but I got (Real Grace) to relax and he just kept going. “I could feel him getting tired half way down the stretch but nobody came to me. They were getting tired too. I’m just very grateful for the opportunity.”
The victory was worth $54,000 to Brown and her partners Jean McEwan, Bette Hoffman and Bernell Rhone. Real Grace had shown how dangerous unattended speed can be before. On July 13 the unraced two-year-old broke his maiden winning the Manitoba Derby Trial in Winnipeg going wire-to-wire.
But in the Manitoba Derby itself Real Grace was pressured and finished fifth behind Mongolian Wind, Mr. Unusual and Something Natural, who all contested Sunday’s Canadian Derby.
Sent to Cone in Edmonton immediately after the Manitoba Derby, Real Grace almost led from start to finish again in the August 16 Count Lathum but was unable to withstand the closing kick of Rail Hugger and finished second. Then, in his previous start, Real Grace finished a good fourth - defeated by less than two lengths - against older horses in the Arctic Laur stakes.
STOCK REPORT - Wagering on the 12-race program was $1,272,768.
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