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.



Hastings round up by Nigel Reid

Speed and class prove irresistible

Few afternoons would better represent the breadth of BC Racing Hall of Fame owner Peter Redekop’s involvement in the sport than a Saturday when his distinctive pink silks were carried both in a modest claiming event at Hastings and then, just 30 minutes later, in the second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.

Although ultimately unsuccessful, Redekop’s Anothertwistafate did the colours proud at Pimlico while, at Hastings, his California-bred Bills Smokn Bullet, from the Phil Hall barn, ran away with the six-and-a-half furlong claimer contest by a more than 11-lengths for passenger, Amadeo Perez.

Redekop’s response to these two events, by the way, was to spend the afternoon at a family wedding, which goes merely to demonstrate his healthy attitude to the sport somebody once referred to as “the great triviality”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bills Smokn Bullet, who was having just his second run at Hastings following three efforts in Golden Gate maiden contests, was claimed. Nancy Betts, who won out in a four-way shake, will now train the son of Bluegrass Cat for owners Wishful Thinking Friends and Gary Ferguson.

Phil Hall has been in tremendous early-season form and Bills Smokn Bullet’s emphatic win came just half an hour after he saddled Tattooed Kitty to land a six-furlong waiver claiming contest under Enrique Gonzalez. The win moved the reigning leading trainer on to an impressive seven for the young season.

Tattooed Kitty’s win was one of six for horses positioned on or close to an early lead by their riders. However, it might be a mistake to think today’s track conditions favoured speed off the front. Such an assumption would point to some hard luck stories for those chasing in behind but, on first viewing at least, it seemed to be more a case of the winners being by far the best on the day in their given heat.

The Dino Condilenios-trained, owned and bred Krissy, who impressed many with a classy seasonal debut win on opening weekend, was a perfect case in point. Breaking to the front early, she was just going too fast for anything else to keep up. Amadeo Perez was again reduced to little more than a passenger, as the pair powered on from the far turn to effectively divide the six-and-a-half furlong allowance contest into two events – hers, a freewheel to the wire, with the remaining four horses battling it out in some other race eight lengths behind.

Condilenios reported that he is undecided as to where his flashy chestnut speedster will head next, but even without specifics, it seems fairly clear that the only way is up.

Krissy’s win came in the second $20,000 purse of the afternoon and followed the opener, a six-furlong contest with five runners tagged for either $20,000 or $25,000. Under Par took the purse, setting the tone for the day with an authoritative front-running display by Denny Velazquez aboard the Mark Cloutier-trained Under Par.

Under Par, a BC-bred four-year-old daughter of Stephanotis, is a remarkable servant to her owners Canmor Farms and Maureen Goss. She has been brilliantly campaigned by Cloutier, winning six times and accumulating almost $70,000 in purses from 10 races. In truth, after a promising second-place finish in the Brighouse Belles Stakes on opening weekend, it was a little surprising not to see her claimed for her $25,000 tag. It’s reasonable to assume there is more to come and it will be interesting to see if connections feel she has now earned a tilt at an even bigger prize.

If Amadeo Perez was little more than a passenger aboard two of his mounts, he brought all his winning brilliance to bear on the second pair of an impressive four-timer.

Nudging the Terry Clyde-trained Gimme Some Slack along in fourth for much of the six-and-a-half furlong $4,000 claimer contest, he slowly edged closer along the rail before diving to the outside of the long-time leader Bornatthetrack as the field rounded the home turn. The subsequent victory appeared easier than it was, a common theme of many athletes operating at the top of their chosen professions.

In the day’s penultimate contest, Perez seemed to have little chance of catching the long-time leader It’s In Command, but kept urging and cajoling City Steel for owner/trainer David Milburn until Lenny Seecharan’s mount weakened under him in the final few strides. Perseverance is another common trait among the very best.


City Steel’s win may have been the first of the new season for Milburn, but was not coming out of turn as three of the barn’s previous four runners this term have finished in the frame.


It was back to facile front-running in the final event of the afternoon when Antonio Reyes eased Martello to a five-and-a-half length, gate-to-wire victory for the five-year-old’s owner/trainer, Pat Jarvis. Reyes could barely believe he had so much horse under him, sneaking a look between his legs as they began the turn for home and, like Perez earlier in the day, he became little more than a spectator with a front row seat.

Few winners will mean as much to anyone as Martello’s did to Jarvis. It may have been a modest claiming event, but his trainer dotes on the good-looking Second In Command gelding, and it was the high point of the afternoon to watch as her favourite son sauntered to the barn’s first victory of the new season. Martello is not straightforward to train and his win paid testament to his handler’s perseverance and determination to leave no stone unturned.

