More than a few tears amid the backslapping and handshakes in the winner’s circle at Century Downs last Saturday. The reasons were two 4 year old thoroughbreds that came back from serious, life threatening injuries to earn wins. The common thread is the injuries and the determination of the owners and the staff at Westana Ranches in Redwater. Oh, and you have to take into account the will to live by the horses themselves.
The story began in the first race of the day when Expect It’s True romped to victory over three challengers in just his second lifetime start.
“His medical chart is thicker than half of the rest of the horses I have, combined,” Westana owner, Bob Cramers, told me. “He’s had three surgeries on three legs, primarily to remove loose chips. He’s had throat surgery to correct a breathing problem. He’s overcome a bout of pneumonia. And yet, despite all that, he didn’t seem to have to work hard to win the race.”
Three races later, the Cramers were called back to the winner’s circle. This time it was the 4 year old mare, Madison Moon, earning a win in a maiden special weight class. And the story of how she became a winner in just her second lifetime start is even more amazing.
“We bred the mare in Kentucky,” Bob Cramers told me. “We knew she had some talent and the folks in the state wanted me to leave the foal there and try her luck on the Kentucky tracks. She was turned out in a pen and somehow managed to hit something which broke a bone in her neck and did some damage to her skull. After the vets and the rehabilitation people tended to her over a period of weeks, we decided to bring her back to our farm. She was able to lay down in the trailer for the trip home. By the time she got to the farm, she was able to show some mobility in her front legs.”
“We have a vibration table in our stable along with some other equipment. The vibration table is laid on the floor of what would be a stall about the size of a gate in a starting gate. There’s a canopy overhead that provides some heat. The horse steps into the gate and the vibrations are transmitted up through the legs and the body to the neck and head. The vibrations stimulate blood flow and help to rejuvenate bones and joints. There’s less scarring and bruising. And it seems to help relax them. In fact, we often use it on all our racehorses.”
As the filly went through an extensive recovery and rehabilitation program, exercise rider, Miguel Florez, saw something in her that suggested she might be able to get to the track. Hours and hours of work by Florez and by the team at Westana paid off. The filly made it to the races, and ultimately, to the winner’s circle.
“The prognosis of a neuro injury means just being able to save her is an achievement,” said Cramers. “Obviously we got a lot more than that from each of them. It’s a great tribute to my wife, Pam, and to our team that both horses made it to the races. We’re proud of them, and we’re very grateful to all those who have had a hand in their recovery.”
Canadian Quarter Horse Futurity Trials…
Stripsteak, Bringonthewave, and True Copy came through with wins Sunday in the Futurity Trials. Each division went for a purse of $6,000 but the top horses will come back in a $70,000 finale on October 21st. Not bad for a race going 400 yards and lasting less than twenty seconds.
Bringonthewave is owned by Dale Zukowski and trained by Jim Doolin. Stripsteak and True Copy are both owned by Grande Prairie businessman, Charles Stojan and are trained by William Leech. True Copy was particularly impressive. I watched as the horse seemed to gain speed as it got closer to the finish line. It’s like a human sprinter. The longer you’re able to accelerate, the more likely you are to win the race. True Grit left the rest of the field behind by the time the race was half over.
“I was particularly pleased with True Copy’s performance,” Leech told me. “After the incident involving Laurina Bugeaud and Ss Sunny Days, we all had to return to the paddock for several minutes before we could come back out on the track. True Copy was getting a bit skittish and I was concerned she wouldn’t be able to perform. But she did just fine. And Charles owns Stripsteak as well so we’ve got two horses in the final. I’m pleased about that too. Charles’ dad owned horses and Charles has owned them in the past. He left the sport for about a decade but he has come back in a big way. He’s bought some nice horses for me and we’re headed to California this fall to see if we can find some more.”
