The top two and there-year-old pacers on the grounds at Century Downs Racetrack and Casino will be in action this Thanksgiving weekend looking to gobble up the lion’s share of some serious money on the line.
On Saturday, the three-year-old fillies will contest the Alberta Marquis in two eliminations with purses of $10,000 each. Then, on Sunday, the three-year-old boys will battle it out in the Alberta Maverick elimination races, each with purses of $10,000. The finals for the Marquis and Maverick are scheduled for the following Saturday and Sunday, both with purses of $50,000.
Stakes action concludes on holiday Thanksgiving Monday when the rookie girls and boys compete in the Alberta Stardust and Alberta Shooting Star stakes respectively with two division races for both stakes with purses of $27,700 per.
Fresh off her win in the $10,000 ASHA Filly Stakes a week ago, Fire Watch looks like the one to beat on Saturday in the first elimination of the Alberta Marquis. Despite enduring a first over trip, the daughter of Camystic-Raging Red was a half-length better than Thats Extra, with My Villas On Fire finishing third, winning in a time of 2:00.2 on a 'good' track. The betting public made the Cullen trainee the 1-2 favourite, and with that win, she improved her 2015 record to 4-5-0 from 11 starts. The 10-time winner is very close to ringing up $150,000 in career earnings for Travis Cullen and partners Ronald Cullen and Dwayne Taylor.
Hall of Fame trainer Keith Clark, currently in Lexington taking in the yearling sale, definitely thinks she is the one to beat.
“I will be back on Sunday so Gerry Hudon will drive Cam Finish for me, but Fire Watch I feel can’t be beat. My horse is a follower and with a trip she should get a piece,” stated Clark.
The second elimination will showcase a puzzler in Blue Star Texas, who has drawn the rail.
“She just did not race good again in the ASHA Filly Stakes a week ago and I am at a loss as to why,” commented Clark.
Changing drivers is giving some hope to the connections.
“In my absence, we are going to use a real driver Phil Giesbrecht,” joked Clark.
Pitch-hitting for Clark, the very capable Giesbrecht also feels Blue Star Texas’s performance is a head scratcher.
“I don’t know if she is sick or just plain tired. She is a better filly than she has shown as she has paced some very nice miles. Hopefully we can map out a good trip and come home a little,” explained Giesbrecht.
On the season, Blue Star Texas has a 13-6-1-3 summary and has amassed $123,027 in career earnings. She still holds the track record at Century Downs of 1:54.4 for three-year-old fillies, set back on June 6 of this year, and is owned by Doris McDougall and Robert Jones.
One to watch is My Villas On Fire. The daughter of Blue Burner-My Villa has had some tough-luck trips and looks poised to pop a good one.
“She has had lots of issues this year, but is finally coming around. I am expecting good results for this filly as we head in the final weeks of the meet,” advised trainer Jamie Gray. “We had the two-hole trip twice against the Blue Star Texas, but when she backed up it caused us obvious problems also and it's tough to rally off the pace if you are far out of contention,” added Gray.
Turning to the boys on Sunday, the first division of the Alberta Maverick Stakes for colts and geldings brings together a small but talented field. Outlaw Deacon Jim has showed flashes of talent all year and may have the slight edge. Trainer/driver Rod Hennessy definitely thinks his horse can do damage.
“He got sick on me last start due to a viral throat infection, but he is feeling a lot better,” explained Hennessy. “We have been doing some work on him and he is a lot closer to 100 percent now and deserves to be the favourite.”
Outlaw Deacon Jim posted a career-best 1:56.1 mile in the second Gordon Rumpel division earlier this summer. He is owned by Lorne Duffield of Edmonton. The Blue Burner-Billie J Blue Chip colt now has a record of 16-4-3-2 this year with career earnings of $66,090.