Racing resumes at Hastings on Monday with another eight competitive-looking contests that will hopefully continue the positive progress made so far with betting turnover. The gross handle on Saturday was, at a shade more than $455,000, significantly up on the comparative day last year.



Mother’s Day puts families to the fore

Hastings round-up by Nigel Reid

My dear mother resides in one of those excellent assisted living facilities back in the UK, but she and a friend broke out of there last week to go racing. She won around $100. Mums enjoy their racing, as was apparent at Hastings on Sunday when the track welcomed a big Mother’s Day crowd intent on celebrating family life.

Families, of course, are particularly important in racing and breeding, with equine and human pedigrees reoccurring throughout the program on a weekly basis.


Coulterberry, for instance, landed the most valuable contest of the afternoon for trainer Mark Cloutier and owner/breeders Roy and Dixie Jacobson, while Coulterberry’s sister, Sweet Sixteen, finished second earlier in the day for the same connections. Amadeo Perez rode both horses.

Perhaps taking advantage of an extremely fast opening quarter in which Strate Remark and League Of Shadows dueled themselves to a virtual standstill, Perez sent the six-year-old gelding in hot pursuit, collaring the leaders at the far turn, sweeping by unfussily, and coming home almost eight lengths clear of the 2017 BC Derby sixth, A.P Zona.


The wider racetrack family was heartened to see Snappy Ginger land the fourth race, an $8,000 maiden claiming event over six furlongs. The BC-bred daughter of Stephanotis, ridden by Jeffery Burningham, will hopefully have provided her trainer Bill McLaren with a timely boost as he is currently recovering from a heart attack.

Snappy Ginger ran on opening weekend and looked as though she had benefitted from the race, if her appearance in the paddock was anything to go by. Last season, she continually seemed to bump into one smart performer after another, but this contest appeared to be the perfect opportunity for the three-year-old to get off the mark, and so it proved as she and Burningham ran out comfortable three-and-a-half length winners over Denny Velazquez aboard the hard driven, and rallying, Battle Of Arras.

Battle Of Arras was claimed out of the Glen Todd barn following the race and will join Frank Ma for new owner Marino Specogna. She was the only claim of the day.


Velazquez didn’t have to wait long for compensation, partnering the odds-on Proof It for Todd and North American Thoroughbred Horse Company in the very next event on the card, a $20,000 “never won three” contest. The pair looked to have all eventualities covered, opening up a substantial lead into the far turn. However, understandably, Proof It tired close to home on his first run of the season and had just enough in the tank to hold off the late challenge of El Noble.


It was an interesting afternoon for the Swift Thoroughbreds family, who might be forgiven for having some mixed emotions. Their homebred three-year-old filly Molesley made an emphatic debut in the third race, a $25,000 maiden waiver claiming contest, for in-form trainer Dino Condilenios and rider Antonio Reyes. However, two horses they sold recently at the CTHS Horses of Racing Age Sale as part of a general streamlining, both won at the first time of asking for their new connections.


Bear, a filly with a definite opinion of her own about how things must be done, proved a model of professionalism for trainer Phil Hall and co-owners, Praven Sorensen and Mort Hall to fend off Sweet Sixteen in the second race.  Ezekiel, meanwhile, landed the sixth race, a $16,000 waiver claimer, for new owners Jack Van Dyke and Bud Malette, and trainer Anita Bolton, making every yard of the running under Enrique Gonzalez to hold off Brioso by a length.

Gonzalez, who also partnered the idiosyncratic Bear, completed a hat-trick on the day – his perseverance aboard Aldergrove in the nightcap rewarded when the long-time leader Vintage Man, who seemed almost certain to win, saw his momentum falter agonizingly with only a few yards remaining.

Learie Seecharan followed up his win on Saturday with a victory in the opener, spotting the leaders a good 10 lengths aboard Good As They Get down the back stretch, before coming wide and late with a rattling run to land the spoils.

Good As They Get represents another familiar and long-standing Hastings family. The six-year-old Rosberg gelding is owned and bred by Mel and Fran Snow and trained by Mel. When racing people talk about the game being “in the blood” they’re not only talking about the horses.

Racing next weekend is on Saturday, and will be part of a Preakness Day celebration, and then again on Monday, Victoria Day. There is no racing Sunday. Hopefully the trend of competitive fields will continue to drive a healthy handle. The Mother’s Day card gross handle came in at almost $600,000, bigger than the Saturday and nudging $100,000 more than the comparative fixture 12 months ago.




