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Things that you are unlikely to see in the foreseeable future: The sun in Edmonton; The Edmonton Eskimos going a full game without a penalty; A giraffe at Walmart; The Edmonton Oilers getting Sidney Crosby, Jordan Binnington, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Ovechkin and winning the Stanley Cup; Smooth Edmonton roads with no pot holes.
And, maybe most unlikely of all, two Riversedge thoroughbreds paying $53.80 and $22.70 while winning a pair of stakes races at Century Mile.
“Did you just see what that horse just paid?” said one flabbergasted fan shaking his head in disbelief while standing on the Century Mile apron after Something About Me won Monday’s $50,000 Sonoma stakes going off at 10-1. “Yup,” said the guy’s friend with an equally buzzed look on his face. “Twenty-two dollars and change. Wasn’t that horse trained by the leading trainer?” “Yup,” repeated the other guy. “How’s that possible? Why didn’t we bet her?”
Yet, that was nothing in comparison to what Gem Alta returned the previous afternoon while taking the Fred Jones Handicap for the same Riversedge/Tim Rycroft duo. Sent away at 25-1 Gem Alta came from the dark clouds and mowed them all down in the stretch to provide that $53.80 payoff.
“Prices like that never happen on our horses,” said Norm Castiglione, who owns both Something About Me and Gem Alta with his partner Robert Vargo. “People were reacting like it was a miracle. And maybe it was. I know I was surprised. I didn’t bet.” “I did,” interjected Vargo with a big grin.
A three-year-old filly, Something About Me was sent away at 10-1 for a reason. She had been stopping going six furlongs and was now being asked to run a mile. “Maybe the conditions helped her,” said Castiglione. “She had never run in the mud before. “It also probably helped that she ran in the middle of the track. Wilmer (jockey Galviz) rode a perfect race. He stayed off the rail which seemed to be deeper than the rest of the track; the rail seemed to do everybody harm.”
“We just let her do her own thing this time. Sending her sure wasn’t working,” said Rycroft referring to her previous race when she took the lead in the six furlong Chariot Chaser only to steadily back up and finish third by more than 11 lengths.
Three wide throughout in the Sonoma with Exactly on the rail and Flight Date in the two path - all engaging for the early lead - Flight Data, who had shipped into Edmonton from Vancouver’s Hastings Park where she was two-for-two with a maiden and then a $25,000 claiming race under her belt, was the first to stop.
With race favourite Im Evin Im Leavin, who came into the Sonoma with three straight wins, acting up in the starting gate and then not firing at all, that left Exactly and Something About Me to duel it out with the latter prevailing by three quarters of a length at the wire.
“The last sixteenth looked like it was in slow motion,” said Castiglione. “You didn’t know which horse was going to pull it off.” “It was a gutsy performance,” said Rycroft. “She ran hooked every jump.”
Riversedge bought Something About Me along with her sister in Idaho last fall in a package deal. “Her sister looks decent too,” Rycroft said of the filly named Someone Else. She just got OK’d from the gate and will probably run in the next three weeks. She’s already almost as big as her sister and she looks really fast.”
Now back to Gem Alta. “Gem Alta was the biggest upset for me since Knights Covenant returned $54 to win taking the Alberta Derby in Calgary in 2005,” said Vargo, referring to the horse that got Castiglione hooked. “Robert had asked me to go to the track to watch Knight’s Covenant run,” said Castiglione.
“After the race I remember Robert telling me ‘How easy is this?’ That fall Robert and I went to the fall yearling sale in Calgary and bought a couple of yearlings. That was the start of it all,” continued Castiglione, of the Riversedge operation that today has 53 active horses in training and which includes 19 two-year-olds - never mind a bunch of broodmares and retired horses.
“Knight’s Covenant won on a very sloppy track. It was even muddier than it was this past weekend,” recalled Vargo. “Knight’s Covenant was the only horse that didn’t have a drop of mud on him because he went wire-to-wire.”
While Gem Alta paid more than twice as much as Something About Me, you could have made a logical case for Gem Alta’s win although you probably would have thrown your tickets away when he blew the first turn and floated out to the middle of the track.
“I always liked Gem Alta,” Rycroft said of the four-year-old who ran fourth in last year’s Canadian Derby. “He’s a real good looking bugger. Nice bodied with a short back and he’s well bred,” understated Rycroft of the son of Grade I winner Gemologist, who is by two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow, out of an A.P. Indy mare named Court Reception.
