Last year’s Canadian Derby winner, Ready Intaglio, won one of Saturday’s two stakes races at Northlands while Trooper John, the early favourite for this year’s Derby, took the other. But that’s where the similarities end. Trooper John paid $5.20 to win the $50,000 Ky Alta; Ready Intaglio - somehow - paid a whopping $29.30 to win the $50,000 Spangled Jimmy.
“How does a Canadian Derby winner and last year’s Horse of the Year, pay that much?” asked Ready Intaglio’s owner Eurico Martens. Good question. “I guess they forgot about him,” continued Martens. “I guess they were thrown off by his race in the Oklahoma Derby and his first start here,” added Jim Meyaard, husband of trainer Amber. Maybe.
But it was like Christmas for those who were willing to forget about those two starts and, instead, look at his entire resume: five wins, including the Canadian Derby, the Ky Alta and the Count Lathum. Especially since Ready Intaglio doesn’t get warmed up going six furlongs which was the distance of his 2017 debut in the May 27 Journal Handicap - and the fact that in the Oklahoma Derby last September the track was gooey and nobody came from off the pace that day.
Second last for all of the early running of the Spangled Jimmy and trailing the leaders by some 15 lengths, even Ready Intaglio’s jockey, Kyle Carter was feeling a little uneasy. “I was kind of panicking,” said Carter, who got the mount for the first time. “The leaders were so far ahead. “But I had watched all of his race replays and I knew he likes to make one big run. So I just let him do his thing.” Once Ready Intaglio got rolling it was like watching a cannon go off. Or a leopard pouncing on its prey.
On the rail through almost all of a race which some people - including this corner - were billing as the race of the year so far this season, when they turned for home in the one-mile race, the field was bunched like Edmonton’s 99th street at rush hour. “Then it was like the Red Sea parted,” said Amber as the pace-setters Blue Dancer, Killin Me Smalls and Annie’s Candy, who were running three abreast, got the staggers and Hold the Giant drifted out leaving a gaping hole for Ready Intaglio to run through.
“He’ll run through a knothole if he has to,” said Amber. “But this hole was big.” “If there’s a hole you can put him in it and he’ll run through it,” agreed Martens. “Some horses will hesitate. Some horses want to go outside. But with this horse you just aim him and he’ll go.” At that point Carter said “My entire focus was on not getting him stopped.” That wasn’t the case for the other late runner in the field, Royal Warrior.
While Ready Intaglio shot through and ran onto a length and a quarter win over six-and-a-half-furlong track record holder Hemlock Channel, Royal Warrior got stopped inside the sixteenth pole as cold as if he had been hit by a right hand by Mike Tyson when he was in his prime. The stewards immediately put up the inquiry sign while Royal Warrior’s jockey Shamaree Muir claimed foul on Hold the Giant. The results, however, were allowed to stand.
There were several keys to Ready Intaglio’s victory. One is that this is a very talented individual. Two others were Friday’s rain which, while still rated as fast, softened the surface enough to stop what had been a steady parade of wire-to-wire winners and the early fractions. “I really liked it when it rained (Friday) night,” said Martens. “The track had been all speed but the rain allowed horses like him to come from well off the pace.”
As for the fractions, the first quarter went in a sensible :23 3/5 seconds. But with Blue Dancer, Killin Me Smalls and Annie’s Candy gunning the second quarter flashed by in :22 2/5 and three-quarters of a mile was reached in 1:10. With the mile going in 1:38 3/5 that meant the last quarter of a mile only went in :28 3/5 - which was violin music to the pricked ears of Ready Intaglio. It was like a hobo getting the keys to the Playboy mansion. As for the Ky Alta, Trooper John was also far back - dead last after half a mile.
But unlike Ready Intaglio, Trooper John didn’t have a second quarter of 22 seconds and change to run at. Instead, the leaders were allowed to dawdle. The first quarter went in a walk-in-the-park 25 2/5 seconds, the half in a really pedestrian :50 1/5 and three-quarters of a mile in a still not flashy 1:14 3/5. “I thought ‘Boy, are we in trouble,’” said Trooper John’s trainer Tim Rycroft.
Unaided, that meant Trooper John and jockey Keishan Balgobin had to do it all on their own - first finding some clear running room and then - still fifth by three lengths after six panels - running his last quarter of a mile in an impressive :24 2/5 seconds. That is an astounding three and three fifth seconds faster than it took Ready Intaglio to complete his mile even though the Ky Alta went in 1:39 3/5 - a full second slower than the Spangled Jimmy.
“He was bumped and banged just about every part of the race and he still won,” enthused Rycroft, who conditions the three-year-old for Riversedge Stable’s Robert Vargo and Norm Castiglione.
Winning by three-quarters of a length over Bar No Q, the Ky Alta marked Trooper John’s fourth straight stakes win. As well as winning the May 27 Western Canada, Trooper John ended last season winning - despite a slow start - the Winnipeg Futurity and then his romping eight and a half length win in the Canadian Juvenile.
“I’ve trained this horse with the Canadian Derby in my mind right from the outset,” said Rycroft, who was quick to applaud his crew pointing out former jockey Rick Bunny doing the galloping, Faye Grant, who rubs the horse and Roger Winegardner, who spent the last week acting as a nightwatchman sleeping in the barn. “I’m really excited about him because he’s getting better all the time. He’s maturing the way a good horse should and he’s holding his weight.
“It took him a while to figure out what racing was all about. At first racing was just playtime for him. Then the light went on and it was like he said ‘Oh, I’m supposed to be in front at the finish line.” Rycroft isn’t sure exactly how he will get Trooper John to the Aug. 19 Derby with the next three-year-old stakes race not until the July 15 Count Lathum and no stakes races after the Count Lathum leading to the Derby.
There were also two stakes races on Friday’s card with Port Protection winning the John Patrick and B.C. invader Anstrum taking the Red Smith. “I’ve always been high on Port Protection,” said trainer Ron Grieves. “He ran decent last year but not as good as I had hoped. She really worked well all of last year but when it came to the races she wasn’t running as well as I had hoped.
“This year she’s been working lights out and it’s shown,” said Grieves of the four-year-old filly who won her 2017 debut and then ran a game third - beaten by just half a length - in the Wild Rose. With only one horse headed in the early going of the John Patrick, won going away by four and three-quarter lengths. Anstrum won just as easily in the Red Smith. After stalking the pace, the three-year-old filly won by four and a quarter lengths.
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