No substitute for experience

Hastings round-up by Nigel Reid

Longevity in racing is no mean feat, especially when each week brings a new stress test for horse, owner, trainer and rider. Only the strong survive and few of those remain unscarred by the experience.


It would probably be a photo finish between Richard Hamel and his first-race mount Burnum as to who had the greater experience. The horse is a ten-year-old veteran of Woodbine, Turf Paradise and Hastings. The rider, a five-time leading jockey who bounced back from a fifth knee operation last year, is still performing as well as ever, if his three wins on a sweltering Saturday afternoon are anything to go by.

Together, the pair was irrepressible. Burnum, now trained by Terry Clyde following previous handler and joint-owner Mike Anderson’s decision to take a sabbatical, was winning for the 13th time on what was his 50th appearance in eight seasons.

Incidentally, dropped in class Burnum made fairly short work of his four rivals here and won in the manner of a horse with more to come – tough of the track indeed.


Hamel had to wait until the fifth race for his second win of the afternoon, when driving Metal Magic to victory over Khaiky’s Command for trainer Steve Henson and owners Willow Creek Farms and Fabio Chiesa. The gate-to-wire win was not as easy as Hamel made it appear, but few riders at Hastings are as adept at allowing their horse to remain balanced around the tight turns while also leaving enough in the tank for a final charge.

Denny Velazquez lost nothing in defeat aboard the Glen Todd-trained Khaiky’s Command and, indeed, put on his own riding skills clinic in the afternoon’s most valuable event, a $25,000 waiver claiming contest over six furlongs.


Slipping up the inside of Hamel and Papa Papa Papa as the field reached the far turn, Velazquez stole a vital advantage aboard Hansen’s Victory to win by three lengths for his new employers, North American Thoroughbred Horse Company and Glen Todd.

Hansen’s Victory is another Hastings performer with plenty of experience. The gelded son of former Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Hansen was the most expensive horse bought at the 2015 CTHS Yearling and Mixed Sale, but Todd revealed that it has taken a patient approach to obtain the best out of his charge, who was winning for the fourth time in 17 appearances.

Todd said: “He won very impressively as a two-year-old, but then I thought he may have had an issue and I backed right off him. The problem turned out not to be as bad as I’d thought it might be. He’s a nice horse.”


Hamel and Velazquez were back at it again in the nightcap with, this time, Hamel coming out on top aboard B Quick B Gone for owner Dennis Spence and trainer Cindy Krasner. Hamel and Velazquez, who was riding the diminutive speedster Miss Viola for Todd and NATHC, dueled from the far turn and soon had the race between them, with B Quick B Gone outlasting the long-time leader Miss Viola inside the final half-furlong.

A sultry summer with more “no-quarter-asked-nor-given” battles between Hamel and the latest to don the NATHC red and white checks is an enticing prospect for race fans.

Perhaps the most notable displays of the afternoon came from horses with no previous race experience. The Phil Hall-trained Flight Data caught the eye in the paddock last weekend, but dislodged her rider on the way to post and was immediately scratched. With seemingly no ill effects, the four-year-old Ontario-bred Data Link filly was this time afforded safe passage to the start by Enrique Gonzalez and, despite being understandably a little green and needing to be scrubbed along at the far turn, ended up winning in the style of another filly with a future for owner George Gilbert.

Another for the notebook from this $25,000 claimer was the Barb Heads-trained Sunburst. A first-time starter, who took a little while to work out what was required under Antonio Reyes, Mr. and Mrs. R J Bennett’s homebred ran down all but the winner in the home stretch and looks one to keep on the right side of next time out.

The third newcomer to make a notable debut came in the second race, a six-furlong $8,000 maiden waiver-claiming contest. Times R Achangin, under patient handling by Antonio Reyes, lost his position briefly on the backstretch. However, the Finality gelding was allowed to find his feet before renewing a challenge that saw him power past his field to win with something in hand for trainer, and part owner, David Forster and owners Dr Karl Chan and Cameron Hill.

It’s not just the young horses who learn quickly. Promising young rider Learie Seecharan, like his twin brother Lenny, is learning rapidly what it takes to win at Hastings and he partnered the Terry Clyde-trained Marshall Swindle to a comfy win in the third contest of the afternoon, a six-furlong, $16,000 waiver claimer.


Owned by James Redekop, the three-year-old daughter of the late stallion Shrug won a competitive-looking event on an afternoon that provided bettors with plenty of options in the seven races. The gross handle, coming in at more than $390,000, was again noticeably ahead of the comparative fixture in 2018.

Racing resumes today, Sunday. The first race of eight departs at 1:50 pm and the weather promises yet more sunshine.




