Seven horsemen and 39 horses participated in eight qualifier races on March 11 at Century Downs Racetrack and Casino, one week before the start of its third harness racing season this Saturday, March 18.
Unlike typical races, qualifiers test whether a horse is ready for official races. Criteria includes running a mile in a certain time, acting safely on the track, and pacing a full race without breaking into a run or gallop.
Every horse that hasn’t raced in the last 45 days must qualify in order to be eligible to enter the draw for upcoming races. If a horse fails, they will have to try again at a future date.
The requirement of qualifiers is also a form of insurance for the betting public. A horse that has qualified has proved itself capable of holding its own in a competitive field.
Despite a snow-dusted racetrack and a wind chill of -30, Racing Secretary Jackson Wittup was happy with the results.
“We got the job done. The biggest thing was the racetrack; the new surface we have seemed to be okay. The last race went in 2:01.3 and they were pretty nice horses. It gives us a little bit of an indication (of what’s to come),” he said.
Due to less-than-ideal track conditions, more weight was placed on safe behaviour and keeping pace than on making the fast-track qualifying time of 2:04. As long as a horse didn’t show any major problems, it qualified.
Horseman Mike Hennessy and four-year-old pacer Blue Star Maverick claimed the fastest time of the day with 2:01.3, edging out second-place finisher Brandon Campbell and four-year-old Beaus Cowboy by one tenth of a second.
But Campbell, who will represent Canada in the World Driving Championship in August, found little to complain about. He participated in four races with pacers Skade, Twin B Breezeway, Lissie Borden, and Beaus Cowboy.
“We weren’t looking for a lot today. It’s just a matter of going around and going (under the) qualifiying time,” he said. “I had some that finished up good, and a couple that look good coming up this year, and a couple that weren’t so great.”
Horseman Nathan Sobey had a busier morning, hopping in the sulky for seven showings.
“I thought everything went relatively well. You come in, some horses are going to be short, some are going to be tighter than others,” he said. “But all in all, I was glad with my results today. I’d give six of them a chance in the box.”
Sobey raced with Southwind Jaden, Phanatical Philly, Lizard King, Phanatical Maniac, Honey Booboolina, Revoler, and Blue Eyed Cowboy. He plans on picking up catch drives for most of the season.
The qualifiers also gave drivers a chance to experience the track’s new limestone surface. An article published in the Thoroughbred Times states that limestone is better at absorbing water than traditional clay surfaces.
For Calgary, that’s a very good thing, and the changes have so far been warmly received.
“I was a little skeptical with all the snow that was on it for the last little while,” said Sobey. “But today, I was actually really happy with what (Racetrack Superindendant) Don (Monkman) managed to do, and over time it’s just going to get better and better.”
“I’m happy with it so far,” Campbell added, referring to the new surface. “The first few weeks of racing probably aren’t going to be all that fast, but leading into the spring as things start to warm up, the frost comes out. It should shettle.”
With the first qualifiers wrapped up, Wittup is optimistic for the season.
“I don’t think anyone’s complaining. A lot of horses raced very hard in Edmonton (over the winter), had a tough go, and then got hit with some weather here. We’re getting there, about three weeks into the meet we should be up and going full-tilt.”
Live racing is on Saturdays and Sundays with a post-time of 1:10 PM. Monday racing will start on April 24 with a post-time of 4:10 PM.