The second division will feature Cool Cowboy, the 2014 Alberta Sires Stakes two-year-old champion, and he looks to resume his winnings ways after a decent show finish versus the Keith Clark monster First Class Horse in the ASHA Colt Stakes a week ago. With no First Class Horse to contend with, Cool Cowboy should appreciate this group. He swept the Alberta Marksman stakes prior to the last start before and has a record of 9-4-1-3 in his sophomore year, pushing his lifetime earnings to $122,869. The Meridian Farms-bred colt, sired by Brandons Cowboy out of the Grintfromeartoear mare Cool Grin, was a $19,000 yearling purchased from the 2013 ASHA Sale.
Then, on Thanksgiving day Monday, the freshman girls and boys share the limelight as they compete in the Alberta Stardust and Alberta Shooting Star Stakes respectively, with division races for both stakes with purses of $27,700 per.
In the first division of the Alberta Stardust for the rookie girls, Jet Blue Burner (Blue Burner-Blinkandyoumissit) looks awfully tough again. She continues to get faster, and in her last outing, she lowered Century Downs' track record for two-year-old pacing fillies again in the Neal Adler Memorial Stakes in a time of 1:57.4. Prior to that start, both she and Divas Dragonfly had matching 1:58 miles in the Alberta Sires Stakes. A homebred by Greg Manning, he likes what he is seeing from her.
“I not sure she was even 100 percent when she won her last race what with all the sickness going around the barns,” said Manning. “Even with the outside post, if healthy, she should be very tough.”
Travis Cullen along with his mother Jodie and partners Keith Hannah and Dwayne Taylor share ownership and she has a 2015 record of 4-3-0-1 with lifetime earnings of $26,249.
For the second division of the Alberta Stardust, Funkmeister (Bunkmeister-Raritan) may be peaking at the right time. With regular driver Bill Tainsh gone to drive the Rod Starkewski-trained Outlawtriggerhappy, owner/trainer Floyd Fraess will be calling the shots. Funkmeister has a 10-1-3-2 record good for lifetime earnings of $16,388. The main danger could be Outlawtriggerhappy, who just notched her first win in seven starts, coming in the Neal Adler Stakes. The Blue Burner miss is owned by Starkewski and Clauzette Byckal, and sports a 7-1-3-2 records with earnings of $21,873 making her the top money-earner of this division.
Shifting to the boys, the first division of the Alberta Shooting Star will feature Outlaw Turn N Burn, who looks like he has turned the corner. The Blue Burner colt equalled the two-year-old pacing colt track record with his 1:56.3 winning effort in the Century Pace. That record was originally set by Outlaw Gettinrdone and is just three-fifths of a second off the overall two-year-old male mark that gelding Blue Star Jet established in the ASHA Colt Stakes just over a month ago. Trainer Majorie Dumont for one is pleasantly surprised with his recent effort.
“I did not expect a 1:56.3 mile last time out, but he has been getting sharper and finally got a decent post for a change,” added Dumont.
Some different training methods may have turned this horse around.
“Previously, he was a green and shy horse would did not like to pass horses, so I decided to train him with older horses and that appeared to give him confidence,” commented Dumont. “With babies you keep always learning about them and with a good post and also good luck you never know what will happen.”
A Horizon Pace winner earlier this year, Outlaw Turn N Burn earned his first win since changing ownership. He is owned by 8113564 Canada Ltd. of Sherwood Park, Alta. He has two wins and two thirds in eight starts with career earnings of $26,151.
The second division of the Alberta Shooting Star has a standout in the aforementioned Blue Star Jet, who notched his fourth consecutive stakes victory in his division of the Century Pace back on September 27. He holds the track record for two-year-olds of 1:56 flat set back on August 23. Hennessy drives and trains Blue Star Jet (Blue Burner-Movin Uptown), and also shares ownership of the gelding with Edmonton's Lorne Duffield. Blue Star Jet has never finished worse than second in his six career starts and has banked $42,099 in purse earnings.
Keep an eye on Outlaw Gettinrdone, who despite going off stride, still quickly recovered from that miscue in the first turn and eventually closed down the lane to grab third in a photo finish in the Century Pace. The Blue Burner colt has been ultra consistent for trainer Rod Starkewski with a superb 8-3-3-2 record good for $32,511 in earnings, second only to Blue Star Jet.
(A Trot Insider exclusive by Frank Fontana)