Where do you start? There are four $50,000 stakes races on this weekend’s card at Century Mile - the first open stakes of the year. The girls run Friday with the Chariot Chaser for three-year-old fillies and the RedTail Landing for older fillies and mares. The boys go Saturday with the Western Canada for three-year-olds and then The Journal for aged males.
Veteran trainer Jim Brown has nominated eight horses - a third of his 24-horse stable - for those stakes: Addydidit and Secret Haven in the Chariot Chaser; Dance Shoes in the RedTail Landing; Phantom Mac, Tolui and Slaats in the Western Canada and Sebastian’s Boy and Surprisinglyperfect in The Journal.
“It’s going to be a busy weekend; hopefully it’s a good one,” said Brown, who has been training for 30 years and who left B.C. for Alberta when Century Mile opened April 1, 2019. “I like it here,” said Brown. “I like the racing and I like a mile track. I miss Vancouver which is a world-class city but the racing is better here. In Alberta we can draw from Winnipeg and B.C. B.C. doesn’t get many horses from the east and obviously none from the west - not a lot of horses come to Vancouver from Vancouver Island or Hawaii,” Brown laughed.
Asked to choose which of his horses has the best chance, Brown hesitated before finally saying “If I had to pick one I guess it would be Dance Shoes,” he said of the four-year-old who ran second to Pearl of Knowledge - while three-wide throughout in a five horse field — in her last start.
Pearl of Knowledge, the likely pace-setter again, has also nominated to the RedTail Landing as has the third-place finisher in that race, Mine Me, who was claimed by trainer Rick Hedge for himself and Glen Stouffer. “Most of my horses show up unless they are hampered by the distance. I think all of them will really start shining the further we go,” said Brown, who almost always posts a big winning percentage having won 629 career races from 4,003 starters. “But Dance Shoes really likes it here.”
Does she ever. In 11 career starts at Century Mile, Dance Shoes has won seven of them including the Alberta Oaks - by a head over Plum Blue. “She’s a hard-knocking mare. She can sprint but a route is her better distance. That said I think she’s won at five or six different distances.”
Another mare that Dance Shoes has to beat is high-weighted Arizona Sun from Robertino Diodoro’s barn. A disappointing fifth in her Century Mile debut - finishing fifth as the favourite in the race won by Pearl of Knowledge - Arizona Sun had won her previous three races in Phoenix - each one by open lengths.
Diodoro said Arizona Sun had what he called “a minor issue” which has since been rectified. In the Chariot Chaser they probably will all be chasing speedy Oneofthemgirls, who was last year’s Two-Year-Old Filly Champion off of two romps in the CTHS Sales Stake and the Sturgeon River. In her only start this year Oneofthemgirls romped in the restricted Alberta-Sire Debutante by four and a half lengths. That was at six and a half furlongs. The Chariot Chaser is six panels which should only improve her chances.
Oneofthemgirls is high-weighted at 121 pounds - two more than Tim Rycoft trained Diplomatica, winner of last year’s Princess Margaret, and Keke Kimono, who exits a sharp win in allowance company and who won last year’s Freedom of the City. “We’re probably on the outside looking in in that race,” said Brown.
Brown likes his chances better in both of Saturday’s two stakes: the Western Canada and The Journal. “Slaats ran a good race the other day - with a little help from Tim Rycroft’s horse (Asyoubelieve),” said Brown alluding to Slaats neck victory over Asyoubelieve when the latter’s jockey, Enrique Gonzalez, lost his stirrups and Gonzalez was forced to essentially ride bareback and still almost won the race. “It’s hard to guess what would have happened if (Gonzalez) hadn’t lost the irons,” said Brown. “Asyoubelieve is a pretty nice horse - sprinting anyway. They may separate themselves as they go farther.”
Asyoubelieve was last year’s Two-Year-Old Colt Champion winning the Canadian Juvenile by eight and a half lengths, the CTHS Sales stake by four lengths - in the slop which is what the forecast calls for this weekend - and breaking his maiden by more than 15 lengths - also on an off track.
Slaats, who was claimed by Brown for owner Kirk Sutherland for $50,000 in Phoenix this spring in a race she won by four and a half lengths. Asyoubelieve is high-weighted at 122 pounds - one more than Slaats.
The Western Canada, however, probably isn’t a two-horse race. Also contending are Above and Beyond, who won the Alberta-sire Stakes Derby by six lengths and Flashfordani, who, after running second to Asyoubelieve in the Canadian Juvenile turned the tables on Asyoubelieve winning the Birdcatcher.
Decoy and Glava are interesting as well. Glava broke his maiden by six lengths over Decoy in his last start on May 20. Decoy then came right back to break his maiden by six lengths.
Finally, in The Journal, the older horses - led by top-weighted Stone Carver (124 pounds) and last year’s Horse of the Year Greek Geek (123 pounds) - is probably the most contested stake of the weekend. Greek Geek and Stone Carver are both owned by Riversedge Racing Stables. Stone Carver, whom Rycroft said ‘Runs his eyeballs out every time,’ is Century Mile’s track record holder for Saturday’s six-furlong distance. The record came in last year’s Journal when he got the distance in 1:07.51.
“I kept thinking that there must have been something wrong with the clock,” said Rycroft, who has also nominated War Giant, an impressive winner of his last two starts and another of the 11 horses he has nominated to this weekend’s stakes. “I didn’t think they could run that fast.”
Last month Stone Carver topped Greek Geek by a gritty three-quarters of a length going five and a half furlongs. Saturday Greek Geek, who prefers a route, gets to work with another half furlong.
Wanting more ground is also true of the two newcomers Brown has nominated to The Journal: Sebastian’s Boy and Surprisinglyperfect. Both are owned by Kirk Sutherland. “Surprisinglyperfect is probably the best of the two,” said Brown of the eight-year-old who has won 14 of his 55 career starts while adding eight seconds and 11 thirds. “But six furlongs is probably shorter than his preferred distance.”
While Sebastian’s Boy has sprinters speed, Surprisinglyperfect does his best running in the stretch and going longer. “Surprisinglyperfect is a nice horse,” he said of the veteran who was claimed for just $6,250 in January in Phoenix. Under Brown’s care, Surprisinglyperfect has since rolled off five straight wins.
“Hard to knock that,” said Brown. “He trains well and he likes to win. But Sebastian’s Boy is a nice horse too. But he wants to go further too. But I’ve got to get a race into both of them.”
Like Surprisinglyperfect, Sebastian’s Boy was also claimed by Brown - this time for $25,000 in his last appearance in Phoenix. Quick and resilient Toriador will also be heard from - at least early. More early speed is also true of Deuces Are Wild. With lots of speed and lots of late closers The Journal is a race you don’t want to miss. Rain or shine.
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