Vancouver, B.C. (Aug. 27/16) – By trade, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a star centre in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers.  And while hockey has always been his number one passion since he was honing his skills at the Burnaby Winter Club, his love for horse racing has never been stronger.

The soft-spoken, almost shy ‘Nudge” as he’s known in hockey circles gave it the patented goal-scorer’s ‘fist pump’ when his most recent thoroughbred purchase – Yukon Belle – staged a dramatic victory in the $50,000 CTHS Sales Stake for two-year-old fillies at Hastings Racecourse Friday night.

Yukon Belle, daughter of Drosselmeyer who won the Belmont Stakes in 2010 and Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2011, was making her first start as a 12-1 long shot for Nugent-Hopkins and trainer Barb Heads. With a late charge Yukon Belle, ridden by Antonio Reyes, finished a half-length in front of Spirit Bay in a final time of 1:19.84 over 6 ½ furlongs, paying $27.00, $9.90 and $6.20.

Nugent-Hopkins owns three horses at Hastings and while one of them – Zenya – has won two races, Yukon Belle was his first stakes victory.

“As a first-time starter we didn’t quite know what to expect,” an elated Nugent-Hopkins said in the winner’s circle. “Things were looking pretty good at the final turn.  I never say too much to the trainer or jockey before a race.  I just wish them luck and try to enjoy the race.”

The 23-year-old enjoyed this one alongside his parents Roger and Deb, who have a long association with thoroughbreds dating back to when Ryan’s grandfather was a breeder.  Ryan’s brother and pal Adam was also on hand.

“The horses are beautiful, they’re amazing animals,” Nugent-Hopkins told NHL feature writer Chris Lemon in a recent interview.  “I really enjoy the sport and have for as long as I can remember.”

Obviously Yukon Belle’s debut won’t be forgotten in the Nugent-Hopkins camp.

Trainer Cindy Krasner opted for Strate Remark to wear blinkers and the move worked in the $50,000 CTHS Sales Stake for 2-year-old colts and geldings in Friday’s co-feature.  In the first of three wins on the card for jockey Silvino Morales, Strate Remark battled hard on the front end with Kermode before prevailing in a final time of 1:19.42 over 6 1/2 furlongs, paying $10.80, $5.10 and $4.00.

Morales won back-to-back wins in the 6th and 7th races on Twistgrips and Lets Have a Double for owner Gord Christoff and trainer John Snow.   For Snow the pair of victories gave him 20 on the season, five in arrears of leading trainer Mike Anderson.

Live racing resumes Monday at 5 p.m. at Hastings Racecourse.  With the annual PNE Fair closed, patrons are offered free parking.


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Darren MacDonald