Where to begin? This past weekend's racing at Century Mile provided more than enough material for three or four columns. Start with two stakes races on Friday that both produced track records over a racing surface that seemed to be downhill.
First, Hidden Grace - an imposing, big, powerfully built five-year-old - won the RedTail Landing for older fillies and mares holding off the late, strong bid of Raider getting the six furlongs in 1:07.72 and winning by half a long neck. That obliterated the previous record of 1:08.31 set by the venerable Trooper John two years ago.
Then, just two races later and not to be outdone, Stone Carver rallied powerfully to win the 66th running of the Journal Handicap in 1:07.51 to keep Maskwecis at bay by half a length and quickly rewrite the six-furlong record book. "I kept thinking that there must have been something wrong with the clock; I didn't think they could run that fast," said Tim Rycroft, who trains both track record holders - Stone Carver for Riversedge and Hidden Grace for Manitoba's Cam Ziprick, Barry Arnason and Charles Fouillard.
The latter are similar connections that raced and bred the sensational Escape Clause a couple years ago - a horse that went on to win a Sovereign Award as Canada's champion aged mare in 2018 - at one point winning nine races in a row. Ziprick and Arnason are also the breeders of both Hidden Grace and Escape Clause - both products of their stallion Going Commando, 21, who no longer stands at stud and is now living out his days at Ziprick's farm.
"He's got an arthritic hip," Ziprick said of Going Commando, who stood for just $1,250. "At the eighth pole I thought we were beat," said Rycroft, Alberta's leading trainer one more time. It even looked that for a second that Raider went by her. But (Hidden Grace) laid everything on the line. She just wasn't going to let Raider go by."
Ziprick thought much the same. "I watched the race at home. All the way down the stretch I was thinking "Oh, oh. Oh, oh. It was her first start of the year and I thought she might get tired. But she hung on gamely."
Hidden Grace's connections, however, had a good clue that the mare was ready. On June 12 Hidden Grace and Riversedge's multiple champion aged horse Trooper John worked in company going four furlongs in :47 4/5. "Hidden Grace kept her head in front and wouldn't let Trooper John go by," said Ziprick. "We were planning on this being her last year on the track and making a broodmare out of her. But when she's running this well you think 'why retire her?'" said Ziprick. "We'll see how the rest of the year goes. She'll only run if she's ready."
Stone Carver put in a similar gutsy effort. Four wide, Stone Carver put Deuces Are Wild away and then held off the determined charge of Maskwecis. "Stone Carver put everything on the line too," said Rycroft. "He always tries hard and was pretty tired after the race. For 48 hours after he runs he just wants to be left alone."
Like the outcomes, the fractions for both the RedTail Landing and the Journal were similar. The first quarter of the RedTail Landing went in 21.91 followed by a half mile in 44.17 and five-eighths in 55.73. The first quarter of The Journal zipped by in 21.31 followed by a half in 43.33 and five eighths in 54.98.
For Hidden Grace, who does almost nothing but win, the RedTail was her 13th win in just 18 career starts. Stone Carver, who also won the Journal last year, has now won seven of 28 starts along with five seconds and three thirds.
This past weekend's cards also had two stakes on Sunday evening: The Chariot Chaser for three-year-old fillies and the Western Canada for three-year-old colts and geldings. Sheltered Bay, who broke like a rocket from her outside eight post so quickly that it looked like a false start, went wire-to-wire to win the Chariot Chaser for Indyrock Racing, Graham Thoroughbreds and True North Stable. Tony's Tapit was simply overpowering in the Western Canada for owner Kirk Sutherland and trainer Jim Brown.
Sheltered Bay's win was resolute. She took on the talented She Likes to Party, who won two stakes at Century Mile last year, at the quarter pole and the pair battled from there all the way to the wire with Sheltered Bay pulling away late to win by a length and a quarter. "She's fast," trainer Craig Smith said of Sheltered Bay. "I don't know what else to say. I had her down in Phoenix over the winter. I knew she was fast and we tried to get her slowed down a bit but she's just naturally fast. I don't know if she is one-dimensional or not. You just don't get a chance to put her behind horses because she is so fast."
Sheltered Bay ran once in Phoenix finishing third. "It was a deceptively good race. She was stuck down on the rail which was really deep and the horse that won the race, Just a Kiss Away, is a horse they are really high on. I was happy with the race she had down there."
Then Sheltered Bay destroyed a field of seven in her maiden-breaking win at Century Mile a month ago getting the opening quarter in 21 seconds and change and half a mile in 44.75. "I was impressed," Smith said of the Chariot Chaser. "On paper I didn't know if we were quicker than She Likes to Party or as good as her, bottom line. You have to respect a horse like She Likes to Party for sure. And it wasn't a two-horse race. She beat a pretty good group of fillies."
Smith bought Sheltered Bay for $1,500 as a weanling in Keeneland, Kentucky with the intention of selling her. "But she didn't get much interest and my brother Steve was able to buy her for $4,000. Steve then partnered up Jamie Graham and True North's Keith Johns," said Smith.
Tony's Tapit, on the other hand, weaved through traffic and simply ran over horses to win the Western Canada in a five and a quarter length romp over another Craig Smith horse, Bang On. It's early but Tony's Tapit has all the makings of a Canadian Derby winner. His win was that impressive. Crowded away from the break, Tony's Tapit got away last in the eight-horse field. Waiting for room under a snug hold once he found a clear seam it was all over.
Purchased privately Tony's Tapit has now won six of 12 starts and five of his last seven. He was also second in the Turf Paradise Derby. "Bang On ran his race," said Smith. "He was four and five wide but the way Tony's Tapit ran it probably didn't affect the outcome. "Bang On has had some bad racing luck," Smith said alluding to last season when he was five wide and bumped hard in the Canadian Juvenile, acted up before the start of the Alberta Premier's Futurity and was fanned wide in the CTHS Sale Stake.
Even so, Bang On finished last year with two wins, a second and a third in five appearances for True North's Johns. "He seems to have more focus this year. He's not a big horse but I think he'll stretch out because he gets over the ground very efficiently."
But even that isn't all that happened at Century Mile this past weekend. Jockey Enrique Gonzalez Alonzo rode Tony's Tapit to win in the Western Canada. He was also aboard Hidden Grace in the RedTail and Stone Carver in the Journal. The only stake he didn't win was the Chariot Chaser where he finished third with Queen Rhonda. Over the two days, Gonzalez, formerly from Vancouver's Hastings Park where he was that track's leading rider in 2019, won with four of his seven mounts, finished second twice and then the third with Queen Rhonda.
Ok, whew, that about sums it up.
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