Now that’s the way to get out of the starting gate with your running shoes on. Trainer Tim Rycroft won five races on this past Saturday’s opening-day, thoroughbred card at Northlands. It’s believed to be an Alberta record and tie Ontario’s Norm McKnight for most wins on a single card in Canada.
“I’ve had four wins on a card but never five,” said Rycroft, who has been runner-up to Greg Tracy as Alberta’s leading trainer the last several years in a row. “It’s nice to win a handful of races right off the hop. It was a pretty special day especially after the long winter that we had. I vividly remember sitting in my truck trying to get it to warm up and seeing the outside temperature keep showing minus-28. minus-29."
“I kept thinking I’ve got a get out of here. I’ve got to thank my crew for all the hard work they put in this winter getting the horses ready. I had an inkling I might have a good day because of the way just about all of my horses have been training. But to win five…”
Saturday started with I Miss Back When winning the curtain raiser - duelling on the inside with Street Made and then drawing away in the stretch under jockey Rigo Sarmiento to pay $9.60. After finishing nowhere in the second race with Dumont, who doesn’t look like he wants any part of just six furlongs, Rycroft came right back to win spectacularly with Clarence in the third race. With Rico Walcott in the saddle, Clarence also duelled early but then easily drew away to fluidly win by by four and a quarter lengths. Most impressively, Clarence stopped the timer in a hot 1:10.15 on a lightning fast Northlands drag strip.
Rycroft was just getting started. One race later he unleashed Willy Be Smart, a chestnut who wasn’t far off Clarence’s time getting the six furlongs in 1:10.25 and winning by a gasping eight and a quarter lengths. Sarmiento, a very polished jockey who could give Walcott a run for the money this year, was in the saddle for that one too.
Then came the fifth race and once again Rycroft was back in the winner’s circle - this time with L’Orange, who got a heady ride by Larry Munoz coming through on the inside down the backstretch and drawing away much like Willy Be Smart to win by seven and a quarter lengths.
Five races. Four wins. Rycroft didn’t have a starter in the sixth race. But he did in the seventh and, sure enough, the Rycroft barn took that one too with Jax On, who, like Clarence and Willy Be Smart, is owned by Norm Castiglione and Robert Vargo’s Riversedge Racing Stable. Again, Jax On made it look easy drawing off by six and three-quarter very eased-up lengths with Dane Nelson aboard.
Seven races. Five wins. Rycroft then finished off the card running third with Celtic Lad in the eighth and then Private Money Game a determined second to the very accomplished Blue Dancer, who scored for the 12th time in 25 career starts. Blue Dancer’s time was 1:09.85.
“Private Money Game ran his race. I was very happy with his effort,” said Rycroft, 55, who has now been training for 14 years. Of the five wins, Clarence was the punctuation mark. Asked after the race what the plans were for Clarence, Rycroft didn’t miss a beat when he said, without hesitation, “I hope he’s my Derby horse.” Out of Claresmiezie, a Riversedge broodmare who was a multiple stakes winner taking seven of her 20 career starts and earning $197,306, Clarence is by Flatter, a son of A.P. Indy, who stands for $40,000.
Flatter is the sire of numerous stakes winners including West Coast, last year’s North American three-year-old champion, and five other millionaires. Most important, Clarence, with his long stride, looks like he will run on.
“I think he will too,” said Rycroft. “I think he’s going to be the type of horse that wants to be forwardly placed and dictate the pace but still be able to get a distance. It almost looked like he was goofing around for a bit on Saturday. But when Tensas Phil came up to him down the backstretch, Rico got serious and so did Clarence. He kicked in and stopped fooling around.”
While I Miss Back When, Willy Be Smart, L’Orange and Jax On all did their spring training in Edmonton, Clarence got a nice vacation in Florida, where Riversedge winters many of their better horses. “Clarence is a real professional. No difficulties. Just straight forward. It’s early - maybe too early - but Clarence reminds me of Trooper John,” Rycroft said of his four-year-old star, who won three of his five starts while finishing bang-up seconds in his other two starts.
As well as winning the Western Canada, Ky Alta and Count Lathum, Trooper John dead-heated for second with Double Bear in the Canadian Derby and then missed by a nose to Derby winner Chief Know It All in the B.C. Derby. “Trooper John is a little more laid back than Clarence but not much,” said Rycroft. “Both horses like to rest in the barn a lot. Both don’t get very shook up about anything. Before Saturday’s race, I found Clarence covered lying down in his stall in the shavings snoring away. But they both really leave everything out there when they run.”
Rycroft's plan is to take Clarence on the same path to the Aug. 25 Derby as Trooper John took which means the June 2 Western Canada is next on the agenda. “I still have to sit down with Norm and Robert but I’m a big believer in competing with the horses that are in the same category and headed for the Derby too. Otherwise you get behind. With a good horse if you give them time between races they’ll respond for you and give you a big effort.”
As for Trooper John, Rycroft said the horse is training “really nicely. “I worked him on Saturday in about a minute flat. Visually he was very impressive. He was running as fast at the wire as he was at the start. And he galloped out really strong. I had Wilmer Galviz on him and Wilmer could hardly pull him up,” Rycroft, said of the veteran jockey newcomer to Alberta.We’ll be tackling older horses this year. I’ll probably start him in the May 19 Journal Handicap with the ultimate goal of shooting for the Premiers in B.C. in the fall. The Journal is six furlongs. Trooper John is a good enough sprinter but ideally he likes to run longer - a mile or a mile and a tick.”
STOCK REPORT - As well as winning three races at Northlands on Saturday, Riversedge also scored with Weekend Wizard in the six and a half furlong Jim Coleman stakes at Vancouver’s Hastings Park. Starting out of the outside post seven, Weekend Wizard, who, like Clarence, is also a three-year-old with Derby aspirations, went head-to-head with longshot Winter Knight before easily drawing away to win by five and a half lengths getting the distance in a solid 1:17.27.
“I caught the replay and he looked really good,” said Rycroft, of the horse who is trained by Craig MacPherson. “He had a bad post but ran up there to get position and then at the quarter pole he just exploded.”
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