Neither refusing to call it quits, two very much alike fighters got together to win Saturday’s $50,000 Lynn Chouinard Founders Distaff: Orange Theory and Shelley Brown.
Orange Theory, a four-year-old filly, wouldn’t give up coming back on in the mile and an eighth stake at Century Mile after it initially looked like she was spent after 6-5 favourite Dance Shoes, who had won 13 of her 23 career starts, and Vancouver invader Solarity, who had been running second and third to the brilliant Infinite Patience all year, both passed her coming out of the final turn.
Brown, 49, is Orange Theory’s trainer and owner who hasn’t given up either and continues to fight Stage 4 metastatic cancer. “At the top of the stretch I didn’t think Orange Theory was going to get there,” said Brown. “It looked like she was backing up. But she kept fighting, dug deep and responded very well in the stretch.”
The exact same can be said of Brown, who was given three to six months to live in September of 2020 when she was first diagnosed with the cancer that had spread throughout her body.
“I have my good days and I have my bad,” said Brown, who is the only female trainer to lead the trainer standings at Winnipeg’s Assiniboia Downs back in 2012. Saturday was a great day. Today is a bad day; I’m sick,” she said from her barn Monday morning after spending 14 gruelling hours on the highway with her close friend Shelley Hallick shipping Orange Theory and four other horses home to Winnipeg. The chemotherapy I had last week really knocked me out and now I have a chest infection.”
The parallels of determination don’t end there. “Orange Theory is always happy. She’s never in a bad mood; never grim,” said Brown with a big, infectious smile on her face in the winner’s circle despite knowing full well that her time is limited. A day, a month, 10 years. It’s whatever God gives me. I’m going to enjoy what time I have left with my friends and family,” said Brown, who has cancer in both lungs, stomach, ovaries, lymph nodes, right breast, femur, pelvis, hips, spine, shoulder, sternum and neck.
Now there is a new growth on her liver. “It’s pretty much everywhere. Chemo is brutal. It’s not for the faint of heart. But I’m not giving up,” said Brown, who has taken chemotherapy once every three weeks since the original diagnosis.
“Orange Theory was a longshot too,” she said of the grey filly, who paid $25.40 to win after holding off the late, long charge of Plum Blue by three-quarters of a length with Dance Shoes another length back in third. “But she kept fighting and so am I,” said Brown, whose mother and father both died of cancer.
It was the same story two years ago when Real Grace won the Canadian Derby at odds of 18-1 going wire-to-wire at Century Mile with Brown, too sick to come to Edmonton and having to watch the race at her home in Winnipeg on her cell phone.
“That showed me there is no reason to give up. Real Grace made me realize that if you dig down deep and keep your spirits up anything is possible. Just don’t give up. Real Grace made me continue to fight my cancer,” Brown said after the 2020 Derby. Before the Derby I was mentally defeated and emotionally defeated. I just was really struggling, I can’t lie. But Real Grace gave me a renewed hope. Until then it was hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. I was only given a few months to live. There was no hope. That horse saved my life.”
Brown thinks Orange Theory, who got a patient ride from Renaldo Cumberbatch never having to leave the rail, is getting better. “I think she is just coming into herself,” Brown said of Orange Theory, who has now won three of her last four starts. I thought she had a chance because she really likes this track,” she said of a surface where Orange Theory has now won six of her 13 appearances. “The track at Century Mile is nowhere as deep as it is in Winnipeg. She just flourishes here whereas she will not run over the track in Winnipeg.”
Saying that Orange Theory practically trains herself, Brown opined that “She just loves to go out and train. She gets mad when she doesn’t go out. “I also knew that the distance of a mile and an eighth wasn’t going to be a problem even if she had lost the only other time she had been asked to run that far. In my opinion the farther the better for her,” who bought Orange Theory for just $3,000 at the 2019 Ocala, Florida yearling sale.
“I was surprised I got her that cheap. She was a good size and correct in every way. I also liked her breeding. I’ve had good luck with horses sired by First Dude and she was very strong on the mare’s side. Her dam, Chippi, had already produced a stakes winner.”
And then there is the Rod Cone factor. “I couldn’t do it without Rod. He’s my main man,” she said of the four-time Canadian Derby winning trainer, who has been looking after Brown’s horses at Century Mile while Brown remained to train in Winnipeg. “He’s just a fantastic trainer and a fantastic human being. Rod’s staff. My crew. It’s all about team work and that’s what happened on Saturday.”
There were three other stakes on Saturday’s card: one big upset - Monopolize defeating previously unbeaten Big Hug in the Freedom of the City - a substantive upset - It’s a Fact getting the best of Cuban Cobra in The Birdcatcher - and then a gritty winning effort from Vancouver’s At Attention in the hotly contested Speed to Spare.
“I thought she would run good but I certainly didn’t expect to defeat an unbeaten horse,” said Monopolize’s trainer Ron Grieves. “But she did. To win her first race in a stakes and to win going a mile in just her second lifetime start… Well I’m proud of her.”
The odds board told that story. Monopolize paid a whopping $69.00 to win. Her only previous start was a third-place finish in a maiden allowance race on Sept. 23. A homebred of Bar None Ranches, Monopolize won by a length and a half over Big Hug, a winner of all four previous lifetime appearances. Big Hug, sent away at odds of 25 cents on the dollar, was then disqualified from second and placed fourth after interfering with Bootiful Rose in the stretch.
“Raffy (jockey Zenteno Jr.) told me Big Hug was going to go by them all at the top of the stretch but then she got spooked by the starting gate,” said Big Hug’s trainer and co-owner Rick Hedge. It’s a Fact, purchased for $22,000 by Highfield Investment Group from the late Glen Todd’s dispersal sale, was an authoritative winner of the Birdcatcher.
Duelling throughout with Cuban Cobra, who had won three of his four career races by a cumulative total of 15 lengths, It’s a Fact proved to be much the best when he put away Cuban Cobra and won by four and a half lengths.
Asked when he knew he had won It’s a Fact’s jockey Desmond Bryan succinctly said “At the top of the stretch. “(Enrique Gonalez) was already riding Cuban Cobra hard and I was still just waiting.”
Adrian Munro, president of the Highfield Investment Group, dismissed the suggestion that It’s a Fact’s win was an upset despite going off at odds of 5-1. “Not really,” said Munro. “It’s a Fact had a win, two seconds and a third, in his four career starts. I thought he had shown plenty. He hadn’t done anything wrong all year.”
The same could be said of At Attention, who had been first or second in his last seven outings - including wins in the Premier stake in Vancouver and the Century Mile Handicap. At Attention was in the midst of the battle throughout the mile and a quarter $100,000 Speed to Spare battling early and late with Boitano on his inside and Greek Geek to his outside and still having enough left to hold off the heavy favourite Soy Tapatio, who had won his previous start - the Don Getty Handicap by more than seven lengths - by a neck.
“He’s definitely at the top of his game,” said At Attention’s trainer Barbara Heads. “He showed a lot of grit.”
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