Arpad Szabo’s relationship with Georgian Downs is not as old as the Wild West, but the resident of Bradford, Ont. was a regular at the facility long before it moved from Barrie to Innisfil, so having a contender on this Saturday’s $1-million Gold Rush program is cause for celebration.
“We were there last Saturday, and my daughter lives in Thornton, so they were all there,” said Szabo. “I hope they all come (this week) and maybe even more.”
Szabo and his family will be cheering on three-year-old pacing gelding Piston Broke, who competes in the last of four $130,000 Gold finals featured on the Gold Rush program. The gelding earned his way into the final with an impressive performance in last week’s elimination round, where he used a :26.4 finishing kick to secure the runner-up spot behind reigning Upper Canada Cup champion Michaels Power.
Piston Broke and regular reinsman Sylvain Filion started from Post 6 in the Gold elimination and the pair will return to Post 6 for Saturday’s Gold final. Elimin winners Michaels Power and Thunder Steeler will start from Post 3 and 4, respectively.
“We were hoping for a better post, but you’ve got to take what you get,” Szabo said, of Piston Broke’s post-position luck. “And we happen to think our horse can do it. He’s a good horse coming from behind.”
Last week’s appearance was Piston Broke’s first in the Gold Series, but not the gelding’s first at Georgian Downs. The son of Shark Gesture recorded his first lifetime win over the Innisfil oval in a Grassroots event last July and scored a second Georgian Downs victory in his November return to the races after a two-month hiatus.
“Rob liked him as soon as we got him, so we babied him along a bit as a two-year-old, we didn’t race him much, and then as a three-year-old he came back pretty good,” explained Szabo, who shares ownership of Piston Broke with trainer Rob Fellows of Rockwood, Ont. and Willard Sabrosky of Madison Heights, Michigan.
In addition to the four early starts he made in July and August, Piston Broke made four more starts before turning three on January 1 of this year, accumulating a total of two wins and one second in his freshman season. Since his third birthday the gelding has tallied seven wins, three seconds and two thirds in 16 starts for earnings of $136,500.
Based on his early sophomore success, Szabo and his partners considered racing Piston Broke in the Upper Canada Cup in May, but decided the gelding could use a rest before tackling the Gold Series heavyweights for the remainder of the 2012 season. The move seemed to pay off with last weekend’s sharp performance and Szabo is hoping the pacer can deliver again this week.
Delivering at Georgian Downs is something Szabo is accustomed to doing. His family business, Mr. Dairy, sends a regular shipment to the racetrack and will be making a stop on Thursday to ensure the coolers are stocked for Saturday’s crowds.
Like Szabo, Joseph Parkinson has been going to Georgian Downs since it was Barrie Raceway, but where Szabo purchased his first horse just five years ago and has enjoyed relatively limited success in the Ontario Sires Stakes program, Parkinson is a lifelong horseman who has hoisted a number of Gold and Grassroots Series trophies.
On Saturday the Sharon resident will have his hopes pinned on Twin B Sensation, who captured her Gold Elimination with a personal best 1:55.4, but will be hampered by the outside Post 9 in Saturday’s final.
“She’s a big strong mare, but being saddled with the nine-hole is not going to be her friend. She likes to put her nose on the gate,” said Parkinson, who shares ownership of the Ken Warkentin filly with his partners in Gaelic Stable, trainer John Bax’s Parkhill Stud Farm of Peterborough, Ont. and Glengate Farms of Campbellville, Ont. “She can be a bit of a handful, but hopefully Stevie can work it out and you know, see what happens. You never know when the gate folds.”
Thornton, Ont. resident Stephen Byron engineered the filly’s elim victory and will be back in the race bike on Saturday. Parkinson says so long as the veteran reinsman can keep Twin B Sensation settled before the race, she should be in the hunt for a share of the $130,000 purse.
“Once the gate folds I don’t have any worries about her, it’s prior to that, in the post parade and stuff, she’s a handful. Once the gate gets going she probably won’t be too bad,” he explained.
Parkinson has been buying yearlings with Bax for almost two decades and the partners have enjoyed their fair share of success in the Ontario Sires Stakes program, campaigning stars like Northern Bailey ($963,285) and Oaklea Omega ($449,172).
“We always had cheap horses years ago at Georgian, and we’d try and play with it ourselves and do that kind of stuff. Then once you get a little taste of the babies when they do well, it’s pretty hard to go back to the other stuff,” explained Parkinson, whose late father, Brian, introduced him to harness racing. “If I can’t dream that maybe this is the one when I’m sitting in a bike behind one jogging, because I train a bit myself at my own farm, then I don’t want to do it. To each his own, but you buy the dream, that’s why we do it.”
Trainer Gary Lance and his partners Trevor Lance and Sandy Moulton of Port Perry, Ont. and Brian Samis of Uxbridge, Ont. may have to wait until August to realize their dream of posing with a Gold final trophy. After winning his Gold elim in a personal best 1:55.3 their three-year-old trotting gelding Cold Certified developed some foot soreness.
Lance is hoping they are simply dealing with a pus pocket in the trotter’s sole which will be resolved before Saturday, but if things do not improve the gelding will have to skip the Gold final.
“I’m hoping that he’ll be 100 per cent by Saturday, but I can’t guarantee it,” said Lance, a resident of Port Perry, Ont. “In order to compete with Il Mago and Prestidigitator he’s got to be close to 100 per cent.”
Cold Certified is slated to start from Post 4 on Saturday, with the other elimination winner Prestidigitator getting Post 2 and reigning Gold final champion Il Mago starting from Post 7.
The three-year-old trotting colts will open the stakes action at Georgian Downs on Saturday, battling for their $130,000 purse in Race 4. The pacing fillies compete in Race 5, the trotting fillies in Race 6 and the pacing colts in Race 8. In addition to the Gold finals, the Gold Rush program also features $160,000 finals of the Masters Series for aged pacers and trotters in Races 7, 9, 10 and 11.
In addition to the on-track excitement, fans will also enjoy all the trackside entertainment they have come to anticipate on Gold Rush night — western music and entertainment, games, contests, children’s activities, free photographs with a celebrity horse, horse and buggy rides and much more, along with the eagerly anticipated 'Golden Bucket' contest, where one lucky fan will hope to select the bucket containing $100,000.
This year’s edition of the Gold Rush gets under way at 7:25 pm on Saturday, July 7.
To view the harness racing entries for Saturday at Georgian, click the following link: Saturday Entries - Georgian Downs.