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Blog: Oh Canada

Ontario's racing challenges, and some Washington sunshine.

By Darrell Hare
September 6, 2012

Q Racing Blog

I visited Ajax Downs near Toronto, Ontario, last week to attend the regional John Deere Juvenile and Adequan Derby Challenge finals. In Ontario, the horse racing situation can be summed up in three words: good, bad and uncertain. Before I explain the meaning of this statement, I’ll comment on the two Challenge races run at Ajax Downs.

The John Deere Juvenile Challenge was won by Rogue County, a gelded son of Kipas Special out of a Royal Quick Dash mare bred in Oregon who had posted the fastest qualifying time in the trials. Rogue Country is owned and trained by Cedric Hayden of Cedar Creek Tree Farm and Racing of Lowell, Oregon. After the trials, Hayden and his family returned home and then drove back to the final, covering approximately 2,800 miles in less than two days on the return trip to Ajax Downs (talk about a road trip!). After winning the race, with the Lisa Perry Challenge trophy in hand, he assured me the trips were worth it and they are looking forward to being at Prairie Meadows on October 27 for the Challenge Championships.

The Adequan Derby Challenge was won by Country Boy Deluxe, a 3-year-old gelding by Country Chicks Man out of Lucas Racing Inc’s Corona Cartel mare Corona Deluxe. Dan and Michelle Lucas, owners of Country Boy Deluxe, were on hand to see their horse win this race and are looking forward to watching him run in the Adequan Derby Challenge Championship (G1) at Prairie Meadows. Dan is a member of the AQHA Racing Council. The gelding is trained by Greg Watson, a current leading trainer at Ajax Downs, a director of Quarter Racing Owners of Ontario Inc. and a member of the AQHA Race Committee.

This is the first year that Ajax Downs has hosted regional Challenge races and the support and participation for the Challenge program by Canadian Quarter Horse owners and breeders, including the members of QROOI has been very good. President Bob Broadstock and his board of directors have done an excellent job of enrolling their foals in the Challenge program and nominating their horses to Challenge races. We appreciate their cooperation and support in expanding Challenge races into Ontario, Canada.

Now for a brief updated summary of the current horse racing situation in Ontario and explanation of my earlier statement:

 GOOD: Ajax Downs is an American Quarter Horse track that opened in 2009 and has been conducting successful Quarter Horse meets since its opening. Prior to the opening of Ajax, Picov Downs for many years operated on the same tract of land as the only AQHA-approved “J” track for Quarter Horse racing. Since the opening of the slots in 2006, revenues from the slots have provided substantial purse funds and operational funding for Quarter Horse meets. Consequently, the Quarter Horse breeding industry has thrived and expanded greatly, along with the interest for Quarter Horse racing in Ontario. Ajax Downs is a beautiful track that is mostly supported by Quarter Horse owners and breeders and area townspeople. The city of Ajax, location of Ajax Downs, is approximately 30 miles from Toronto, the largest city in Canada.

Fort Erie Race Track is in Fort Erie, Ontario, across the Niagara River and Canadian border from Buffalo, New York. It is one of the oldest and most beautiful tracks in North America. Quarter Horse racing was introduced at Fort Erie in 2010 with Bonus Challenge races and other Quarter Horse stakes in an effort to stimulate more interest for horse racing at Fort Erie. Since 2010, additional Regional Challenge races have been hosted by Fort Erie, which have attracted some top older horses from Canada and the United States.

BAD: The Provincial Government of Ontario in March 2012 announced the termination of the Slots at Racetrack Program by April 1, 2013, and ordered immediate closure of the slots at Fort Erie and a couple of harness tracks. Other racetracks, including Ajax Downs, were permitted to continue current operations pending more defined recommendations from the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel’s report recently released.

UNCERTAIN: The recently released Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel report supported the decision to close the Slots at Racetrack Program, which provided the majority of the funding for horse racing in Ontario. However, the report recommended that the Provincial Government recognize the economic importance of the horse racing industry and to work with the industry members to develop a plan for horse racing to be self-sustaining in the future. This recommendation provides for bridge funding for the first five years. There are several different opinions currently being circulated from horsemen and tracks as to how to proceed. It is uncertain at this time what will transpire between horsemen, tracks and the Provincial government for the future. Hopefully, a plan will be developed to maintain horse racing that will provide stability and growth for the future.  

Washington Sunshine

The Bank of America Emerald Championship Challenge and Pfizer Emerald Starter Allowance Challenge were hosted by Emerald Downs near Seattle, Washington, for the second consecutive year on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.

The Championship Challenge final was won by A Royal Dervish, 7-year-old gelding by Royal Miracle Dip out of the First Down Dash mare Three Royal Roses. A Royal Dervish is owned by Bob and Scott Giltner of Jerome, Idaho, who are big supporters of Quarter Horse racing and the Challenge racing program in the Intermountain states. The Giltners and “Dervish” will be making their second trip to the Challenge Championships in the past three years; A Royal Dervish won the 2010 Bank of America Elko Championship Challenge at Elko, Nevada, and made the trip to Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The Giltners, along with trainer Kurt Carlton and the entire Giltner stable, are looking forward to the trip to Prairie Meadows for the Challenge Championships.

The Pfizer Emerald Starter Allowance Challenge was won by J Mancuso, a 3- year-old Stel Corona gelding out of a Red Hot Rhythm mare owned by Juan Delapaz and trained by Juan Sanguino. J Mancuso has spent his entire racing career at Los Alamitos before travelling to Emerald Downs for the chance to qualify for the Prairie Meadows Challenge Championships on October 27. Connections of J Manusco told me in the winner’s circle following his win that they are looking forward to going to Prairie Meadows for the big event.

Emerald Downs is a beautiful Thoroughbred track in the scenic Northwest, where beautiful Mount Rainier is clearly visible on sunny days. The weather was perfect in Seattle over the weekend and there was a large crowd attending the races, in spite of the huge annual Bumbershoot Festival held downtown, which is a Seattle tradition that has been held for the past 42 years. Jack Hodge, vice president and part-owner of Emerald Downs, and his staff do an excellent job in providing customer service and accommodating the many fans who attend the races. Horsemen are also provided a warm welcome, as track management is interested in recruiting more Quarter Horses for additional Quarter Horse races in the future. Hopefully, interest in Quarter Horse racing will continue to grow at Emerald Downs.

Darrell Hare
Director of Racing Challenge