Vancouver, B.C. (August 5/19) — It was difficult to determine who was having more fun on the PNE grounds during BC Day Monday afternoon: the squealing revellers enjoying the rides at Playland or the vast combinations of horse owners, trainers and jockeys who spent BC Cup Day sharing the winner’s circle at Hastings Racecourse.
It was a scene right out of Pleasantville at the racetrack Monday when smiling faces and high-fives were evident from start to finish during a BC Cup Day 10-race card that saw a popular female trainer accept four victory bouquets, a visiting internationally-known jockey score a win for his adopted Vancouver father figure and a local NHL super star acknowledge adoring cheers as a winning owner.
All this … and much more.
Barbara Heads, notorious for surging in the trainers’ standings during the second-half of racing seasons, bounded from an overall ninth place position into a tie for third with $50,000 stakes wins in the BC Cup Debutante and Hong Kong Jockey Club, plus an earlier Maiden Special Weight victory and a card-closing BC Cup Marathon win. Antonio Reyes was in the irons for all four, lifting him onto the third rung of the current jockey standings.
The flurry of excitement for the Heads-Reyes combination began with two-year-old filly Infinite Patience running away for an 11-length victory in the Debutante, not unlike co-owner Ryan Nugent-Hopkins busting out of his own end on a rink-length dash for his Edmonton Oilers. ‘The Nudge” and partner Bill Decoursey praised the work of Barbara Heads and husband Mike in preparing Infinite Patience.
Barbara’s Hong Kong Jockey Club victory with Sunburst was an upset in the finest form for gleeful owners Russell and Lois Bennett who watched their three-year-old filly at 7-1 odds win handily by almost eight lengths. Odds-on favourite Summerland, looking to extend her winning streak to eight at Hastings, surrendered after threatening in the early going but finishing fifth in the six-horse field while carrying top weight of 128 pounds.
Two-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Mario Gutierrez, who slept in the barns as a 16-year-old upon arriving at Hastings from his native Mexico, won the BC Cup Sir Winston Churchill Derby Trial aboard Five Star General for NATHC owner/trainer Glen Todd. Gutierrez had flown to Vancouver after winning the Grade 3 $150,000 La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar Sunday afternoon.
It was Todd who took Mario under his wing along with Todd’s friend and racing partner of over 55 years Troy Taylor, the original head trainer of NATHC. Taylor, in his 88th year and an honoured member of the BC Horse Racing Hall of Fame, made a surprise visit to the winner’s circle and shared in the reaction to Mario’s win from the huge holiday crowd.
Five Star General was a 4-5 favourite and was never seriously challenged in winning the Sir Winston Churchill.
The memorable afternoon began with the opening race that saw the incredible filly Here’s Hannah score her 11th straight win under Richard Hamel despite toting 129 pounds in the BC Cup Distaff. While the Phil Hall-trained Bear gave Here’s Hannah a brief scare, the 1-9 betting favourite – with $54,925 in the place pool – didn’t disappoint her backers.
Hall was much more relieved when At Attention with jockey Rigo Sarmiento rallied in the late stages to win the BC Cup Nursery. Sarmiento, who won two races on the day, was parachuted in from Edmonton’s Century Mile to replace Hall’s regular rider Enrique Gonzalez. Enrique flew home to Mexico on the weekend following the sudden passing of his father.
The sixth $50,000 stake race on BC Cup Day resulted in more robust cheers from track patrons along with some obvious emotional moments from owners Kim Peacock, Lance Giesbrecht and the man himself, Phil Hall following the third BC Cup Classic win for Calgary Caper. Kim looked skyward in the winner’s circle and mouthed the words “Hi Dad” as a salute to Hall of Fame horseman Cecil Peacock, who passed away in July, 2018 at 91.
Calgary Caper won the Classic last year and in 2016. With Sahin Civaci up, the amazing eight-year-old went from last to first, drawing clear by three-and-a-quarter lengths at the finish. At day’s end, it was a case of a “three’s are wild” for Hall with three wins to make it 33 on the season as he continues to pursue his third consecutive Leading Trainer title.
Live thoroughbred racing resumes at Hastings with another thrilling Friday Night Live card at 7 p.m. followed by Sunday afternoon at 1:50 p.m.
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