Weather fails to dampen racing spirits
Hastings round-up by Nigel Reid
The month of May can be a trying time for racehorse trainers. The season has barely begun, yet already there have been two legs of a Triple Crown completed.
To the outsider, training regimes may appear fairly similar. Yet some barns are already hitting their targets with frequency and accuracy, while others wait for signs that winter really is over, showing great patience while they sharpen the points of the swift arrows they know they have in their quivers.
Trainer Terry Clyde, for instance, is enjoying an explosive start to the new campaign. Following another winner on Saturday, she was back in the winner’s circle twice on Victoria Day with the Jeffery Burningham-ridden We Are Free in a $4,000 claimer and, in the very first contest on what became a sodden afternoon, Babylon Will Fall.
Babylon Will Fall renewed rivalry with Classic Statement here after the pair had finished second and third on their final appearance of 2018, but she had proved capable of winning on her debut and showed few signs of ring rust under Jose Asencio, drawing to the outside of long-time leader Classic Statement at the top of the stretch and inching clear to win by a length for owner James Redekop.
These two may have an ongoing rivalry worth watching this season. They have clashed a few times already, and it remains far from clear who is the better, despite the result. The year-older Classic Statement made all the running under Antonio Reyes until passed close home, but the surface seemed not to favour the front end quite as much as on Saturday and the pair looked a tad weary turning for home.
Clyde’s weekend three-timer, meanwhile, took her score to five winners from 13 runners, with only four of those finishing off the board.
Classic Statement’s trainer, Keith Pedersen, is another barn setting a strong pace in the early skirmishes, and he was back in the winner’s enclosure with Whiskey Bound in the second most valuable contest of the afternoon.
The Afleet Alex sophomore caught the eye when breaking his maiden tag on opening weekend, looking like a horse capable of moving through his conditions fairly quickly. Here, he showed real tenacity to wear down the Phil Hall-trained Ring of Kerry for rider Amadeo Perez and owners Kim Peacock and Lance Giesbrecht.
Pedersen has now tightened the girths on three winners and a second from just eight starts.
The powerful Craig MacPherson team, by contrast, has been a little slower to come to hand this spring, but the wait proved worthwhile in the $25,000 Maiden Special Weight event, when Day Flyer stalked his prey under the confident handling of Enrique Gonzales – the pair taking a lead into the home straight and seeing off all-comers by a length. This smacked of a performance by a young horse who has talent and is still learning the game.
“He’s a nice horse and that was pleasing,” MacPherson confirmed afterwards.
Owned by Canyon Farms, Kerry Leong and M Scharples, Day Flyer is yet another notable Canyon Farms-bred winner by the former Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and leading third-crop sire, New Year’s Day – something that comes as little surprise to the horse’s handler.
“Canyon were onto New Year’s Day very early,” he explained. “He’s done very well.”
Macpherson would know as much about the ability of New Year’s Day as anyone, as the young sire’s high-profile progeny also includes the 2018 Canadian Derby runner-up Day Raider and last season’s Jack Diamond Futurity winner, Dat Day.
Both horses are MacPherson inmates owned by Canyon Farms, who also bred the latter. For those of you who may not know, New Year’s Day also sired the, by now, infamous “winner” of the Kentucky Derby, Maximum Security.
Glen Todd’s string is another in-form equine army and his red and white checks, ridden so ably this year by Denny Velazquez, flashed past the post first aboard Seeking Bull in a $4,000 claiming event.
It was a little surprising to see the daughter of Flashy Bull remain unclaimed after a fairly predictable victory. The five-year-old mare was claimed by Todd out of Churchill Downs in October and, while clearly a modest sort, she showed enough on her Hastings debut a fortnight ago to suggest she is capable of winning in turn.
Velazquez enjoyed a double on the day, his first win of the afternoon coming aboard the amusingly named Betathanaboyfriend in a $16,000 claiming contest for trainer Steve Henson and owners Willow Creek Farms and Fabio Chiesa.
Henson is one of a few trainers for whom the season is simply an ongoing affair. He returned to Hastings looking far healthier than most of us following a winter headquartered at Turf Paradise in Arizona. Betathanaboyfriend’s gutsy head-bobbing victory over Rak City was the barn’s second at Hastings, but already his sixth of 2019.
Cindy Krasner is another veteran of the Turf Paradise winter scene and she legged-up Scott Williams aboard Eco Charge for owner/breeder Ralph Jesiak to land the third race, a $4,000 claiming event for fillies and mares. The five-year-old Forest Grove mare was a rare gate-to-wire winner on ground that proved far less conducive to front-running tactics than had been the case on Saturday. Her win was a fifth of the year for Krasner.
The nightcap was a second win on the day for jockey Jeffrey Burningham, as he saw off all challengers from very early on to drive Red Buffalo home by just over a length for trainer Jean Lavallee and owner Loire Miller.
By then, spectators had just about had enough of the prevailing conditions. Light, and occasional, showers had been forecast but the steady rain fell and fell and fell all afternoon, turning the fast track into soup and understandably affecting the ontrack handle.
The gross handle, at almost $595,000 compared quite well to 12 months ago but was still a little down.