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The 2021 Quarter Horse racing season ended pretty much the same way it had started for Priddis, Alberta lawyer Jeff Rath: in the winner's circle when Rath's Wave Burner took last weekend's $85,761 Canada Cup Futurity in the mud and the rain at Century Mile.
The victory was hardly an upset but Rath's story is most remarkable. Twenty years ago Rath bred a mare he owned to breeder and trainer Wesley Oulton's former stallion El Rey Burner. That foal never made it to the track and for 20 years Oulton never saw Rath again.
"Then he showed up at my farm in Olds on February 19, 2019," vividly recalls Oulton. "It was minus 30. He was dressed in a suit but didn't have any socks on his feet. He said he was looking to buy a couple of Quarter Horses that he could race."
Rath quickly picked out two babies. He bought Wave Burner, who was only six days old, and then he bought O First Sweet Heart, who was just five weeks old. Like Wave Burner, who won $38,593 for last Saturday's wire-to-wire victory, O First Sweet Heart also turned out to be a stakes winner capturing both the $57,000 Alberta Stallion Futurity at Century Mile on July 2, where $25,648 went into Rath's pockets, and a $44,000 stake at Grande Prairie on July 31.
For the latter, Rath drove eight hours from his home in Priddis - watched the race - and then drove another eight hours straight home. "Two horses. Two-two-year-olds. Two stakes winners. Both Alberta-breds. And in what is really Jeff's first year in the business," said Oulton.
"It's crazy. He has a year that we spend our lifetime trying to achieve. I told him the other day that he better keep his butt cheeks taped together because otherwise that horse shoe is going to fall out and you'll be in trouble. I doubt it's even possible to have as good a year as he had," continued Oulton. "It's stunning."
While Wave Burner won $54,186 this year O First Sweet Heart bankrolled $65,214. "We ended the year with the two fastest horses in the province. I'm quite happy," understated Rath.
Even that isn't everything. Rath also owns a two-year-old thoroughbred filly, Dame Joviale, that ran second in a maiden allowance race at Keeneland, Kentucky on Thursday afternoon. Rath said the race winner - odds-on-favourite Marr Time - is a full sister to a horse that sold for $12 million.
"The race was just six furlongs. If it had been seven furlongs I think she would have won it," Rath said of Dame Joviale, who also placed at Churchill Downs last month. "The plan is to gear her for next year's Kentucky Oaks. She's that calibre of a mare."
Rath also has big plans for Wave Burner. "We're sending Wave Burner to California in a few weeks to try and qualify for a $2-million Futurity at Los Alamitos." Oulton said while there will probably be about 100 horses trying to qualify for that race, Wave Burner "is in the mix".
"He ran the 400 yards in the Canada Cup in 20.427. And that was over a real muddy track. To qualify for the $2-million Futurity a horse will have to go in about 19.12 seconds. Wave Burner is just getting better and better. He's getting more and more mature and he's still growing. He's probably grown a full inch and put on 70 pounds since this spring."
Rath said he wasn't really all that surprised how well Wave Burner and O First Sweet Heart have turned out. "Even though Wave Burner was only six days old you could just tell that he was going to grow into something special. No two ways about it," said Rath. "And O First Sweet Heart was a really nice big filly."
Then there's the breeding. O First Sweet Heart is by Oulton's sensational stallion First Timber, who, including this year, has been Alberta's top stallion for the last eight years. Wave Burner, on the other hand, is by Wave Carver, who won 11 of his 18 starts earning over $1-million. Furthermore, Wave Burner's dam, First Prize Sass, which is owned by Oulton, is by First Timber.
"I can't stress enough how important it is to Wes and I to continue breeding world class horses in Alberta," said Rath. "All the credit goes to Wes. I'm just happy he shared some of his success with me. Wes has been running one of the best horse breeding programs in Alberta for a long time. He's got 40 years of experience behind him."
Oulton's success goes back a long way too. "Wave Burner's grand mother, A Dare You Dash, ran second in the Canada Cup 25 years ago and Wes raised that one too," said Rath.
Asked why he waited 20 years to get back into the Quarter Horse racing business, Rath said he just "got the bug again. "I've been around Quarter Horses for 30 years whether it's been polo, cattle penning, cutting or other stuff. One day I just decided to get back into it," he said of that frigid day in February two years ago.
"Now I'll probably be breeding running horses for the rest of my life."
There were two other Quarter Horse stakes last weekend. Both were won by horses trained by William Leech and owned by Charles Stojan. Flight Club won the $34,021 Derby on Saturday and Getit Foose took last Friday's Cup Classic Maturity. For Flight Club it was the three-year-old's fourth win in seven career starts. Getit Foose's victory was the fifth of his career. In 16 lifetime starts, Getit Foose also has three seconds and four thirds.
This is the final weekend of thoroughbred racing for the season. Friday's 11-race card goes at 5:15 p.m. and includes the $50,000 Red Smith Handicap where Edmonton Oiler forward Ryan Nugent Hopkins' sensational Infinite Patience will be heavily favoured to win her fifth race in a row.
Saturday's 13-race card goes at 2:15 p.m. and is highlighted by the $50,000 Don Getty Handicap where Greek Geek will be odds-on. Greek Geek has crossed the finish line on top six times in a row, albeit getting disqualified for interference in one of them.
Standardbred racing returns to Century Mile Friday November 19th.
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