It turned out to be one of the most auspicious debuts but when Jumeirah Coast was 10th and last - a long way last - it certainly didn't look that way.
"We were really high on Jumeirah Coast all winter and spring but it sure didn't look good at the start," said Craig Smith, who trains the three-year-old for himself, Jamie Graham and John Fowlis. "I was thinking he was going to run last. I thought this is embarrassing."
But then, kaboom, Jumeriah Coast kicked in, moved up along the rail down the backstretch and then started to get into full throttle around the final turn under jockey Rico Walcott. Then, down the stretch, Jumeriah Coast really put it together moving four wide, tipping out at the three-sixteenths pole when he encountered traffic and then running away to win by a length and three quarters in that June 27 one-mile inauguration at Century Mile.
"Rico was laughing when he came into the winner's circle," said Smith. "He told me half way through the race he thought 'Craig is probably sick right now.' He told me he was wondering what I was thinking."
What Smith was thinking was how in the world Jumeirah Coast was going to win after being so far behind. "I expected him to be somewhat forwardly placed. I certainly didn't think he was going to be 15 to 20 lengths behind the leaders. He trained so good and then to see him so far back… I started to wonder how I could have been so wrong."
Walcott, however, was the only one not concerned; Alberta's perennial leading jockey knew what he had underneath him. What he had was plenty. "Rico knows the horse. Even though he was so far behind, he told me he was never worried. He rode him comfortably. He was impressive. Very impressive," said Smith.
"It was a race that certainly gets your attention. I expected a big effort but it was a very big ask going a mile first time out on such a hot day. Like I said he was training so good. But until you put them in a race you just don't know. We've all seen the horses that work good but then don't turn out. Rico even told me that on the morning of the day he raced that he was excited to see the horse run. When a top rider says that it gives you a lot of confidence. Rico was high on him from the day he first worked him."
Smith picked out Jumeirah Coast at the January, Keeneland All Ages sale. Despite the fact that Jumeirah Coast is by Bernardini, who stands for $100,000 and who won the 2006 Preakness, Jim Dandy, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup, and was out of a mare, Ascot Eye, that that was stakes placed and won $245,000, Smith was able to buy Jumeirah Coast for just $4,500 (US).
"He's a small horse. He only stands about 15 hands. So maybe that had something to do with it. The other thing is that he was consigned by Shadwell Farm. They often sell horses that they don't think are up to their standards. They want to compete at the top level. He had a couple of works as a two-year-old in Kentucky. But they were just average works. Why they didn't run him as a two-year-old I have no idea. They don't tell you a lot at those sales."
The other thing is that his broodmare never threw anything that won over seven furlongs. While small, Jumeriah Coast is very well put together. "I liked him the first time I saw him. He just had good-look horse to him. He walked good. Confirmation wise he's well put together. He looked like a good horse to me."
When Smith started training him back in April at Phoenix's Turf Paradise, Jumeirah Coast immediately blossomed. "The more we asked of him the more he improved. Every time he worked he was outworking the other horses he was training against. And doing it easily. All the riders I had work him in Phoenix told me he was the real deal."
The biggest tip off that Jumeirah Coast was indeed a promising prospect was when Smith worked him six furlongs out of the gate in 1:14 flat at Century Mile on My 29. "I worked him against two other horses I was pretty high on and he outworked both of them. I wanted to sort them out and see where they were at. They all finished within a neck of each other but Jumerirah Coast had the most left."
Smith initially hadn't planned on running Jumeiriah Coast, a brown horse with a little white star on his head, a mile first time out. But he couldn't find a race for him. "When they hung up the one-mile race I thought they would probably shorten it to seven furlongs. But it attracted a full field so I thought, well, let's give him a challenge.
Challenge accepted. "I had to ask myself if I had a horse ready to run a mile first time out," said Smith, who is well known for his ability to get a young horse ready. It takes a village to get them there but nice horses make it a lot easier. He's a colt so he's playful and has some attitude to him. But he's a pro when it comes down to business. He showed that in his debut - passing that many horses, taking the dirt that was getting kicked back in his face, going through the paddock and then into the starting gate. He was really well behaved."
Smith doesn't know when Jumeiriah Coast will run next. There is a seven furlong allowance race on July 11 where Tony's Tapit, who won the Western Canada Handicap on June 20 most impressively, appears to be headed. But Smith, who trains about 50 horses including 10 in Winnipeg, is undecided. "We're just going to take it one race at a time. I haven't made any decisions on what to do with him. You never want to plan too many starts down the road."
Somewhat reluctantly Smith did say that if everything continues to progress the way it has that he is thinking about the September 11 Canadian Derby. "Yeah, if he keeps impressing we'd be thinking about that. I hope he'll run farther. Off his lone race it looks like he will."
Smith, who likes to partner out his young horses, said that Graham, who has pieces of nine or 10 horses with him including Sheltered Bay, who went wire-to-wire to win the June 20 Chariot Chaser, was in as soon as he called him. "Then Bob Fowlis, Walcott's agent, told his dad, John, to ask if I would sell another piece of him.
"John just got in the weekend before he raced. It's good to see him back in the business," he said of the former racing manager at Calgary's old Stampede Park and who conceived the idea of the Alberta Fall Classic. Fowlis owned harness and thoroughbreds. His best horse was Fustukian, who was named Alberta's Horse of the Year in 1964.
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