ATOBA Sets a New Tone…
I ran into Jim Haggan at Century Downs on Sunday afternoon. The long time director of backstretch programming for Horse Racing Alberta now has a new job. He’s President of the Alberta Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.
“I’ve been meeting with a whole bunch of owners and breeders,” he told me. “We’re trying to be a positive force in the revitalization of the racing and breeding industry in Alberta. A lot of folks have downgraded their stables or left the province altogether over the past decade. We’d like to see if we can get them to come back. We’re talking to our present membership to see if they have some suggestions about recruiting new owners and breeders and about sponsorships. I’ve sent out a letter to more than 900 people in our data base to let them know about the new organization and what we are up to.”
“We want to educate old and new members about where the money comes from in racing and how it is spent. We want to create social networking opportunities for current and prospective members to get together and enjoy the sport. We’ve got a new operator now in the Calgary market in Century Casinos. And, of course, they’re going to be the operator for Century Mile when it opens next year in Leduc. They are a long term player in Alberta racing with a considerable investment in the sport and in the business. It only makes sense to me that we try and work with them to grow the business.”
Bob Cramers at Westana Ranches is one of the primary drivers of this new program.
“Owners have lots of questions and concerns about the business of racing and breeding and we want to represent those points of view in a constructive way,” he told me. We want this organization to improve communication and educate owners and breeders about all aspects of the business, so that they, in turn, can make good decisions about their own individual objectives. I’m often a bit surprised at how little owners and breeders know about the slot machine revenue program. That’s an important part of the financial base of our industry. I think we have a chance to grow the business and get the answers for people who have questions.”
“We also want to build a program around the idea of care for the animal from foaling to retirement. I got into the breeding business around 2004 and we’ve been fortunate to produce some good horses over the years. But I’ve got a bunch of mares in Alberta. It’s costly to ship them to Kentucky, keep the mares there while they are bred, and then either truck them back to Alberta, or pay room and board for them until they foal. “
“The mare is the factory. The better the factory, the better the product. We need to make good decisions about which mares we breed to a stallion. And maybe, we need to look at bringing a stallion into the province, even for a couple of months, if there are enough breeders interested in breeding their mares to that stallion. We have some good stallions in the province now. As the industry continues to grow, perhaps something like a syndicate will look at this opportunity.”
The other thing I’d like to see for breeders is a 2 year old in training sale. Sometimes when a yearling goes through a sale, it’s just not ready, physically or mentally, to get a good price. But if you kept that yearling a little longer, worked with it a bit more, let it grow up, it might bring a healthier return to the breeder and might prove to be capable of generating a higher value for the buyer. It’s something to think about. And it’s all part of putting a better product on the racetrack for the entertainment of the public.”
CTHS Sales Stakes This Sunday…
Thirteen fillies and eleven colts have been nominated for Sunday’s 3 and 4 year old Sales Stakes for purses of $50,000 each. Entries will be taken on Wednesday morning but as long as nothing happens in the interim, expect to see Escape Clause in the filly stake and Langara in the colts stake. Both are out of Donnie Schnell’s shed row.
“Both of them have been racing primarily in Manitoba this year,” Schnell told me. “Langara’s a big lazy colt until he gets into a race. The he loves to compete, although he’s never shown that kind of drive when working with other horses in the morning. He was Manitoba bred Horse of the Year in 2016.”
“Escape Clause was champion 2 year old filly of the year in Manitoba last year. She’s had eight lifetime starts and has won seven of them. The only time she was second was against the boys in the Manitoba Derby back in August. She’s got a lot of talent. She inherited some “spirit” from her mother, Danger Pay, who was an absolute beast to deal with. She dumped every rider who got on her. But this one seems to be a little better behaved.”
Antonio Whitehall will get rides on both of the Schnell horses on Sunday afternoon.
Monday’s card at Century Downs was cancelled due to bad weather. No makeup date has been announced. Remember there will be a matinee race card on the Thanksgiving Holiday Monday, October 9th.