By: Nigel Reid
Perez back in the race as Hamel calls it a day
The final two Stakes events of the 2019 season at Hastings went the way of three horses, after the $30,000 Lions Gate Stakes finished in a dead-heat.
In what was the afternoon’s most exciting event, Jose Asencio aboard R W Stanley and Final Jeopardy, ridden by Amadeo Perez, battled in lock-step down the home stretch, neither asking nor being given any quarter. At the line, the judges couldn’t separate the two protagonists and, in calling a dead-heat, completed a memorable afternoon for both riders.
The race was something of a retrieval mission for Peter and James Redekop’s Final Jeopardy, who was bought earlier in the season on the back of a second-place finish behind Code of Honor in the G3 Dwyer Stakes.
Victory for the Street Sense colt, who finished third in both the BC Derby (G3) and the Canadian Derby (G3), as well as runner-up in last month’s Premier’s Handicap (G3), will have soothed some furrowed brows among connections and, now that he has clearly got the hang of the track, he will hopefully go on to even bigger things in 2020.
R W Stanley, meanwhile, was winning for the third time this season for his young rider. A son of local stallion Pop Artist, R W Stanley has only finished out of the frame once all season, and his first Stakes victory hinted that there may be more to come next season.
For Asencio, the victory on R W Stanley for trainer Brian O’Connell and the four-year-old’s owners, Night and Day Stable and Joanne Todd, completed a Stakes race double after he had partnered Nice Brown Girl to land the $30,000 Autumn Leaves Stakes for Rob and Sheena Maybin.
Nice Brown Girl, a three-year-old daughter of Alternation, was following up on her impressive maiden optional claimer victory earlier in the month when she took on, and beat, the boys. On Sunday, she again made every yard of the running to defeat what had looked a highly competitive field. Both the runner-up Northern Graystar and third-placed Warrior’s Promise gave everything they had, but could not get close enough at the business end to land a blow.
Asencio’s big-race double capped a breakout season for the former leading apprentice and stamped him as a rider of real talent who may well be challenging for senior titles of his own in future years.
For Perez, the win on the Phil Hall-trained Final Jeopardy was the third leg of a timely four-timer that moved the jockey to two behind Antonio Reyes in the battle for leading rider honors.
Enrique Gonzalez’s win in the opener (an $8,000 waiver claimer over a mile and sixteenth) on Zetamarie for trainer Frank Barroby and owners Gary Johnson, Zeta Hannah and Sharlea Stables, took him to 51 wins for the season, one behind Perez and three back from Reyes.
However, the most dramatic news regarding the tussle for leading rider came off the track when it was announced that Richard Hamel’s ride in the Lions Gate Stakes would be his last ever at Hastings.
A five-time leading rider at Hastings, the veteran was facing a three-day suspension that would have ruled him out of the final weekend, but his shock announcement means that the 2019 title is now a three-way shootout between Reyes, Perez and Gonzalez.
Hamel’s curious decision to leave the stage without taking a curtain call became even more anticlimactic when he pulled up Don’t Hold Me Back on the far side of the track. It is typical of Hamel, who began riding at Hastings back in 1989, that even on his final ride at the track, he would put the welfare of the horse first.
Racing people who have known Hamel and followed his remarkable career far longer than this writer will be better placed to put his life’s work into its proper context. However, it has been a privilege to see him add so consummately to his legacy these past few years, and any young rider would do well to spend an afternoon or two replaying his victories to see exactly how to deal with the unique challenges of the tight East Vancouver bullring.
Hopefully, racegoers at Hastings will have a proper opportunity to say goodbye to a true ambassador for Canadian horseracing at some point in the future. It is the least that he, and we, deserve.
With Reyes drawing a frustrating blank, Amadeo Perez took full advantage. The first of his quartet, on what was a bitterly cold and soaking wet afternoon, where all the riders looked as though they might quite like to retire immediately if it meant they could get in out of the rain, came on the $4,000 Sharp Contrast for trainer Mark Cloutier and owner David Elder.
The race represented a significant drop in class for the four-year-old Bellamy Road filly and she took full advantage, taking an early lead and staying there all the way to the line. Stevie’s Song and Cape Lite both rallied down the lane, but couldn’t get in a blow on the winner who held a near two-length lead at the winning post.
Presumably feeling that winning races was as good a way to keep warm as any other, Perez punched home his second of the afternoon in the very next event, taking the $20,000 allowance contest aboard Kim Peacock and Lance Giesbrecht’s Whiskey Bound for trainer Keith Pedersen.
Highly tried this season, in a campaign that included a second-place finish in the Chris Loseth Handicap and a third in the British Columbia Cup Sir Winston Churchill Derby Trial, Sunday represented an opportunity for a confidence boost. The three-year-old Afleet Alex gelding took full advantage, rallying two wide from a stalking trip to get up in the final strides and beat Stay Fantastic by a head.
After he dead-heated with Asencio in the Lions Gate, Perez then steered Peter Duri’s homebred Will to Gold to victory in the nightcap for trainer Dino Condilenios to complete a highly satisfactory afternoon’s work. With all to play for between the three riders, the final weekend should be compulsive viewing for fans of racing in the Province.
Jockey Romario Saunders consolidated his grip on a top-ten finish by rejoining his friend Honk to land a $4,000 waiver claimer by the longest winning distance of the afternoon.
Honk needs things to go his own way but, when they do, the California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit is a classy sprinter at this level. And he proved too hot to handle for the chasing pack as he and Saunders, who also partners the idiosyncratic four-year-old in much of his morning work, had great fun at the head of affairs, splashing through the sloppy track to win, unbothered, by five-and-a-half lengths.
Despite the spiteful weather, Sunday’s on-track handle held up far better than the previous day, coming in at a little over $51,000. The all-association handle of $556,627 was also up on the Saturday amount.