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Choices. With seven stakes races on tap for the Sept. 10 Fall Classic program at Century Mile, several trainers are wondering which of the $50,000 Alberta-bred races to go in.
The bulk of the decisions revolve around the six furlong Red Diamond Express and the mile and a sixteenth Alberta Breeders. Smart Play, Backstretch Bobby, Common Knowledge, Dancing Willie, Theshack and Wedge Pond have all cross entered in both races.
“To go short or to go long. That’s the question,” said Smart Play’s trainer Jerri Robertson after nominations for the seven races - an Alberta version of the Breeders’ Cup - closed at midnight Thursday.
“He can do either. He ran well short and then he almost stole last year’s Canadian Derby going a mile and a quarter. I’m leaning to the Breeders. But I’m not 100 per cent sure yet. Both races are going to be tough. But so will Smart Play,” Robertson said of the four-year-old owned by Tim Kane, Lesley Hardy, Heather Chieffo and herself.
In 15 career starts Smart Play has only been out of the top three four times. “He’s been an honest horse. An in-the-money-kinda-guy. “He always gets a cheque,” said Robertson.
Last year he almost got the big one in the Derby when he led most of the way and then just got caught at the wire losing it all by just a length to Uncharacteristic and second-place - to Myopic - by a neck. “That was heart-breaking because he propped - hesitated a little - just before the wire.”
Smart Play also just missed in last year’s Beaufort on the Fall Classic card. “He got beat a nostril for it all,” she said of just losing the Beaufort in the very final stages. Smart Play has given us a lot of thrill already. It would be nice to have one more in the Fall Classic. He’s been good to us.”
Sired by 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, who ran second in the Belmont just missing out on the Triple Crown, Smart Play is out of the Alberta dam Smile Again Theta that Robertson co-owns with Pierre Esquirol.
Robertson claimed Smile Again Theta for just $7,000 and won over $200,000 including the Mademoiselle stake. Part of Robertson’s dilemma is Greek Geek, who nominated to the Breeders. “I’d like to duck Greek Geek. But he hasn’t really fired yet,” Robertson said of last year’s Horse of the Year, who, surprisingly, hasn’t won any of his five starts this year. And Regal Max is going to be tough in the Breeders too. I just don’t know what to do.”
Greek Geek’s connections don’t know what to do either. But for a different reason. “His feet are bothering him,” said Greek Geek’s trainer Tim Rycroft of the horse he trains for Riversedge and a horse who won seven of his nine races last year. “He has a front foot and a hind foot that both abscessed. It has been soak, poultice; soak and poultice. I don’t know if I’m going to even run him. I’m definitely not going to run the horse and hurt him. The abscesses both broke so that’s good. We’ve still got a week to see how he does.”
Just as big a dilemma is the choice trainer Ron Grieves has to make with three-year-old Boss Man Can. Undefeated in three starts by a gasping total of 28 lengths, Grieves can run Bar None Ranches Boss Man Can in the Beaufort which is a mile and a sixteenth for three-year-olds or sprint in the Red Diamond against older horses.
“I’m leaning to the Beaufort but the distance concerns me,” said Grieves. “He can go fast but I don’t know how far he can go. I think he can handle the older horses. I have confidence in him. But he’s never had a horse beside him before because he’s won so easily.”
Boss Man Can won his debut in the Alberta Premier’s Futurity on last year’s Fall Distaff card winning by five lengths. Then he had one other race last year winning a conditional allowance race by almost 14 lengths. Then he developed both a high fever of 105 and a breathing problem -the latter requiring throat surgery in early April.
“That’s why he didn’t race this year until August 13,” said Grieves. In that race - going seven furlongs - Boss Man Can demoralized a soft short field of just four horses. “It was like a gift race,” acknowledged Grieves. “The competition wasn’t very strong. But he still did his part winning by nine lengths and running very fast. He ran his first quarter mile in 22 3//5 seconds and then went his second quarter in 22 seconds flat. Going seven furlongs through those fractions will stop a lot of horses but it didn’t stop him. He was still full of run at the end.”
If Grieves runs in the Red Diamond he will have the probable likes of Smart Play, Solo Ring, Wedge Pond and Backstretch Bobby. If Grieves goes into the Beaufort his opposition is considerably easier with Flashfordani, who was fourth in the recent Canadian Derby, Above and Beyond, who had a very tough trip in the Derby and possibly H K Melody as his main threats.
Bought in foal carrying the exceptionally talented but ill-fated Dark Invader, Boss Man Can’s dam, Black Elegance, who won two races in Italy, was then bred to Can the Man, who won the Grade 3 Affirmed stake at Santa Anita, producing Boss Man Can. “So we’ve got an Alberta-bred, Kentucly-sired race horse,” said Grieves. “I’m just excited Boss Man Can gets to run again.”
The seven stakes on the September 10 Fall Classic program are the aforementioned six furlong Red Diamond Express sprint; the mile and a sixteenth Alberta Breeders for aged horses and the mile and a sixteenth Beaufort for three-year-olds.
Also on tap are the mile and a sixteenth Alberta Fall Classic Handicap; the Alberta Premier’s Futurity for two-year-old colts and geldings going six furlongs; the Alberta Oaks for three-year-old fillies at a mile and a sixteenth and The Sturgeon River for two-year-old fillies at six furlongs.
The Fall Classic Handicap is led by Dance Shoes, a two-time stakes winner this year, and Plum Blue, who has been stakes placed twice - first in the Shirley Vargo just a length behind Dance Shoes and then in Northlands Distaff behind the remarkable Infinite Patience.
The Premier’s Futurity has attracted Carrera Caballo, who won his only race most convinicingly; Mudinator, who just broke his maiden by four lengths and possibly Our Sunshine, who received some betting support but didn’t get a good start in his lone start.
The Alberta Oaks stars Oneofthemgirls, who has won five straight races going back to last year. In that winning streak Oneofthemgirls is three-for-three this year capturing the Debutante, Chariot Chaser and Sonoma stakes. But now Oneofthemgirls - trained by Greg Tracy and owned by Curtis Landry, Highfield Investment and Irving Devey - is being asked to carry her ferocious speed a sixteenth of a mile farther than she’s ever gone.
And then there is the Sturgeon River where highly regarded Big Hug will try to make it three straight after two very formidable victories looking more like a seasoned veteran than a precocious two-year-old.
Owned by Empire Equestrian and trainer Rick Hedge, Big Hug’s main threats appear to be Bootiful Rose, who was second to Big Hug last time out; Lily’s of London, who exchanged bumps in her only appearance where she drew some solid betting and perhaps No More Jo King, who has a second and a third in two appearances.
A total of 80 nominations to the Fall Classic were taken.
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