Perez’s Private Party

Hastings round-up by Nigel Reid

“There’s always tomorrow” is a mantra close to the hearts of many in racing. The game is seldom simple and filled often enough with disappointment but, thankfully, there is usually not too long to wait for another opportunity to set the record straight.

Take last year’s leading rider, Amadeo Perez. Even though the 35-year-old veteran drew a blank on opening Saturday, any mild frustration he may have felt was channeled into renewed effort just 24 hours later and he was repaid with five winners, including the final four races.

The consecutive streak of four began with the Mark Cloutier-trained Canmor Farms runner Yes Please who, despite seeming a little warm and fractious in the preliminaries, and keen to have a good look around on the home turn, retained enough resolve to see off all-comers in a fast-run $4,000 claiming contest.

Pick of Perez’s five wins, however, may turn out to be his Maiden Special Weight victory aboard the Keith Pedersen-trained Whiskey Bound. Sent off as 5-2 joint-favourite with Aleutian Harbour, Perez sat behind the leaders before moving smoothly through to lead in the home stretch and beat some useful-looking maidens by 2¾-lengths. It looked longer. It couldn’t have been more convincing.

The market support for Whiskey Bound was hardly a mystery. The 3-year-old gelded son of Afleet Alex finished a close-up fourth behind Call It A Wrap in last season’s CTHS Sales Stakes, and then split the above average protagonists Explode and Purple Storm in a maiden event last September. Whiskey Bound was a maiden winner in waiting and connections will be confident he can move on to bigger and better things.

Whiskey Bound’s win was a second on the day saddled by Pedersen after the 6-year-old Silvertown made light of an outside draw under Richard Hamel to scoot clear into the home turn and win the day’s fourth race, a $16,000 waiver claimer, as he wanted.

The fillies’ Maiden Special Weight, meanwhile, appeared just as competitive on paper as the boys’ version but, in similar fashion to Whiskey Bound, Perez again turned the contest into a facile affair, sending the Dino Condilenios runner Krissy to the front from the get-go. The 8-5 favourite was never headed and came home more than 4-lengths clear of Glen Todd’s promising Amazonian. This looked a deep event beforehand and it would be little surprise to see several of the names forlornly chasing home Krissy in the winner’s circle before too long.

Krissy, an attractive 3-year-old daughter of Pop Artist is owned, trained and bred by Condilenios and capped a good day at the office for the handler after he took the afternoon’s opening contest, a $16,000 waiver claimer, with Swift Thoroughbred’s Librarian.

A relatively light-framed filly, the 3-year-old daughter of Shrug looked the pick of the paddock in terms of fitness beforehand and, in similar fashion to Krissy, was sent immediately to the head of affairs by Perez. Despite appearing to slow dramatically to admire the view on the home turn, she needed only to be pushed out by her rider to hold off Bad Girl and Calculating.

The fine weather and some good-sized fields helped generate more than $650,000 in gross handle, almost $200,000 more than the comparable day last year and which, when added to Saturday’s bumper day, has the early-season per-race average running close to $20,000 ahead of 2018.

While the later afternoon took on the feel of an Amadeo Perez private party, there were some morsels left for other riders. Trainer Kerri Raven added to her positive start to the season by sending out Indicative to land the second race, a “never won two” $4,000 waiver claimer, for rider Scott Williams – who was building on his opening-day double.

Enrique Gonzales, meanwhile, deputized for the injured Keishan Balgobin to take the third, a $4,000 maiden claimer, aboard the Deirdre Bell-trained Transplant.

Rider substitutions are not uncommon and they illustrate perfectly the constant hum of background danger jockeys must learn to ignore if they are to succeed. Veteran rider Jeffery Burningham knows the inherent risks as well, if not more, than most of his weighing room colleagues and he was lucky to avoid serious injury when Nice Brown Girl came over backwards prior to the start of Krissy’s Maiden Special Weight contest. Jeffrey’s mount was immediately scratched and her rider, bruised but unbowed, gave up his final ride of the afternoon as a result.

The Phil Hall-trained Flight Data, who had caught the eye in the paddock beforehand, was also scratched after shrugging off her rider Lenny Seecharan in the post parade before being expertly nabbed by outrider Cindy Barroby. Neither horse or rider injured anything other than pride while Cindy, her fellow outriders and the entire starting gate team proved, as they do every race-day, that they are often all that stands between a red face and something altogether more serious.



Opening Day Draws Bumper Crowd


Just occasionally the planets align and, perhaps with the help of our friend Richard Yates looking down on us and pulling a few strings, Hastings’ opening day 2019 will surely go down as one of the most successful in years.

