By Nigel Reid
Five Star Derby win caps a big-race treble for Todd
Strolling across the paddock prior to the final race of a magnificent BC Derby Day at Hastings, trainer Glen Todd was asked if Saturday was the best day he’d had on a racetrack? With a smile, and typical understatement, Todd replied: “It’s up there.”
If, by “up there”, Todd means walking on clouds, then he’s probably accurate in his assessment – something of a theme in a remarkable afternoon that saw his distinctive North American Thoroughbred Horse Company checkerboard silks carried to memorable wins in three of the four Stakes races – including the BC Derby with Five Star General.
Todd, with his daughter Shelley, identified and then purchased Five Star General at Fasig-Tipton earlier this year with the BC Derby in mind. Seldom can a plan have worked out more beautifully.
Following up on last month’s convincing Sir Winston Churchill Derby Trial victory, the son of Distorted Humor, ridden boldly by returning favoured “son” Mario Gutierrez, got the best of an epic stretch duel with recent Canadian Derby hero, Explode.
For Gutierrez, the victory was extra sweet as the Derby was one of the few major races missing from his Hastings’ resume.
Gutierrez said: “I don’t forget where I came from and the people who helped me and I was very pleased to be able to win my first BC Derby for Mr Todd.”
Mario was no idle passenger and, for a moment early in the nine-furlong Gr3 contest, he needed all of his natural born talent to restrain Five Star General’s enthusiasm. The colt’s keenness at the head of affairs threatened to derail the carefully laid plans when he fought for his head running towards the Clubhouse turn.
“It took me some time to get him, but once I did he was fine,” Gutierrez confirmed afterwards.
Five Star General, who prowled the paddock with the fluidity and calmness of a big cat prior to Hastings’ richest race of the year, needed all of his obvious ability to best Explode on the final nod of the race, displaying huge tenacity and an inner refusal to be headed. The official distance was a nose. It looked narrower than that.
Explode lost nothing in defeat and connections of last month’s Gr3 Canadian Derby hero can be very proud of their boy’s efforts. Ridden by Amadeo Perez, Explode matched the eventual winner stride-for-stride-for-stride, as they gradually pulled away from those chasing the big prize behind them.
Explode even seemed to take a slight fly jump close to the wire in his desire to get ahead, but went down by the narrowest of margins with all guns blazing. It seems almost unfair to nominate a winner when the finish is that close, but few will begrudge victory to a man that does so much for horseracing in British Columbia and beyond.
Todd’s extraordinary afternoon of shiny trophy collecting began in the race previous to the $250,000 BC Derby (the purse boosted by a typical display of philanthropy from BC Hall of Famer Peter Redekop), when his two top class runners took on seven of the best sophomore fillies in the region in the $100,000 British Columbia Oaks.
A slow, and reportedly deep, surface had seen horses either manage to get out ahead and stay there or come from behind and Todd, who was wary of his duo getting bogged down mid pack, devised a plan to let one of his runners go to the front and one to be held up at the rear.
“I left it to the riders to decide who would do what,” Todd explained afterwards. “Mario volunteered to go to the front while Richard (Hamel) agreed to hold Amazonian up.”
Gutierrez put up a brave effort aboard Northern Graystar but, ultimately, he did little more than set the race up perfectly for Hamel and Amazonian.
Hamel retained the splendid-looking daughter of Malibu Moon towards the rear of the field for much of the journey, before he sent her in hot pursuit approaching the far turn. Coming five-wide around the home turn, he gave the late spurting Sunburst first run on him and still got there with something in hand, drawing away to win the valuable Gr3 contest by two-and-a-half lengths from Sunburst, with more than six lengths back to the third, Whoop It Up.
Not content with a Derby/Oaks double, Todd legged-up Richard Hamel aboard favourite He’s The Reason to land the $50,000 S W Randall Plate, a race in which connections barely experienced an anxious moment after Hamel was, inexplicably, given a soft lead aboard the four-year-old The Factor gelding.
Naturally, Hamel required no second invitation to make the most of the generosity displayed by his weighing room colleagues, dancing off in the lead and feeding out just enough rein to stay at the head of affairs. At the wire, the pair held a near three-length margin although, in reality, the race ended as a contest the second Hamel’s rivals decided to hang about at the back of the class. The lesson they received from Hamel will hopefully stick with them for some time to come.
The first Stakes contest of a splendid ten-race afternoon provided another storybook moment for the connections of the marvelous, if idiosyncratic, Bear.
Bought for just $3,000 by trainer Phil Hall and fellow owners Mort Hall and Praven Sorensen at the CTHS Horses of Racing Age Sale back in the spring, the daughter of Super Saver has continued to thrive on her racing throughout the season.
Bear progressed through the claiming ranks this season to eventually take the runner-up spot behind Here’s Hannah in last month’s Derby Bar & Grill BC Cup Distaff. She went one better on Saturday under Sahin Civaci, lowering the colours of the phenomenon that is Here’s Hannah in the final few strides and adding another fascinating chapter to what has been one of the Hastings’ season’s best storylines.
Described by her trainer as “quirky”, Bear was accompanied in the paddock by Hall’s daughter Sarah aboard a pony, and the effort to keep Bear calm certainly worked – although afterwards, Hall was quick to give all the credit for the win to his daughter and the rest of the team, while also acknowledging the weight-carrying effort of Here’s Hannah.
“Sarah and the team deserve all the credit for Bear,” he said. “I think the weight maybe did for Hannah but we got there in the end.”
Every Broadway show needs a superb supporting cast and the races outside of the quartet of Stakes events provided some of the most thrilling action we’ve been treated to all season.
The two-year-old maiden contest, run over six-and-a-half furlongs, provided racegoers with an early afternoon thrill. A four-way photo was eventually deciphered clearly enough to award the race to the Rob Maybin-trained Causin’ Havoc, another graduate of the CTHS Horses of Racing Age Sale, where Maybin shrewdly snaffled up the daughter of Creative Cause for what is now looking like a bargain price of $7,000.
Two noses and a neck covered the first four home, although two of the three behind the Romario Saunders-ridden Causin’ Havoc had the benefit of a previous run and, as such, this was an impressive debut by the attractive grey filly who is owned by the popular trainer with his wife, Sheena.
Even by his own high standards, Richard Hamel’s afternoon was a memorable one and he began the day in winning form by taking a $25,000 claiming contest aboard Don’t Hold Me Back for trainer Steve Henson and owners, J & G Racing Stables. The seven-year-old son of Hold Me Back finished a creditable fifth in last month’s BC Cup Classic and he has now won or hit the board four times from his seven starts this season.
While the garlands belonged to Todd and Gutierrez, rider Sahin Civaci, who now plies his trade at Woodbine, certainly made his weekend mini-break pay for itself. His eye-catching treble came courtesy of Bear and was supported admirably by the Pat Jarvis-trained Genoa Bay (for owner James Eccott) and then, later in the afternoon, Dawns Morning for trainer Joan Jablonowski and fellow owners, East van Racing Stables and Lindsey Edge.
Leading rider Enrique Gonzalez aboard Ezekiel, yet another graduate of the CTHS Horses of Racing Age Sale, landed the fourth race for trainer Anita Bolton and owners Jack Van Dyke and Bud Malette, while the nightcap (a $6,250 claimer) went to rider Julio Roque aboard Veloso Raptor for owner Tamara Baker and trainer Milton Palma.
One of the most competitive and enthralling days of racing at Hastings this season resulted in an on-track handle in excess of $250,000 (up on last year), while the off-track figure of just more than $906,000 was a little down on the 2018 figure.