Kenny Bell has never had a Derby horse. For that matter he’s never even had an upper claimer or an allowance horse. “Heck no,” said Bell, 74, who has been training thoroughbreds for over 50 years. “Not even close. I’ve always been one of the little guys in this business.”
But he’s got one now with long shot Clancy’s Pistol one of 16 nominations for the August 20 $200,000 Canadian Derby at Century Mile which closed Thursday at midnight.
“It would be a real Cinderella story. It is already. This is all virgin territory. He’s just a tiny, little sucker. I never thought he’d be in this category. Maybe he doesn’t fit in here. But he likes to run all day. And a little guy can always dream,” said Bell, who trains just three other horses - all of which have been having their problems.
Bell claimed Clancy’s Pistol for $30,000 out of a winning race at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park last February. In his next start - a $50,000 starters allowance - Clancy’s Pistol won again. “I sure didn’t claim him thinking we were going to the Canadian or the Manitoba Derby. I was just hoping he’d be a nice upper claimer or maybe an allowance horse,” said Bell, who had open heart surgery last year.
Third in both the Manitoba Trial and Manitoba Derby - behind Red Knobs and Great Escape who are also both nominated to the Derby - Clancy’s Pistol never really got a chance to show his stuff in either of those races. He got wiped out completely at the start of the July 11 Trial and then stumbled at the start of the August 1 Derby itself.
“I just hope he gets a fair start and he comes running down the stretch. I don’t know how nice this horse is. Robertino Diodoro, who trained him in Winnipeg and Arkansas, has more faith than I do. I picked Clancy’s Pistol out and I paid for him. The rest has all been Robertino and his crew. The mile and a quarter distance is going to help him,” said Bell, an electrician by trade.
“There should be a lot of speed in the Derby. The plan is just to sit in behind the speed and get help from those guys backing up. He’ll be closing at the end. If he isn’t closing I will be terribly surprised. We should get a chunk of it. But we’ll need some help from the racing Gods,” said Bell, who owns a quarter section 20 kilometre’s east of Century Downs in Calgary where his 84-year-old sister, Norma Barnes, runs things.
“There’s lots of competition in this race. Robertino has his two horses, Red Knobs and Great Escape, who both finished ahead of me in Winnipeg. The Manitoba Derby Trial winner (Prayforpeace) is also nominated. And there’s some tigers coming from Vancouver,” he said of Soaringforthesun, who won the Sir Winston Churchill on August 1 at Hastings Park by three lengths over Gunfighter, with Regal Riot, winner of the Chris Loseth, third.
Regal Riot also won the McLeod by a neck over Soaringforthesun, who also won the Jack Diamond earlier this year. Regal Riot, Soaringforthesun and Gunfighter have all nominated to the Derby.
“Those three have been fighting each other all year. All three look good,” said Bell. The local contingent is headed by Slaats, who won the Count Lathum in his last start. Since being claimed for $50,000 by Kirk Sutherland in Phoenix, Slaats has two wins, four seconds and a third.
Itsmyday, a closing second in the Count Lathum, also nominated. Also nominating was last year’s Alberta two-year-old champion Asyoubelieve. “He’s a nice horse,” said Asyoubelieve’s trainer Tim Rycroft. “I don’t know if he will get the distance but he deserves a shot. So does his owner, Craig Robertson. We’ve been thinking about the Derby since last year. I’m just throwing his last race out,” Rycroft, Alberta’s leading trainer, said of Asyoubelieve’s last-place finish in the Count Lathum. “He grabbed a quarter in that race and he didn’t scope well after the race so we’re putting him on Lasix for the first time.”
“It’s going to be tough that’s for sure,” said Bell, who got his training start at B tracks in Alberta on tracks like Trout Springs, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. “I did really good in the bushes. I had one horse, Snow Laddie, who won 11 races in a row. And I had another one, Generous Mentor, who did good in the bushes and in Edmonton. But this is totally different. I’m just hoping. That’s all. I guess I’m here and hopefully he does OK. And if we don’t it’s been a lot of fun.”
STOCK REPORT - There are two stakes next Friday: the Canadian Juvenile for two-year-old colts and geldings and the Princess Margaret for two-year-old fillies.
Then there are three other $100,000 stakes on the Derby Day card: the Century Mile Handicap for older horses, the Northlands Distaff for aged mares and the Century Casino Oaks for three-year-old fillies.
The star of the Northlands Distaff is infinite Patience, who is riding a seven-race win streak. Infinite Patience is owned by Edmonton Oilers’ Ryan Nugent Hopkins and William Decoursey. The defending champion of the Distaff, Infinite Patience won her last start in Vancouver, the B.C. Cup Distaff by just under eight lengths.
Waiting for her is Mohamed Khan’s Dance Shoes. Trained by Jim Brown Dance Shoes has won her last three races at Century Mile.
In the one mile Century Mile Handicap, Greek Geek, coming off a short layoff is the expected favourite. Alberta’s Horse of the Year in 2021, Greek Geek gets his first distance race of the year after just coming up short in the Spangled Jimmy going seven furlongs.
His main rival could be Departure, who won his last start by six and three-quarter lengths.
And then in the Oaks Oneofthemgirls, who has won five in a row, meets a tough field. Burrow Down has dominated the fillies in Winnipeg winning her last three starts by almost 28 lengths. The Oaks also attracted six fillies from Vancouver.
Post positions for the Derby and the three other stakes will be drawn on Tuesday.
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