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Some people collect postage stamps. For others it's old coins and baseball cards. For thoroughbred trainer Ron Grieves it's Alberta Fall Classic triumphs. Grieves has won so many of them that he has lost count.
"A dozen anyway. Maybe even 15," said Grieves, who added two more to his collection winning two of Saturday's seven $50,000 Fall Classic races at Century Mile: Sarah's Elegance in the Distaff and then the Alberta Premier's Futurity with first-time starter Boss Man Can.
All of the Fall Classic races were restricted to Alberta-breds. "Boss Man Can is the first first-time starter I've ever started in a stakes race," said an elated Grieves, who loves the Fall Classic program the way Tony Chestnut loves hot dogs. "I love this day."
With obvious good reasons. In 2012 Grieves ran eight horses on the Fall Classic card which is Alberta's version of the Breeders' Cup. He won three of them, finished second in three others and then, for good measure, added a couple of third-place finishes. In 2011 he won three Fall Classic races in a row.
Asked the reason for his success on this wonderful day of racing Grieves had a quick answer: "Quality Alberta-breds." Both Sarah's Elegance and Boss Man Can are Bar None Ranches home-breds.
"I claimed Sarah's Elegance's mom, Sassy Sarah, for $30,000 from Greg Tracy. She was awesome. She won 10 allowance races in three years - five in one year alone. "But she couldn't run farther than six and a half furlongs and 15 feet. Six and a half furlongs was her limit." But as a broodmare Sassy Sarah - at least until Sarah's Elegance came along - was a dud. "Sarah's Elegance is Sassy Sarah's sixth foal," said Grieves. "None of the others turned out to be anything."
Grieves didn't think Sarah's Elegance was going to be much either. "She was so far down on our totem pole that I sent her to a friend of mine, Ken Bell, as a yearling just to be a friend to a yearling that Ken owned. "Ken told me he'd feed Sarah's Elegance and look after her for nothing. He said he simply needed a buddy for his horse," related Grieves, whose first year of training came in 1994 when he burst onto the scene winning 11 of his first 18 races.
"But then Kenny really started to like her and wanted to buy her. I told my brother, Kelly, that I couldn't do that to a friend. That it wouldn't be fair. So we kept her." Then she goes and wins Saturday's Distaff in a heart thumper of a race bravely holding off Pearl of Knowledge in a stretch-long, head-to-head, nose-to-nose duel. "It's funny how things can turn out," laughed Grieves.
Boss Man Can is a totally different story. "We liked him from day one," said Grieves. "We were always high on him. I hadn't started him before (Saturday's) Alberta Premier's Futurity because I wanted him to be extra ready. "We bought Boss Man Can's mom, Black Elegance, in foal to Street Boss. That foal was going to be a really good horse but he broke down in his maiden debut last year. Black Elegance had one other foal and it won allowance races at (Chicago's) Arlington Park. Now there's Boss Man Can, who could be something really special." Saturday, despite never having run before, Boss Man Can went wire to wire to win the Premier's Futurity by five lengths over odds-on favourite Flashfordani. Boss Man Can paid $22.40 to win.
There were five other $50,000 Fall Classic races. Greek Geek, to no one's surprise, won the Alberta's Breeders' Handicap by five and three-quarter lengths. Returning just $2.30 to win, it was the fifth straight time Greek Geek crossed the finish line in front - albeit losing one of those races when he was disqualified for interference and placed second. Greek Geek is owned by Riversedge Racing Stables and trained by Alberta's leading conditioner Tim Rycroft.
Next up, after the Distaff, was the six furlong Red Diamond Express which Dune d'Oro won going away by four and quarter lengths. Owned by Mitch Sutherland, who claimed the four-year-old for $12,500 on August 20, it was Dune d'Oro's fourth win in his last five starts. Like all the winners of the seven stakes races the first-place cheque was written for $30,000 for a very quick profitable investment. The favourite, Dune d'Oro, who is trained by Jim Brown, paid $6.40 to win.
In the Alberta Oaks for three-year-old fillies Dance Shoes barely held off the huge late bid by Plum Blue by a rapidly decreasing head. It was the sixth victory in nine career starts for Dance Shoes, who was claimed by Mohamad Khan for $15,000 on August 5. Like Dune d'Oro, Dance Shoes is also trained by Brown.
Another favourite, Oneofthemgirls, took the Sturgeon River for two-year-old fillies in an easy wire-to-wire performance. It was Oneofthemgirls' first race in Alberta and first win. Trained by Tracy and owned by Highfield Investments, Irving Devey and Curtis Landry, Oneofthemgirls had previously raced once at Iowa's Prairie Meadows and twice at Toronto's Woodbine.
Finally, after Boss Man Can's impressive debut, Theshack won another thriller on the 10-race program. Always in striking position, Theshack moved four wide entering the stretch in a hotly contested and congested affair and out-battled favourite Smart Play, who was third in last month's Canadian Derby, to win by a scant nose. It was Theshack's third win in three lifetime starts.
Theshack, who was bought as a yearling at the 2019 Alberta Sale for $10,000, is owned by Dorn Ries and trained by Dave Nicholson. Nicholson improved on his already sterling season; his 23 starts this year have resulted in five wins, eight seconds and six thirds.
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