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Craig Smith is going to be one of the busiest men on the planet on Sunday. The thoroughbred trainer will start seven - maybe even eight - horses on the Alberta Breeders’ Fall Classic card at Century Mile - seven $40,000 stakes races restricted to Alberta-bred thoroughbreds. “It’s a good problem to have. Especially on a day like this,” said Smith, who is the thick of a tight trainer’s race.
Three of Smith’s entrants will be in the Alberta Premier’s Futurity (Bang On, Old Double Diamond and Shotthrutheheart) which is a six-furlong race for two-year-old colts and geldings. Then he’ll saddle Dune d’Oro in the Beaufort - a mile and a sixteenth race for three-year-olds. Pacioretty will sprint six furlongs for the Century Horse Racing Club in the Red Diamond Express; Music At Work will be favoured to win the Alberta Oaks for three-year-old fillies. And then he’ll send out the veteran Zippity Zap in the Alberta Breeder’s Handicap for older horses going a mile and a sixteenth. And, if that isn’t enough, he is also contemplating running This Time Lucky with Pacioretty in the Red Diamond.
“It’s a big day for me; it’s also a big day for all Alberta horsemen,” said Smith of a card which will also feature the six-furlong Sturgeon River for two-year-old fillies and the Alberta Fall Classic Distaff Handicap - a race for older fillies and mares going a mile and a sixteenth. “The Fall Classic is very important to us as Alberta horsemen. It’s a day a lot of people point their horses to. It’s absolutely one of the biggest days of the year for thoroughbred racing in this province. This and the Canadian Derby. When you buy an Alberta-bred or breed an Alberta-bred you are always thinking about this day. It’s always in the back of your mind.”
Zippity Zap is a perfect example of what the Fall Classic means. The seven-year-old has career earnings of over $190,000. More than a third of that total has been won on the Fall Classic program given that Zippity Zap has won the last two Alberta Breeder’s Handicaps. Last year he won by two and a half lengths over Regal Max, who will be back to face him again on Sunday. Two years ago Zippity Zap won by a nostril. If that isn’t enough, Zippity Zap finished second in the 2017 renewal and in 2016 he ran third.
“He always runs good; he’s a very consistent horse but he always seems to run even a little better in this race,” continued Smith of a horse who has finished first or second in 16 of his 26 career starts and who was claimed for $16,000 in 2017 and has never seen a claiming race again. “The mile and a sixteenth is also a perfect distance for him,” said Smith of Zippity Zap, who has four wins, four seconds and a third in 10 career starts at the distance. He’s lightly raced and a big part of that is that we always want him to peak for this race.”
The Alberta Breeders’ Handicap is a very contentious race. As well as Regal Max, Zippity Zap will also be taking on the likes of multiple stakes winner Shimshine and Stormchaser, who just defeated Zippity Zap on Aug. 21. Regal Max has had a throat operation since he ran in last year’s Alberta Breeders’. “I think the operation helped him but it will still be a challenge going a distance for the first time this year in just his second start of the year,” said Hedge. “It’s a big race for him. It’s also a very important day in our sport. It’s a showcase for our breeding industry. The publicity of the day brings fans out and anything that can do that is obviously good for our sport.”
Century Mile racing manager Matt Jukich expects a big day. “I think it will be great. We’re going to have 10 or 11 races depending on Wednesday’s draw. In addition to the seven Fall Classic races we’ll have at least three and maybe four other full-field races,” said Jukich. “I’m expecting we’ll be up around the million-dollar mark in betting again. It’s great we’re able to hold this day before the September 18 Alberta Yearling Sale. Hopefully it’s an incentive for thoroughbred trainers and owners to reinvest some of their winnings from the Fall Classic card.”
While the Alberta Breeders’ Handicap holds a lot of promise the biggest race on the card will probably be the Beaufort. In addition to the aforementioned Dune d’Oro, who got tangled up in traffic in his last start, the Count Lathum, Maskwecis will also be looking to atone for his loss in the Count Lathum as well. A winner of two stakes races - this year’s Western Canada and last year’s City of Leduc, trainer and co-owner Red Smith, expects a rebound from Maskwecis.
“First off, the two horses that beat him in the Count Lathum (Rail Hugger and Real Grace) aren’t Alberta-breds so they’re not eligible to run in the Beaufort. Secondly, he just ran a little flat. HIs blood count was down a little and we might try Lasix or blinkers on Sunday,” Smith said of the horse he owns with Jim and Carole Barker. “I think he’ll be tough on Sunday.”
Also nominated to the Beaufort are Greek Geek, who returns from Ontario and who lost by a nose in last year’s Canadian Juvenile at Century Downs; Lanny Mac, who just broke his maiden very impressively and who is a half brother to Alberta’s reigning Horse of the Year, Smart Fix.
Another top race is expected to be the Alberta Premier’s Futurity where Craig Smith has his trio of Bang On, Old Double Diamond and Shotthrutheheart poised and ready. “I think it’s definitely one of the more competitive races on the card,” said Craig Smith. “Shotthrutheheart looked really good breaking his maiden and we knew from fairly early on that he was a pretty nice horse. Old Double Diamond is still a maiden but both of his races were really good starts. And Bang On broke his maiden impressively and then got a really, rough, rough, rough trip last time in the Canadian Juvenile. He was six wide and bumped repeatedly. We’re hoping for a clean trip this time.”
He’ll probably need it given both the opponents from inside and outside of his barn. Rudie Can’t Fail broke his maiden by eight lengths in his only start; Common Knowledge was second - by just a head in his last appearance - the Canadian Juvenile - and leading trainer Tim Rycroft is entering both Arizona Grand and Sir Miezie. Sire Miezie was a close third in the Canadian Juvenile and Arizona Grand could be the sleeper after breaking slow in her lone previous start.
Like Craig Smith, Rycroft is going to be busy as well. In addition to the pair he has nominated in the Alberta Premier’s Futurity, Rycroft will send out Awesome Gigi in the Sturgeon River, Bare Back Jack in the Beaufort, Smarty River Pants and Striders Ring in the Red Diamond, Sneaky Sister in the Fall Classic Distaff and the previously mentioned Greek Geek in the Beaufort.
“I’m looking for Awesome Gigi to run way better than she did in her debut,” said Rycroft. “She missed the break and she didn’t like all the dirt hitting her in the face. She’s a nice horse. She just needs a little seasoning. I expect her to run to her breeding,” he said of the daughter of Awesome Again.
“I’m looking forward to Sunday. The Fall Classic gives breeders, owners and trainers a chance to run for some decent money. It’s good for our breeding industry and good for the business.”
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