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The last year and a half has been absolute hell for prominent Alberta thoroughbred owner Curtis Landry. Coughing violently and having serious trouble just breathing, Landry was initially treated for pneumonia and was released from hospital after just a week. Instead, it turned out that Landry had severe Covid-19.
"I was in extreme pain," said Landry. "Especially my chest cavity. The front of my chest, the back of my chest and both sides of my chest. I couldn't stop screaming; it was a mind numbing pain. I didn't even have the energy to breathe. "They kept cranking up the oxygen but it wasn't enough; so they had to put me in an induced coma."
That was only the beginning. "I had a lot of complications. I got a blood clot in the main artery that runs to your legs and they had to amputate one of them. I almost lost my eyesight. My weight dropped to 105 pounds. At one point the doctors told my family that there was nothing else they could do for me."
As of Monday, a total of 2,316 Albertans have died from Covid-19. Landry was almost the 2,317th fatality. "I almost didn't pull through; I almost died," said Landry, 47, who spent five months in the hospital. I haven't had much joy in my life recently."
But this past Friday evening, Landry finally had a reason to smile when Raider, a multiple Alberta champion, romped in the $50,000 Shirley Vargo Handicap at Century Mile. "Raider gives me joy," Landry said. "She's the dream. She's everything you want to have in a race horse. I was screaming at her down the lane," said Landry. "It was so exciting."
Friday's victory - by more than five lengths - was the six-year-old mare's 10th in 31 career starts. She has also surpassed $400,000 in earnings. And when Raider doesn't win she's almost always in the battle evidenced by nine seconds and five thirds.
"She's consistent as they come," said Landry. "Winning once every three starts is pretty amazing. And after taking on the best fillies and mares throughout her career she's still going strong. One day it will end and I'll make her a broodmare. She's a big, strong mare so why not? Hopefully, though, thats still a ways away."
It is if Friday's triumph was any indication. Fourth and always well placed by jockey Rico Walcott, who sat and waited while invader She's Devine and Hidden Grace duelled on the front end, Raider responded with a splendid, breathtaking surge. At the top of the stretch, Walcott asked Raider for more and she responded willingly running away from the rest of the field with ease.
"Very impressive," said Landry, who lives on a small hobby farm just northeast of Edmonton. "Visually it was probably her most impressive race ever. Rico knows her so well. He put her right where she needed to be. Rico has been with her all the way since she was a baby. He works her; he's always around her. I really believe that she wouldn't have won half the races she has won if it wasn't for Rico. She's a horse that you have to work on to get her engaged."
Raider, who Landry purchased for $17,000 at the 2016 B.C. mixed sale, likes to have a target to run at. Especially earlier in her career if she got to the lead too early she had a tendency to loaf and pause for another horse or two to come up and give her a battle. It was almost like a game to her. But Landry said Raider is now developing a 'killer instinct'.
"In the past she wanted to grind it out and knock heads. She would get to the leaders and wait. Now she'll run by them." She certainly did that on Friday. "She was second to Hidden Grace in the RedTail Landing (by a neck) in her last start but that was going six furlongs. This was seven furlongs which is right in her wheel house.
"Six furlongs is too short for her. She can't catch the best mares at that distance. Six and a half furlongs she'll usually mow them down. But it's at seven furlongs to a mile where she's really dangerous. If another horse hadn't gone with Hidden Grace, Rico was prepared to lean on Hidden Grace himself. But he didn't have to do that so it worked out perfectly."
Winning the Shirley Vargo means that Raider has won a stakes race every year she has campaigned. She won the Sales Stake and the B.C. Debutante as a two-year-old. She won three stakes as a three-year-old. At four she won the RedTail Landing. Last year she also won the Shirley Vargo.
"Nothing bothers her. Nothing fazes her. She's relaxed everywhere. In the paddock. In the starting gate and on the track. And she's not hard on herself. She's not one of those fast, hard-pounding horses which I believe is why she's been able to run so well every year."
Landry has owned over 100 horses since he and his father, Peter, bought their first yearling together in 2007. He has campaigned horses like Ruffenuff, Onestaratatime, Eustachia and Tell Em Lies. All of them were were stakes winners. All of them were Alberta champions. "But Raider is the best. Clearly," said Landry, of Alberta's former three-year-old champion.
With Greg Tracy in Iowa at Prairie Meadows, where he has won 15 races - including four two-year-old races - from about 40 starters Raider has been trained this year in Alberta by Karline Kingston, Tracy's assistant. "Karline has done a fabulous job with Raider," said Landry, who said the physical problems he has gone through and continues to deal with - like learning to walk with a prosthetic - are mirrored by his emotional struggles.
"It's been a long road back and some days are better than others but I've been feeling much better the last couple of months. I was so sick. It was probably time to let people know what's happened to me anyway. Outside of my inner circle of friends and family, I haven't talked to anyone about what I've been through. You are the first one I've responded to. It's been too tough to do without starting to cry. I've had incredible family support - the kind of support that only families can provide. I haven't been to the track for a year and a half. But, when I heard that you wanted to talk about Raider I said to myself 'Ok' because talking about Raider gives me pleasure.
"Raider is just that special."
Follow him on Twitter at CurtisJStock