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Abuzz Over Canada's Newest Track

Published: April 23, 2015 5:48 pm ET

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Just a few days away from the “Grand Opening” race day at Century Downs Racetrack and Casino in Calgary, the excitement surrounding the harness racing industry in Alberta is mounting.

Drivers, trainers, owners and breeders have waited a very long time for this day to fact seven long years. The strength and perseverance that the Alberta horsemen and women have showed during these struggling past few years has been nothing short of remarkable. The Alberta harness horsemen and women will now make Century Downs Racetrack home for the next seven months.

The opening weekend of racing will be filled with many fun and exciting events at this new state of the art facility. Janette Ahrens, the Century Downs Marketing Manager, says opening day will have a festival-type feel to it. Local country artist Shannon Smith will be in attendance to sing the national anthem. The province's very proud harness drivers and trainers will join her for the opening ceremony.

There will be bleachers seating over 700 people outside on the tarmac, including 100 tables and over 550 chairs. In addition, there will be food trucks and barbecue stations set up along with bar stands. Due to the anticipated large numbers, there will be reservations only for the MidCity Grill restaurant and lounge. A total of 15 mutual tellers and 25 betting machines will be available along with the new MBet. To kick off Saturday, there will be a press conference starting at 8:30 a.m. followed by a spectacular afternoon of racing. Post time for both Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26 will be 2:00 p.m. MDT.

To celebrate the occasion, the I Love Canadian Harness Racing Fan Club will be on site for both Saturday and Sunday racing. Standardbred Canada’s Manager of Industry Marketing Kathy Wade Vlaar will be in attendance. Fans can stop by the booth after 1:00 p.m. on Saturday and meet some of Alberta’s top drivers and take a selfie with them to enter the Fan Club’s Zoom Photography Contest. The Fan Club's newest 'Face of Racing' is Alberta’s own Kelly Hoerdt and he will be on hand to greet racing fans and autograph photos. Joining Hoerdt will be top drivers Travis Cullen and Gerry Hudon. The first 100 people to join the Fan Club will receive a FREE gift and everyone who signs up will have a chance to win some great prizes. Fan Club merchandise will be for sale and copies of the April issue of Trot Magazine and Trot 4 Kids activity books will be given out. Activities will include draws for swag and betting vouchers. In addition, there will be an online handicapping contest for Fan Club members for the Saturday, April 25 card of racing.

The 2015 Alberta Standardbred Horse Association 'Name That Foal' contest will launch this Saturday at Century Downs as well. The contest forms will be available for participants.

Top veteran horseman Kelly Hoerdt says the new Century Downs Racetrack has put a breath of life into the Alberta racing industry. "It has put our sport in the spotlight and it is our [the horsemen’s] job to step up our game and embrace it with the highest level of professionalism," said Hoerdt. "It will give us new opportunities that we have never seen here in Alberta."

Hoerdt has been busy training a full stable of 40 horses for the upcoming meet at Century Downs. Training back nicely amongst his stable stars is the 2014 Champion Three-Year-Old Colt and the 2014 Western Canada Pacing Derby winner Outlaw Gunpowder. Joining Outlaw Gunpowder will be stablemate Ghost Pine. Hoerdt is very happy with his group of three-year-olds. "I have the highest hopes for four of my three-year-old students," said Hoerdt. Those include Cool Cowboy (2014 Champion Two-Year-Old Colt), True Rock (Champion Two-Year-Old Filly), Nostalgia (a Sportswriter filly) and a very talented three-year-old Dragon Again colt. In addition, Hoerdt is also training down 10 promising two-year-olds and his old campaigners Greek Ruler and Hilldrop Shady will both return and line up behind the gate at Century Downs.

There is no doubt that one driver’s face fans will often see is the 2013 O’Brien Rising Star recipient Travis Cullen. Cullen was the top driver and trainer in Alberta for the past two years at both Northlands Park and Alberta Downs. "I have committed to racing here in Alberta and I’m pretty excited to race at our new track," said Cullen. "I chose to stay in Alberta and it appears now that this was a very good decision. I’ve recently purchased a home in Airdrie, which is just a few minutes away from Century Downs Racetrack."

Cullen trains a stable of 19 in southern Alberta and has eight young horses training with his parents in Manitoba. He’s recently purchased a few new horses from the east. "I like to bring in new fresh horses to my stable," stated Cullen. His superstar, 2014 Alberta Horse of the Year Who Doesnt, will stay in Alberta and continue to race under Cullen’s care.

Gerry Hudon will be showing up to do battle. Leading Hudon’s camp will be the 2012 Horse Of The Year Timberline Court and top Open mare American Passion. Hudon is currently training 31 horses. All are doing very well and ready to race.

"Century Downs is the best thing that has every happened here in Alberta," said Hudon. "I’m very excited and look forward to racing at the new racetrack. My plans are to make the move [with] my stable to Century Downs when the second barn is built and when we can stable there."

Fans can also look forward to the return of Champion Three-Year-Old Colt Blue Eyed Cowboy and the 2013 Alberta Horse Of The Year Crackers Hot Shot from the Rod Starkewski stable.

The long journey to get to the very first “official post parade” this Saturday will have certainly been worth it.

Congratulations to all the driving forces behind this very much anticipated racetrack and entertainment centre. There will be a huge sense of pride and accomplishment in finally watching the “dream” of Alberta’s newest racetrack become a reality.

To view entries for opening weekend at Century Downs, click here.

For free, printable program pages, courtesy of TrackIT, click on the following links: Saturday / Sunday.

(With files from Alberta Standardred Horse Association, Century Downs Photo)

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