Thursday, 30 December 2021 09:04

Forecast for Sunday's stake finales: -2°C, with a chance of very fast and competitive

Forecast for Sunday's stake finales: -2°C, with a chance of very fast and competitive Coady Photo/Ryan Haynes

Ok. Just what did Kelly Hoerdt do to deserve what happened to him in the post-position draw for Sunday’s two biggest races of the year: the $68,910 Century Casinos Filly Pace and the $70,010 Western Canada Pacing Derby at Century Mile? Knock over all the salt shakers at his favourite restaurant? Drive his vehicle into a mirror shop? Walk under a hundred ladders?

Consider: In the seven entrant Filly Pace Hoerdt entered In High Cotton and Uptown Hanover. In High Cotton got post 6; Uptown Hanover drew the extreme outside post 7. It didn’t get any better in the Derby. In fact you could argue his bad luck was even worse. Nine three-year-olds entered including two from Hoerdt’s powerful barn. Show Stop got post 8; Codename Cigar Box wound up with the trailing 9th post.

“I entered four horses and I got three of the worst positions I could possibly get,” said Hoerdt. Unbelievable? “Not really,” Hoerdt lamented. “This seems to happen to us a lot. Especially in big-money stakes races. “I couldn’t believe it. I could predict it but I still couldn’t believe it.”

Hoerdt wouldn’t tip his hand at what his strategy is going to be. “We’ll just see what happens when the starting gate wings fold. Cooler heads will prevail.” But Hoerdt did predict one thing: “There won’t be a slow pace. There will be lots of action. “Nobody is going to get away with anything.”

Hoerdt said at least In High Cotton and Uptown Hanover - the two fillies - both “have some gate speed.” As for the Derby, which he has won three times, Hoerdt again wasn’t about to announce his intentions. “Carry on and overcome,” Hoerdt said stoically. “You never know. Things can set up for the outside posts too,” said Hoerdt, who amazingly enough, also drew outside posts in two of the other 15 races which are on tap on Sunday’s card. Century Mach got post 8 in the 14th race and, to close out the card, Rockin Shadow ended up with post 7 in the 15th race.

“At least we’ll be racing on a half-decent day,” Hoerdt said of the two races which have both been rescheduled many times: first because of Covid, then because of an equine virus and then most recently because of the bitter temperatures. New Year’s Eve, which was when the two prestigious races were going to be raced, a high of -26 is predicted. Sunday, on the other hand, the latest forecast is for a high of -2 which will, in comparison, feel almost balmy.

Hoerdt, perennially one of Alberta’s top horsemen, has elected to drive Uptown Hanover in the Filly Pace while Brandon Campbell will take the reins on stablemate In High Cotton. In the Derby, Hoerdt is going to drive Show Stop; Mike Hennessy will pilot Codename Cigar Box.

“The 9 post isn’t nearly as bad as the 8 post,” said Hoerdt. “Codename Cigar Box should be able to get a good trip following Nevada Vacation. “He can take a tough trip.”

Century Mile racing secretary Josh Murphy has made Sunshine Boy the slight favourite in the Derby and Exotic Dragon the favourite in the Filly Pace. Both are deserving betting choices.

“Sunshine Boy looked good in the eliminations,” said Murphy. “He got post 2. He’s got a very good driver in Brandon Campbell. He’s won four in a row including a 1:53 1/5 mile. “He checks all of the boxes,” Murphy said of Sunshine Boy, who this summer won the $74,870 Ralph Klein at Calgary’s Century Downs.

As for Exotic Dragon, Murphy said “Exotic Dragon has won five in a row - most of them for fun. She swept the Mary Murphy series in B.C. She’s fast, she’s tough, has the rail and her trainer/driver Nathan Sobey’s barn is doing so well. “I made her the 9-5 favourite but I wouldn’t be surprised if she goes off as less than that.”

Campbell believes Sunshine Boy should be the favourite too. “If my colt races the same way as he did in the eliminations I think he’s the best. But it’s still a horse race and when there’s a lot of money on the line some people can get crazy. But if they do - if someone wants to take me out of the race - it would be suicide because they’ll take themselves out of the race too.”

Campbell said he was nervous going into the Dec. 18 Derby eliminations. “I didn’t have the work in (Sunshine Boy) that I would have liked. But he exceeded my expectations. When he cleared I thought he was done. But when he saw Kelly coming with Show Stop he took off again. He’s trained super. I’m going in with a lot of confidence.”

Despite the trailing post Codename Cigar Box merits a great deal of attention. First, second or third in 21 of his 25 career starts, Codename Cigar Box won the Robert Murphy before finishing second in his Derby elimination - a race where he was interfered with by two horses that broke stride directly in front of him. He also won the $50,000 Moores Mile Final in Calgary and he was boxed in tight in the Ralph Klein won by Sunshine Boy. Codename Cigar Box certainly has the breeding. He’s a full brother to Kneedeep N Custard, who won the Derby two years ago.

Also rating a long look in the Derby is the other elimination winner Nevada Vacation, very capably trained by Chris Lancaster. And, at a price, both Rod Henessy’s Shark Week and Trevor Williams could pop as well.

Lancaster will also be super dangerous in the Century Casino’s Filly Pace with Graceful Horizon, who has won 12 of her 19 career starts including the elimination where she paced in the same time - 1:56 3/5 - as Exotic Dragon, who won the other elimination.

Graceful Horizon’s other races include victories in the $60,000 Super Final and the Marquis stake - both in Calgary. Graceful Horizon also finished second - to Burning Hot who is also a top threat - in the Gord and Illa Rumpel stake - and third - behind Exotic Dragon and Burning Hot - in the Shirley McClellan. And, Lancaster, a Canada Future Star winner at the 2018 O’Brien Awards, has won the last two Filly Paces.

In 2019 he sent out Lady Neigh Neigh to win the Filly Pace when it was then known as the Don Byrne Memorial. Last year he won with Probert. Lady Neigh Neigh got in through the back door when Rockin Mystery, also trained by Lancaster, was disqualified for starting ahead of the starting gate.

There was no doubt about Probert’s win. She took off and hid winning by four lengths for her seventh straight win. “Winning one Filly Pace was real good. Winning two was great. If I won this one for my third in a row it would be a really, really great accomplishment,” said Lancaster.  “I think it’s going to be a really good race. There’s lots of speed so I can see a lot of duelling. Exactly how it will all unfold I have no real idea. You go in with a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C. And then sometimes you wind up doing a Plan D.”

And then there is Plan E which Hoerdt may have to come up with to deal with the bad posts he drew. “You can’t dismiss any horse that Kelly Hoerdt sends over,” said Murphy. “Uptown Hanover was purchased for races like this.”

Victorious in her first two Alberta starts, Uptown Hanover has raced against some of the top fillies in North America. She was third in her elimination but Hoerdt said she was slipping and didn’t get a hold of the track. “I didn’t have her shod right for the conditions. I won’t make the same mistake on Sunday.” No matter how you look at it there’s a lot of intrigue about to happen Sunday afternoon at Century Mile.

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