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Harness Racing Returns To Calgary

Published: April 25, 2015 6:20 pm ET

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"They're off! And we're racing at Century Downs!"

Track announcer Murray Slough's voice boomed throughout the new Century Downs Racetrack and Casino in Calgary, Alberta as its first ever horse race began on Saturday afternoon.

A strong, enthusiastic crowd turned out for the opening card of harness racing at Canada's newest racetrack on the cold and windy Spring day.

Three-year-old pacing gelding Waitin Ona River and trainer/driver Rod Hennessy made harness racing history as they won Century Downs' first race, a $5,300 maiden event, prevailing in a photo finish in 1:59.4.

Vow To Win and Bill Tainsh Jr. were the early race leaders through opening fractions of :29 and :59.1, but Hennessy pulled Waitin Ona River from the pocket down the backstretch and took over command before reaching the third quarter mark in 1:29.2. Waitin Ona River began to open up on top around the final turn while Sports Wizard and Travis Cullen came charging home from the backfield and made it into the win photo for an exciting start to the nine-race card. Burning Prospect and Jamie Gray finished third.

Sent postward as the 5-2 favourite, Waitin Ona River paid $7.80 to win.

"It's great to win the first race here," Hennessy told Trot Insider. "It's super to see such a strong crowd here even despite the cold."

"I'm near the end of my career, but the opening of this track is so important for the future of horse racing," said the veteran Falun, Alberta horseman, who has driven more than 2,760 winners in his career.

"The track is in great shape," he added. "Have to give a lot of credit to the track crew."

Feelin Flush ($9.10) was the fastest winner of the day with a 1:56.3 mile in the $10,500 Fillies & Mares Open Pace. She followed Blue Star Beauty and Philip Giesbrecht through panels of :29.1, :59 and 1:27.4 before sweeping by in the stretch with :28.3 final quarter speed for trainer/driver Travis Cullen and co-owner Ken Hanson. The winner's stablemate, Sing Like An Angel, came on for second with Brandon Campbell aboard.

Giesbrecht led all drivers for wins, scoring with Hoofenanny ($2.90) for conditioner Darryl Cutting and going back-to-back with Lance Ward trainees Shes A Ladro ($15.70) and Blissful Idea ($17.50).

Campbell had a driving double, winning with Jack Of Diamonds ($3.30) for trainer Tim Brown and posting the biggest upset of the afternoon aboard Mark Haining's HF Nancys Babygirl ($57.90).

Other winners on the opening card were Peruvian Paradise ($5.80), driven to victory over 13-year-old Bomber Brown by Jamie Gray for Steve Nichols, and Rich Native ($42.80) with trainer/driver Ryan Grundy.

Century Downs Racetrack and Casino began its opening race day with a press conference and tour around the track before post time, with numerous major media outlets in attendance including 660 News, 960 News, CBC Radio, Global TV, CTV, CBC Television, Rogers, Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, Red Deer Advocate, Lethbridge Herald, and Airdrie Echo.

Saturday's card marked the long-awaited return of harness racing to Calgary for the first time since Stampede Park's final harness meet was held in 2006.

"It's been a long, tough journey," said Shirley McClellan, CEO of Horse Racing Alberta. "This area has been without horse racing for almost a decade. The fans and horsemen in the area welcome it back.

"Congratulations to the horsemen. I know we will see fast miles [and] great racing in the next few days and the coming months."

Susan Green, acting chair of the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, noted that she is "proud of the relationship we have with the horse racing industry and Century Downs. This is a world class facility."

Century Downs Racetrack and Casino features a 1.1 km (approximately 7/10ths of a mile) racetrack, and 30,000 square-foot casino with 550 gaming machines including electronic table games, bar, lounge, restaurant and an off-track betting area.

Century Downs Racetrack and Casino is located less than one mile north of the city limits of Calgary and 4.5 miles from the Calgary International Airport. The location is ideally positioned exiting off the Queen Elizabeth II Highway, which is the main corridor between Calgary and Edmonton and one of the most heavily used highways in Western Canada. It is located next to the CrossIron Mills shopping centre, a major regional attraction. Century Downs Racetrack and Casino has the potential to capture both the north and the northwest Calgary markets, which do not currently have a casino.

Century Downs Racetrack and Casino will host Standardbred racing in 2015 on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays with first race post time at 2:00 p.m. Friday evenings will be added to the live racing schedule in the summer months. The track will also host Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing in 2016.

To view Saturday's harness racing results, click on the following link: Saturday Results - Century Downs.

(With files from Century Downs)

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