Wednesday, 15 September 2021 10:43

Also-ran stake races on Derby day filled with exceptional talent

Infinite Patience in the stretch drive of the Northlands Distaff Handicap at Century Mile Sept. 11, 2021 Infinite Patience in the stretch drive of the Northlands Distaff Handicap at Century Mile Sept. 11, 2021 Photo by Coady Photo/Ryan Haynes

Lost in the shuffle and largely over shadowed by Uncharacteristic's win in the Canadian Derby there were three other stakes races at Century Mile this past Saturday:

  • Infinite Patience equalled the track record for a mile when the fabulous filly shipped in from Vancouver and won the Northlands Distaff Handicap in convincing fashion.
  • Three races later Greek Geek came within two one-hundredths of a second off that record in the Century Mile.
  • And tucked in between was Heidi, another Vancouver-based horse, who won the Century Casino Oaks.

"The Distaff and the Mile were two of the best fields ever assembled in Western Canada," said Greek Geek's trainer Tim Rycroft. "They were as good races we've had here for a long time. Especially the fillies and mares race. That was a super race for Western Canada. They were exceptional fields. And then that was a very nice performance by Heidi in the Century Casino Oaks."

Co-owned by Edmonton Oiler forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Infinite Patience was the easiest of winners. Placed to the outside of Here's Hannah during the early running, Infinite Patience took off entering the final turn and was untouched by jockey Antonio Reyes as she rambled down the stretch winning by a most comfortable two and a half lengths. "He just niggled the lines at her to get her to switch leads and that was about it," said trainer Barbara Heads.

Even so, Infinite Patience's time of 1:36.01 equalled the one-mile record set by Intent To Strike last summer. Had Infinite Patience, who has now won three in a row, ever been asked that record would have solely been hers. "Every time Antonio rides her he is more impressed. He always thinks he's seen the best and then he sees more," said Heads. She's very special."

Undefeated in five starts as a two-year-old not much went right for the four-year-old last year after she was sent to Toronto's Woodbine. "We made a decision to keep her there and give her a shot," Heads said of three starts at Woodbine.

After running a decent third in the Fury Stakes on July 5, Infinite Patience finished well back in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks and then went unplaced again in the Bison City. "Some people said she didn't belong in Toronto but I really think she didn't like the synthetic surface there. I had Infinite Patience's mother, Montero, and she wouldn't run a jump over the synthetic either."

The Northlands Distaff was Infinite Patience's third win in a row. "It's nice to see that she has her confidence back," said Heads. "She has come back to form which is a relief and fun." Of Nugent-Hopkins, Heads said the Oiler "loves horse racing. He's got two other horses at the track, a few broodmares and a yearling. He's very interested in pedigrees and he's always watching other racetracks. "He's very keen."

With Vancouver shutting down for the season on Sept 28, Infinite Patience will run in the Oct. 15 CTHS Sales stakes for three and four-year-old fillies and then is also headed to the Oct. 29 Red Smith stakes.

Infinite Patience's co-record almost didn't stand up for very long as Greek Geek won the nightcap in 1:36.03. Momentarily checked and taken to the outside in deep stretch to get around Sir Bregovic that certainly cost Greek Geek at least a few hundredths of a second.

In his previous start Greek Geek had set the track record for a mile and a sixteenth getting that distance in 1:42 1/5. "He's still learning how to win," said leading trainer Tim Rycroft, of the son of Misremembered who set the track record in the Indiana Derby - something which certainly seems to run in the family.

"Even in this race he wanted to lug in a bit. It's got nothing to do with soundness; it's just a habit of his. He was going to go inside Sir Bregovic but Enrique (jockey Gonzalez) didn't want to bother that horse so he had to steer him to the outside. That probably cost him a few split seconds because it took a bit of his momentum away. It was thrilling because it was close. But there was no question of him getting there; he just needed the room," said Rycroft after the neck victory over Sir Bregovic.

It was another four lengths back to third-place finisher, long shot Go Away. The Century Mile was the fourth straight time that Greek Geek has crossed the finish line in front. But he lost one of those to disqualification when he interfered with Regal Max. "Greek Geek is getting better every start; this last race was a great performance I thought."

Hugging the rail almost throughout the Century Mile Handicap, he got the perfect trip. "We had a bit of a plan. But you can't overthink plans too much because something could happen and it all goes out the window. I was hoping we would be fourth, fifth or sixth early. And that's what happened," said Rycroft after Greek Geek moved into striking position at the top of the stretch.

"Greek Geek is a great big horse. It was Enriques' job to get him settled early and clear of every body. It's up to the rider not to get them beat when the gates open. Enrique did a great job. Greek Geek has got a bright future given that he is only four-years-old. He's getting to be a very good horse. He's a nice horse. We do a couple of things different with him in the mornings." Asked what they were, Rycroft declined to answer. "I'll just keep that to myself."

The Century Mile was Greek Geek's first stakes win. "We've been very patient with him - running him in condition races that he fit instead of putting him in a stakes race."

Greek Geek is now being pointed to the Oct. 2 Alberta Breeders' Handicap - one of seven stakes for Alberta-breds on the Fall Classic card. After that he has his eyes set on the Oct. 16 CTHS Sales stake for three and four-year-old Alberta-breds. "Knock on wood we keep him together for those races and then we'll see what's next."

Bred by Crystal Cates' Moonshine Meadow Ranch, who works for Rycroft, Greek Geek was purchased for $8,500 by Riversedge Racing Stable at last year's Alberta Yearling Sale. "He's a dangerous horse because he can lay off the pace or skip out there and make the lead. He's very versatile," he said of Greek Geek, who has now finished in the top three in 13 of his 17 career starts. "He relaxes and takes care of himself. He walked great (Tuesday) morning. He seems great. After the race he ate the bottom of his feed tub up."

Greek Geek had a chance to run in last year's Canadian Derby but Rycroft sent him to Toronto instead where he finished third and then second in a pair of conditional allowance races. "I'm still kicking myself for that decision. If you can run well in those kind of races in Toronto you can be a stakes winner here. Toronto is probably third on the list in North America of toughest places to win a race. To this day I still think if we would have stayed in Alberta he could have won that Derby."

Rycroft, who won the Derby in 2015 with Academic, dead-heated for second in 2017 when his Trooper John and Double Bear hit the wire together in second behind Chief Know It All.

STOCK REPORT - Heidi showed great resilience when she won the Century Casino Oaks for Swift Thoroughbreds Inc. Stalking the early pace in fourth place, Heidi, whose last start saw her run second - albeit by 11 lengths - to Infinite Patience, swung three wide turning for home and then prevailed by half a length over Plum Blue who soared up from second after trailing most of the way.

Another most impressive performance on Saturday was the debut of three-year-old Maria's Song. Trained by Craig Smith, Maria's Song won wire-to-wire by five lengths while getting the six and a half furlong distance in a very quick 1:16 and change. "He's a nice horse. Very nice," said Smith. "I was worried about all the things going on with it being Derby Day but he handled everything very well."

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