Richard would have been proud. Fine weather and a huge crowd, enticed by some excellent marketing work from the track in the lead-up to a bumper eight-race card, promised an exciting accompaniment to Kentucky Derby Day and delivered “as advertised”.

The four $50,000 Stakes events provided an opportunity to meet some old friends and cast an eye over some less familiar faces – as well as discover how the long winter had treated some of last season’s best two-year-olds.

As it turned out two trainers and two owners annexed the four valuable contests. Glen Todd, and his North American Thoroughbred Horse Company, took the Swift Thoroughbred Inaugural Stakes and the Jim Coleman Province Stakes with Pan Handle and Dr John H respectively. Meanwhile, last season’s leading trainer Phil Hall and owner George Gilbert landed the Brighouse Belles Stakes with Good Luck To You and the Ross Mcleod Stakes with the magnificent Summerland.


Spectators had to wait until the final race to see last year’s best juvenile Summerland make her seasonal bow. It was a performance worth lingering for, as the daughter of He’s Tops, ridden with confidence by Enrique Gonzales, shrugged off an early duel from Denny Velazquez aboard Mrs Taylor to hold off the challenge of the Hastings Racing Club’s latest star act, Warrior’s Promise.

Richard Yates was the driving force behind the creation and success of the Hastings Racing Club and he would have been thrilled to see the Patty Leaney-trained filly confirm the impression she has given in her morning workouts by running so well behind the classy Summerland. What fun and excitement the Racing Club members can look forward to this summer!

After the race, trainer Phil Hall explained that, while he was perfectly happy with Summerland, he didn’t know quite what to expect on her debut, as he had not asked too many questions of her in her morning exercise. “She has been working okay,” he explained, “but she’s a racehorse and she showed up.”

For George Gilbert, Summerland continues to thrill: “She amazes me every time she runs,” he told the crowd after her win.


Gilbert and Hall were in the winner’s circle earlier in the afternoon when their five-year-old Good Luck To You swooped late to run down the Mark Cloutier-trained Under Par in the Brighouse Belles Stakes.

Under Par lead the select field a merry dance for much of the six-and-a-half furlong contest. However, she and Denny Velazquez had no answer to the wet sail of Enrique Gonzales and Good Luck To You, who were good value for their 2¼-length victory.


Fitness was not a concern for the Todd-trained Dr John H who, dropping back to 6½-furlongs after a couple of promising runs in Arizona over longer distances during the winter, suggested sprinting may be his forte. The son of Harbor The Gold, who was a $60,000 Washington Yearling Sale purchase by Todd in 2017, landed the valuable Lost In The Fog Stakes as a juvenile and dealt with some useful types here, with last season’s leading 2-year-olds Explode and Call It A Wrap having no answer to his early-season sharpness.

Dr John H was a first Stakes win and a second win on the day for Todd’s new retained rider, Denny Velazquez. The Turf Paradise veteran began the afternoon in perfect style, making every yard of the running aboard Sir Knight to land the opener, a waiver maiden claimer, and rewarding followers with a generous $15.70 return.


Velazquez picked the wrong Todd horse in the Swift Thoroughbreds Inaugural Stakes, however, leaving the popular Scott Williams to see off some deep stretch challengers aboard the tenacious Pan Handle.

A son of Todd’s own stallion Texas Wildcatter, Pan Handle has become a firm Hastings favourite who continues to reward his connections, despite their insistence on trying to sell him at last year’s paddock auction! The Swift Inaugural represents the 4-year-old’s best result yet, after he finally broke his maiden at the ninth time of asking last year. He has now finished in the first four in all bar three of his 15 starts.


Perhaps the most visually impressive winner of the day came in the third contest, a humble $4,000 claiming event for fillies. The White House Stables-bred and owned Exorbitant blasted off to a huge lead and never looked like being caught at any stage of the six-furlong contest for rider Leobardo Espinoza and trainer “Twink” Baumgartner.

Horses holding the not inconsiderable advantage of race fitness gained over the winter won both the two remaining contests.


The Kerri Raven-trained One Last Hit, the first of a Scott Williams double on the day, finished second in a similar contest at Turf Paradise in April, while Mousey Mousey franked the form of trainer Rob Gilker’s string by taking the second race for rider Antonio Reyes just a few weeks after running at Santa Anita. Gilker’s Rak City was second in the opener, while his oh-so consistent Bistraya ran on well to grab a minor placing behind Pan Handle.

The overall handle for opening day was a whopping $810,000 and, while that figure may not be in danger of being eclipsed on Sunday, opening weekend continues with another eight competitive-looking contests. Racing is scheduled to start at 1:50pm and the weather is again set fair.

It would be a shame to miss the action.