“That’s why Riversedge paid $70,000 for him as a yearling at the Keeneland fall yearling sale. We had to play catch up with him last year trying to get him ready for the Derby. He had breathing issues and bad feet. We were basically trying to heal him up and get ready for the Derby at the same time. John McKenzie, our blacksmith, fixed up his feet - he had an abscess and quarter cracks - and we treated his breathing issues with an antibiotic throat spray. He’s got an esophagus that is shorter than most horses so we had to fit him with a big tongue depressor bit and a figure eight nose band. Now he’s a year older and he’s been training great all year. He won an allowance race last time out and that was going six furlongs. The Fred Jones was a mile and a sixteenth which is what he really wants.”
Seventh and wide down the backstretch after he drifted badly on the first turn, Gem Alta wouldn’t quit despite losing so much ground. Ridden by Prayven Badrie, Gem Alta ranged into contention around the final turn, took the lead at the top of the stretch and then out-willed a determined Sir Bronx to win by two and a quarter lengths. Riversedge had two other entrants in the Fred Jones: Stone Carver, who led for much of the race before finishing third and race favourite Trooper John who finished a disinterested fifth.
“I don’t know what happened to Trooper John,” said Vargo. “He’s never been a mud horse but we’re having the vet go over him real good to see if something is wrong.”
There were two other stakes races on this past weekend’s card: the $75,000 Shirley Vargo Handicap for fillies and mares which was taken by B.C. invader Good Luck to You and the Count Lathum for three-year-olds which saw another great performance by Sharp Dressed Beau.
Good Luck to You has been a force at Vancouver’s Hastings Park for owner George Gilbert, who is having another great season and who sent out the sensational Summerland, who recorded her eighth win in nine career starts taking Monday’s Supernatural stakes at Hastings.
“She tries hard all the time,” said Good Luck to You’s trainer Phil Hall after the three-length win over the Rycroft-trained Blues Roar. “I wasn’t sure if she would handle the track but she raced very good.” Good Luck to You won a stake in Vancouver in her first start of the year and was stakes-placed in her last two outings.
Meanwhile, Sharp Dressed Beau’s powerful victory creates a lot of decisions for his owners Empire Equestrian and trainer Rick Hedge. Considered to just be a sprinter, Sharp Dressed Beau handily won the Count Lathum by four and three-quarter lengths going a mile on Monday. “I wasn't really sure he could go that far. Was I confident? No. But I watched the replay a bunch of times and he was drawing away at the end,” said Hedge. “The closest they got to him was at the eighths pole and then he drew away again.”
The big race, of course, is the Aug. 18 $250,000 Canadian Derby going a mile and a quarter. Asked if he was going to point Sharp Dressed Beau in that direction, Hedge wasn’t sure.
“We’ve got to sit back and think about it. He used to be all speed but now he can rate and relax which he showed again on Monday.” Sitting second behind pace-setter Coco Tiger through some fast fractions considering the mud, Sharp Dressed Beau moved to the lead with ease at the five-sixteenths pole and there was never any more questions. “Rigo (jockey Sarmiento) told me that when he asked him at the quarter pole he just exploded.”
Hedge didn’t even give Sarmiento any instructions for the Count Lathum, which saw the legendary trainer Bobby Marsh, who trained the great Count Lathum for his family’s stable making the presentation. “Same as last time?” asked Sarmiento as he threw his legs over the three-year-old. “Yup. Same as last time,” answered Hedge referring to the six furlong Western Canada Handicap that Sharp Dressed Beau won, again coming from off the pace, by two lengths.
Hedge said that while Sharp Dressed Beau was small as a two-year-old he started to grow last August in Calgary. “He grew some more over the winter - he really started to fill out - and I think he’s still growing,” Hedge said of the colt that Empire Equestrian co-owner Lori Neyka bought over the phone for just $1,600 (US) at the Montana Futurity Sale. “He came out of the race super. He was tired but then that’s expected. But he wasn’t to tired to want to play on the walker (Tuesday) morning. “I used to train him to sprint but we’ve had to change that now. I’m galloping him a lot longer than I used to do.”
Maybe the best praise was summed up by Canadian Hall of Fame trainer R.K. ‘Red’ Smith. “He reminded me of Careless Word the way he skipped through the mud,” Smith told Hedge after the Count Lathum referring to the champion colt who, in 1975, won everything for owners Elmbrook Farms: the Kindergarten, Birdcatcher, Tiny Holden and then the Stampede Futurity.
“That was nice to hear but I don’t know what his future is going to be,” said Hedge. “There’s an allowance race in the book going a mile and an eighth on July 25. That would make a nice prep for a mile and a quarter. “But I really don’t know for sure. We’ll just take it day by day and see what happens.”
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